December 2015, from the clergy

Dear Women of Rodef Sholom,

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Wanting to understand why this little book has attracted so much attention and why it has remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 56 weeks, I read the book and was surprised by what I found. Instead of merely being an instruction book on organizing one’s home, it turned out to offer straightforward advice on living a more deeply spiritual life. Like everything in Jewish life, Marie Kondo’s book can be understood on many levels. On the simple level, what we call in Judaism, the pashat level, it guides us in the art of discarding unnecessary and expendable objects that clutter our closets, cupboards, and homes. But on a deeper level, the drash level, Kondo calls upon us to discern what truly matters in our lives. She advises the following technique: take all of a given category from your closet, shirts, for example, place them all in one place, pick up each one and ask, “does this spark joy for me?” If the answer is yes, great, return it to the closet (in a specific order and arrangement which she explains). But, if the item does not evoke joy in one’s heart, if it does not make you sparkle with delight, hold the object, thank it for being in your life, wish it well, and release it to the world or to someone who needs it and will enjoy it. She prescribes the same process with papers, books, household items, and kitchen supplies.

Years ago, I adopted the practice of getting rid of at least one article of clothing whenever I bought something new. But Kondo’s method pushed me even further. It’s not about gradually weeding out our closets or possessions, she believes, but rather, about ridding ourselves of that which no longer serves us, which no longer “delights” us. It is also about honoring each of our possessions, treating it well, with love, and with admiration.

What I found through reading her book is that the “magic art of tidying up” is really a spiritual primer for daily living. And that when we truly appreciate everything in our lives, it is easier to let go of it. For example- a box of my sons’ old toys has been hiding in the corner of the garage for years. Every few months, Frank asks, “can we get rid of this?” And I answer, “no, I’m not ready, the boys used to love these toys when they were little, I can’t get rid of it.” But this time, I picked up each object- a small plastic dinosaur, a red, bouncy ball, a tattered, well-read book- thanked it for bringing me and my sons so much pleasure, and let it go. I was finally able to give the old toys away. While the memories are still with me, the boxes and bags of old toys and clothes are now being recycled and given to others who can make good use of them.

Perhaps the same is true of non-physical items in our lives- our character traits and habits as well! If one of our traits no longer serves us, focus on it, thank it for being present in our lives, and give it away! It might not be as easy to “give away” stubbornness, laziness, or anger, but it is a spiritual practice made easier over time. Try it!!

~Rabbi Stacy Friedman

November 2015, from the clergy

Dear Women of Rodef Sholom,

As I prepare for my sabbatical leave it is with a twinge of sadness that I face being away from Congregation Rodef Sholom for an extended period of time. Yet there is much joy and wonder at getting up each day without the responsibilities of Cantor.

So many questions cross my mind:

  • How will all my b’nei mitzvah students manage without my guidance and support?
  • Who will chant the prayers at services?
  • How will the Shabbat musicians find the music they need?
  • Who among us in need of healing?

But the biggest questions I have are:

  • Who am I when my job isn’t defining me?
  • Will I be happy when I’m taking a break from doing what I love?

It is those questions that I most want to answer, and work through because discovering that will guide me when I return to be an even better human being, father, husband, and Cantor.

Thank you all for your patience and love and support as I take this time away from all my duties.

May we all go from strength to strength.

~Cantor David Margules

November 2015, from our president

Dear Sisters,

Here we are. We have a choice. We can go out, have fun buying jewelry and accessories for amazing bargain prices to raise much needed funds for our special school across the street, Venetia Valley. Or, we can stay home, and do what? Laundry? Paperwork? Return phone calls?

Join us at the JCC November 17, 7-9pm. We will schmooze, eat, drink and get very excited about fabulous earrings that cost so little and yet have so much BLING!  I’m definitely going out and I hope to see all of you at the Fundraiser. We owe it to ourselves to have a blast! And in case you haven’t heard, WRS won the WRJ Or Ami Award for this community service project and will be recognized this month at the Women of Reform Judaism Assembly.

