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Rabbinic Mission to Poland and Germany: Part 1

11/10/2015 10:28:04 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I was quite anxious when we lifted off from SFO for an eleven-day rabbinic mission to Poland and Berlin with the Northern California Board of Rabbis. To me, Poland was the graveyard of the Jewish people. Only 350,000 of the 3.5 million Jews who lived in Poland survived the war. Just thinking about the trip overwhelmed me.

We started in Warsaw, going straight from the airport to the recently opened Polin Museum, an amazing...Read more...

Right to Die

10/07/2015 11:11:27 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman


As I write this blog, many in California are celebrating the Governor’s signing of the “Right-to-Die” bill otherwise known as AB 15. This new law allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to end their life rather than suffer through the course of the disease. Those celebrating its passage see AB 15 as a long-awaited, compassionate response to terminal illness; “why...Read more...

The Deal

08/04/2015 11:15:58 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Like many of you, Israel is on my mind. The big issue is the pending deal with Iran, but that is not the only troubling reality to confront these days. Just last week, an unhinged ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, and the next day in an unrelated incident, a Palestinian toddler died in a fire lit by a radicalized group of Israeli settlers. The one thread that runs through...Read more...

“I am somebody.” Reflections on Hosting The AIDS Memorial Quilt

06/16/2015 11:26:44 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The inspiration for bringing the quilt to Shomrei Torah came from last year’s congregational Civil Rights Tour of the South. First stop was Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King and the home of the Names Project/Aids Memorial Quilt. I had last seen the quilt some 30+ years ago in Oakland during the height of the AIDS epidemic. I lived in San Francisco then and men were dying all around me, in the apartment building where I lived, at...Read more...

Reflecting on Memorial Day

05/26/2015 11:30:36 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

As I write this blog over the Memorial Day weekend I am struck by how different our observance is compared to Israel’s.

We were in Tel Aviv for Yom Hazikaron/Memorial Day this year and, unlike in the States, there are no Memorial Day sales in Israel, nor does it signal the first long weekend/party of the summer. Rather, it is a day of personal and collective mourning for those lost in the various wars Israel has fought as well...Read more...

Here to Stay

05/06/2015 11:35:25 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

According to Jewish tradition, the only prayers that are said in the Olam Habah/World to Come are prayers of gratitude. If that is the case, then I must have died and gone to heaven!

I am blessed with family, community, the beauty and benefit of living in Sonoma County, and work I truly love. It’s not just the work that I enjoy; I love you, Shomrei Torah! Ok, it’s not all a walk in the park; we have our moments of challenge...Read more...


04/07/2015 09:03:02 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Passover is the jewel in the crown of the Jewish holidays. It celebrates the essential narrative of the Jewish people, the Exodus, and it offers perhaps the most meaningful Jewish ritual, the Seder. For a meaning junky like me, Passover is a feast!
Every year some aspect of our journey from slavery to freedom stands out, and this year it was the song in the Seder often song ad nauseam, Dayenu. Dayenu means “it would have...Read more...

Purim and The Vulnerability of Exile

02/24/2015 09:06:35 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

 Purim gets a bad rap as a pediatric holiday. It’s great that kids have fun celebrating Purim, but sadly this important holiday’s child-focused reputation obscures the relevant and deadly serious currents that flow just beneath the surface.

A while back I spoke at a Catholic church in town about the spiritual connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.  I pointed out that, while we were exiled from the...Read more...

What is Hanukkah?

12/12/2014 09:10:19 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Dear Rabbi George,

I wonder if the ambivalence I feel about Hanukkah is familiar to other American Jews. In the constellation of Jewish holidays, Hanukkah just doesn’t seem worthy of major observance. Is it the divine intervention that took place, where a day’s worth of lamp oil miraculously lasted for eight, that lends the holiday its significance? Such instances are numerous in the Torah, and only a few of them warrant...Read more...

And so the Journey Begins…

08/28/2014 09:13:03 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Yesterday marked the first day of Elul, the month of preparation for the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, the Holy Days.  These Days of Awe are a kind of pilgrimage of the neshemah/the soul.