Then, in May 2016, using your contributions of jewelry, we will be setting up our third annual Boutique at the Parent Center at Venetia Valley School. This allows every first grader to choose a beautiful Mother’s Day gift! So come out and have fun while doing good for our community.

~Susan Goldwasser, WRS President

October 2015, from the clergy


Dear Women of Rodef Sholom,

Shabbat is coming in and, as I sit writing this last communication before evening falls I feel full of gratitude and joy. The turn-around between Yom Kippur and Sukkot has always felt crazy to me and most years I’ve wondered: “Couldn’t Sukkot just be a few days later!” But this year, my first year building a real sukkah in my own backyard, I recognized the spiritual aliveness of this rushed turnaround. From the deep personal introspection of Yom Kippur to the joy of eating a meal with our community in the Sukkah-the contrast is palpable. And that is the whole point-for us to experience the full range of human emotion in the short span of these holidays. And so we build our Sukkot, no matter how tired we may still be from fasting. And how sweet it is!

It’s nearly impossible to have a Sukkah in New York City when you’re living there as a student. During my years in cantorial and rabbinical school living in Brooklyn I celebrated sukkot with my synagogue and fulfilled the mitzvah of eating meals in a sukkah on my graduate school’s rooftop where we would build a communal sukkah each year. It was very rare for any one of my friends to have a sukkah of their own because space was so limited. This year, it feels like an incredible privilege to be able to host people in my own sukkah that members of Rodef Sholom helped to build. It’s a new year, and this festival of joy and gratitude is a beautiful way for our tradition to celebrate.

Just like in secular time, the new year in Jewish time is a wonderful opportunity to take on a new practice. One practice that I will be exploring this year is a return to jogging/walking as a regular morning gratitude practice after years away. The purpose of my return to jogging is not about fitness or pushing myself in any competitive way. Rather, it is entirely about getting up in the morning, greeting the day with gratitude, being outside, and feeling appreciation for movement and for the body that keeps me going each day. If you are interested in joining me in this new practice please e-mail me at  Together we’ll form a supportive group of joggers/walkers and choose a 5K we would like to participate in together!

Wishing you a Happy New Year and Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Rabbi Elana

October 2015, from our president


Hello Ladies,

This is the time of year that we look ahead, wondering  what 5776 will bring. We are busily planning meetings, writing school obligations into the calendar, trying to balance exercise, coffee, errands, volunteer activities, taking care of homes, relationships, children. And for those who have jobs outside the home, we factor that in along with everything else. It is a dizzy, hectic vortex. As women, multitasking seems to be our constant companion.

Squeezing in one more thing, I recklessly registered for an entire weekend away from home and adult responsibility. In between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I was fortunate enough to attend a retreat at Camp Newman for women over 45 years old, called The Next Tent.  Over 80 women from the Bay Area, southern California and even outside of California gathered together. We were excited but also a little apprehensive, as none of us knew what to expect. It turned out to be an incredible experience, filled with small group sessions exploring our life journeys, hiking, swimming, singing, dance partying, doing yoga, Torah Study, eating s’mores around the campfire, and making new friends. Doesn’t this sound like fun? No wonder kids love camp.

At 7:30am on Sunday morning some of us met for a hike. First, we were asked to pick a word from a bag (called angel cards) and privately reflect upon it. After hearing a gorgeous Mary Oliver poem about nature, we hiked up a steep hill in silence. Ordinarily being silent would be extremely hard but it was a very steep hill. When we got to the top, we were treated to a magnificent view of distant ridges, farms, and rolling hills. Each woman then had a chance to share her word. Mine was Love.  At first when I had read my word, I wondered what I would say. While schlepping up that hill, it became so clear.

How about we stop and feel the love that is in our lives right now? What might it feel like to stop planning and scheduling for a moment, and just completely allow ourselves to take it in. Not past loves gone imperfect, not hopes for future love, not seeking to enhance current love, but just appreciating the love that is with us at this exact moment.