“Lech l’cha,” God says to Abraham — Go(!), leave everything you have known up to now to find Me!  And so Abraham’s journey, the journey that becomes the story of the Jewish People, began.  Our sages note a...Read more...

My Take on Gaza

08/05/2014 09:15:02 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

In recent days I’ve shared with you writings from my Israeli colleagues regarding the war in Gaza, all of them very moving. Now I offer my own sense of the conflict.

As tragic as it is, I believe that the war Israel is waging in Gaza is fundamentally just. Like any nation, Israel has the obligation to protect its citizens and the right to defend itself. The news is hard to watch (turn off your T.V.’s!) and the news reports...Read more...

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

07/03/2014 09:16:34 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I  lost myself in a sci-fi thriller on the long flight to Israel. It wasn’t a great movie but the binary plot, where the good guys and the bad guys were as easy to identify as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, was a welcome relief from the often morally grey terrain of the Israeli life I was about to enter. On my mind were the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from companies that it sees as...Read more...

Holy Fire

05/06/2014 09:20:11 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

One of the beauties of Jewish life is the fact that we are connected to a tradition that goes back over 3,000 years. The classic example of this for me is the Ner Tamid, the eternal light.

The original Ner Tamid was a seven-branch menorah that was lit from evening to morning inside the portable sanctuary the Israelites used in...Read more...

Rabbi George’s Remarks at Friday Night Services–Chai Weekend

04/11/2014 09:24:40 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Just inside the front door of our synagogue, you all passed a plaque, with a verse from Exodus: “V’asu li mikdash v’shchanti b’tocham/Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst you.” This was God’s commandment to the Israelites to make the mishkan, the first synagogue.

I’m reminded of this verse now because for most of the past 18 years we’ve...Read more...

Pesach and Hope

04/03/2014 09:27:26 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

When you think about all the challenges we face, it is easy to be cynical or just give up.  Remaining hopeful in a world where so much seems out of our control and where we know so much is an essential spiritual challenge.

Thank God for Pesach because Pesach is a lesson in hope.It’s all in this story…Read more...

18 Years

03/20/2014 12:13:45 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

18 is one of those special numbers in Jewish tradition, a number that also functions as a symbol for the most essential thing we have – Chai/life! So much “life” has happened since Laura, Levi, Sophie and I arrived here 18 years ago! Words seem inadequate to express the varied, rich and deep experiences we have shared. When I arrived, Shomrei Torah was a small but vibrant congregation...Read more...

Opening the Tent to the Invisible Among Us

01/15/2014 12:16:15 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

This week we read parashat Yitro, from Shemot, the book of Exodus. It’s renowned for the Eseret Dibrot, the “Ten Commandments”, but I have a different focus this time; the opening verses of the portion, Exodus 18:1-7:


The Burning Bush

12/20/2013 12:20:15 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

This week we begin reading in the book of Exodus which quickly plunges into a drama of epic proportions. I never tire of this story of degradation and redemption and there is one place that I return to over and over again: Moses at the “burning bush”.

moses-and-burning-bushMoses, fugitive Egyptian prince...


12/03/2013 12:21:47 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

A number of years ago, I remember Rabbi Robinson calling me during a pretty tough time in my life and saying that he hoped this Hanukkah would bring a little more light into my life. It was a simple, sweet gesture, but it stuck with me; it was helpful, one might say, illuminating.

Mai Hanukkah, what is Hanukkah? The Rabbis of the Talmud ask. At first glance this story seems strange—wouldn’t they know the meaning of...Read more...

Ah, the Rain

11/20/2013 08:57:33 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Ah, the rain! I went for a walk in the rain this morning to share in its blessing.  It was misty and damp and I meandered along a path covered with a yellow, orange- red carpet of fallen fall foliage with the occasional squish of my boots in the newly-born mud, the soft, pitter patter of water cascading down; a gift from heaven.  Ah, the rain, it’s blessing tangible after so little for so long, as if one could feel the earth and...Read more...

What is a Jew?

11/06/2013 08:59:00 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

What is a Jew? That question seems never to go away and is especially present in my life these days thanks to a course Rabbi Kramer and I are teaching on “Peoplehood” sponsored by the Shalom- Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The concept of Peoplehood provokes many questions about what it means to be a Jew. Religion, culture, ethnicity, nationality – just what are we, anyway?!?

A participant in the class recently emailed...

Cast Truth to the Ground

09/25/2013 09:01:07 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Tonight is Simchat Torah, the celebration of the Torah and the annual cycle of its recitation and study in the Jewish community. During the course of the year the whole Jewish world, more or less at the same time, rolls and reads through the scroll. Tonight marks the end of last year’s cycle and the beginning of a new one. In addition to a short service and lots of singing and dancing, we will unroll the whole Torah in a big circle, an...Read more...

Salmon and the Holy Days

07/09/2013 09:03:45 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I write this as my plane jets its way through a thick layer of grey cumulus clouds, a wet, whirling blanket of grey so common in Southeast Alaska. I am on my way home after a week in Juneau, visiting a colleague who recently moved there. Juneau is surreal; a small town of 30,000 tucked at the foot of steep mountain range, between two glaciers and a large, bay-like channel. Juneau is to mountain views as Sonoma County is to vineyard vistas;...Read more...

Moses, Humility and Leadership

05/29/2013 09:05:41 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

In the Torah reading cycle of the synagogue we are now in the midst of B’midbar, the book of Numbers, and among the extraordinary things written there is one line easily missed, yet worthy of serious consideration: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth…” (Numbers 12:3)

We know a lot about Moses from his actions – redeemer of Israel, legislator, performer of miracles and wonders, but the...Read more...

CCAR Lights in the Forest

05/12/2013 01:31:19 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I was recently asked by the CCAR Press to submit my answers to four theological questions as possible entries in a book they will be publishing in the coming year. I’ve just finished the first draft of my answers, and I thought it would be interesting to see what y’all think. I look forward to your responses…    

1. As liberal Jews who value religious autonomy, how are the concepts of “covenant” (בְּרִית) and...Read more...

Jewish Without Torah?   I Don't Think So.

04/10/2013 01:33:32 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The roster of Jewish holy days this time of year functions like a Rorschach chart for Jewish identity.

Passover, for example, has many themes but it is safe to say that concern for the oppressed or Social Justice is its main focus, which is also the essence of Jewish identity for many Jews. This is certainly true at Shomrei Torah, where our largest committee is the Social Action Committee with 28 members! There is only one problem:...Read more...

What Does It Mean to Be Free

03/12/2013 01:35:24 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

What does it mean to be a slave?  What does it mean to be free?  Pesakh could be summed up as a dialectic, a dialogue between these two poles of existence — from degradation to redemption; from slavery to freedom.

Slavery.  What does it mean to be a slave?  We make a mistake if we answer this literally. Thinking about it in literal terms just distances us from the story. After all, we are not and have...Read more...

2013 Israel Travel Guide

02/05/2013 01:37:52 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

2013 Israel Travel Blog

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Exodus

01/17/2013 01:40:58 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Thanks to the coincidence of the calendar, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Day always coincides with our reading of the book of Exodus.  No doubt, Dr. King preached the Exodus story many times in his ministry and in his fight for equality, and dignity for all people.  As Michael Waltzer points out in his exceptional book, Exodus And Revolution, the Exodus story is the archetype of revolution in the west, quoted by Martin Luther...Read more...

My Dog Sarah, Euthanasia & Judaism

12/11/2012 10:20:53 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

My dog Sarah died a few weeks ago. Well, she didn’t “die,” we “put her down” after she lost the use of her hind legs. She was 14, weighed 95lbs and was suffering. It seemed like the right thing to do. I believe it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t easy. I suppose that is the way it should be; taking a life, even a dog’s life, is no small thing.

When it comes to our pets, we accept euthanasia as a compassionate...Read more...

Thu, July 16 2020 24 Tammuz 5780