I returned home holding onto that thought. I hope that no matter how busy life can be, we can remember to feel the love from family and friends, pets (OK, I don’t have any but you may), spouses, significant others, your fellow congregants, and of course, your sisters at Rodef Sholom.

L’Shana Tova,

~Susan Goldwasser, WRS President

September 2015, from our president


Dear Sisters,

As summer winds down we sense a transition is upon us. Even if you are not going back to school the “getting ready to go back to school” excitement/trepidation is in the air. Inevitably we wonder about 5776 and what this year will be like for us. I’m thinking about how this year can offer new possibilities, friendships and adventures.

How do we capture that new semester thrill if we are many years away(OK decades) from being a student? Just because I’m not getting a new backpack or notebooks doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, or feel like this semester is a fresh start.

How about making new friends and discovering the possibilities for making a difference in the world right here with the Women of Rodef Sholom? Please join us September 27 at 3pm for our opening event. It will be lots of fun, educational, and there will be delicious treats. Come on your own or bring a friend. We invite you to make this year a little different by making deeper connections with old as well as new friends.

And if you haven’t joined the back to school rush at Target the pre-sharpened pencils are divine. Go next week, it’s never too late.

~Susan Goldwasser, WRS President

September 2015, from the clergy


Dear Friends,

We find ourselves in the month of Elul, the month leading up to our High Holy Days.  This month is meant to be a time of reflection, a time of preparation, and a time of Teshuvah, of repentance.  What do you do during this month to help yourself prepare for the High Holy Days? Each morning during this month we are supposed to hear the sound of the Shofar, to awaken our souls, to make us aware, perhaps even to frighten us a little bit about the approaching Day of Atonement.  Our source for the blowing of the shofar comes from a verse in Leviticus 23 that says: “God spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.”  This celebration of Rosh Hashanah is observed on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and begins on the evening of Sunday, September 13th.  On that day, we will gather together, we will sing and we will pray, we will atone for our sins, we will hear the familiar melodies that hearken us back to our childhood and beyond, and we will hear the blasts of the shofar. What feelings does the blast of the shofar stir up for you?  Are those feelings different year after year?

Maimonides taught the following: “Although the sounding of the shofar on the New Year is a decree of the written law, still it has a deep meaning, as if saying, ‘Awake, awake, o sleeper, from your sleep; o slumberers, arouse yourselves from your slumbers; examine your deeds, return in repentance, remember your Creator.'”

I encourage you to find a way to listen to the sound of the shofar every day during the month of Elul.  If you can’t hear it in person click this link to listen to a recording.  The link works everyday except on Shabbat.  May it awaken your soul to examine your deeds, to return in repentance, and to arrive at Rosh Hashanah ready to begin 5776 anew.  May this new year be filled with joy, with light, and with love for you and yours.

Shanah tovah u’metukah!

Rabbi Lara

August 2015, from our president


Hi Ladies,

This has been quite an historic summer. The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. #lovewins has been on my mind. I learned that the Women of Reform Judaism have been advocating for civil rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation since 1965. It took the Supreme Court 50 years to catch up to us!

I’ve been thinking about what relationships with our significant others, families, congregations, and communities might look like if we could really embrace “love wins.” I’m trying to imagine how society could be influenced if we truly made love a priority. What if the measure of success, obtaining the championship trophy, meant more love in the world? It feels really overwhelming trying to visualize love as being a commodity that could matter enough to be on the agenda. But still, if we could treat each other with respect, recognize each others’ unique qualities and embrace differences, it would improve every aspect of our lives.

Rather than taking on the universe, how about if for right now we take a breath, enjoy the Supreme Court decision and spend some time together. Make a new friend, deepen current friendships. Join us at a swim party on August 9th at my home. Join the CRS Congregational Women’s Mikvah at the JCC on August 30th.  We invite you all to feel the love that exists right here in our own community at Women of Rodef Sholom.

~Susan Goldwasser, WRS President