Congregation Beth El

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Berkeley, CA
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Parent Reviews

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Archived Reviews: 


Oct 2011

Re: Looking for Hebrew school for 2nd grader
Congregation Beth El has a great Jewish education program. Deb Massey, the ed director, is just wonderful and has done a tremendous job at building a great program. There is a family ed program as well as a traditional after school program, which has transportation from many of the berkeley public schools. Both the Rabbi's, Rabbi Yoel Kahn and Rabbi Reuben Zellman, are vey committed to the education, and the needs of the kids and their families.

In my experience, Beth El is great about financial assistance, and making the necessary accommodations to insure that folks are able to engage fully. good luck! Happy Beth El Family

Nov 2010

Re: Catholic looking for something different
I too was a practicing Catholic until 5 or 6 years ago. I found it hard to reconcile being prochoice and in favor of gay rights & trying to call myself a Catholic.

My husband was raised culturally Jewish but was frustrated with his family's lack of practice and spiritual practice. We decided to learn about both religions and choose one or the other for our family. I found Jewish theology to be very interesting and much more intellectual and open minded (at least in the reform community).

We now belong to Beth El in Berkeley - a tremendously liberal family- oriented congregation. We have made many great connections with other preschool families and enjoy their life-long learning programs. Good luck! Suzanne

Sept 2006

Re: Child-friendly services and rabbis
We joined Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and I converted almost three years ago. The Rabbis Ferenc Raj and Jane Litman were wonderful to study with. We have attended Tot Shabbats with our daughter at Beth El since she was 6 months old. My husband and I just had a second Jewish wedding there. We're also in the Adult B'nai Mitzvah class. We have found the congregation to be very welcoming and love the sense of community. It is very family friendly. I don't know of any classes to convert. People usually find a rabbi and study one on one. Good luck in your search. Converting has been a great thing for my family Julie

August 2006

Re: Radical church or synagogue
Hey there, I'm not entirely sure about the 'radical' aspect, but I can totally recommend Congregation Beth El as a place of love, openness and inclusiveness. The rabbis (one male, one female, plus a great cantor) insist on gender-neutral language; the Jewish religion in general is a very positive and affirming one. No 'original sin' here, the focus is on putting our broken and disjointed world back together by deeds of lovingkindness. There is a great sense of community, plus social responsibility. Many who worship at Beth El are not Jewish, my husband being one of them, but he feels more comfortable there than any church he's visited in the area.

Also, not only is there lots of music and singing, sometimes we have awesome Israeli folk dancing after services! Check out for more info, or bring your daughter to one of our Tot Shabbats (next one is Friday September 15 at 5:30 - dinner is free and served before a brief child-friendly service).

I'm glad that you're on a quest like this for you and your daughter, and I hope you click somewhere. Once you find the right environment, nothing else in the world feels as good as belonging -Hope you find what you're looking for

May 2006

Re: Synogogue friendly to interfaith families

My family belongs to Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. It is a Reform synagogue. When we joined I was not Jewish but I have since converted. There are many interfaith families and we feel comfortable celebrating Jewish holidays at home and Christian holidays with extended family. Many of our friends celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah at home.

Beth El has a nursery school and many adult education classes. Our daughter attends the nursery school and we have been very happy there. It is a good mix of Jewish, interfaith and non- Jewish families. There is a Tot Shabbat once a month with a dinner so you can get to know some of the families. The best part about Beth El is the community. We have made wonderful friends there and consider it our second home. You can check out the web site to see the calendar of events. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have more questions or would like a ''buddy'' at Shabbat services Julie

I would high recommend you check out Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. They are very friendly to interfaith families and have a lot of interfaith families as active members of the temple. The nursey school is fabulous, and a lot of interfaith families attend (us included). As the kids grow older, they can hook up with the incredibly positive, warm, fun and inspiring Camp Kee Tov during the summers and the religous school during the school year. There are ongoing educational activities for adults from weekly torah study to ''Hebrew 101'', a men's group, a woman's group, multiple interfaith community activites. The list goes on. We have found it to be a very rich and rewarding community with a lot to offer a young family who is searching for a place to belong and to explore Jewish roots in a non-threatening and/or ''beginners'' way. Check out their web-site: Lauran

Please check out Beth El in Berkeley. It is an extremely diverse and interesting congregation with more activities than you could ever imagine. Not your father's Shul

April 2005

Re: Jewish temple for agnostic non-Jew and family

I feel a bit like a broken record, since I was one of those who responded to a similiar post a few weeks ago, but . . . Yes I think you might find a community of like-minded people in one (or more) of the many congregations discussed in the reponse to the last posting. Try going to a few events at the ones that you think will be the best fit. Start with the ones closest to you - its always easier to be involved in a community that is closer to home. Call the executive director (ours is Michael Liepman) and/or Rabbi (ours are Ferenc Raj and Jane Litman) and chat. Talk to some members.

Beth El works for my family because it has an awesome community of kids. My son has been there since he was two and my daughter since first grade. It is their community and they feel totally at home. Beth El has programming for people of all ages but Beth El's youth programming is particuarly good. The kids have fun while learning Jewish history, values, ethics and spirituality. Both of my kids love being there and they have a large community of children and young adults who are their friends and role models.

No you won't find prosletizing. There are many agnostics and philosophers and people who feel connected to more than one religion. In terms of class issues, there are some people with money but there are many without so much. The community is much what you might assume of a North Berkeley Jewish community - well educated, smart, opinionated but not necessarily well off. There are many professionals (therapists, lawyers, teachers, accountants, scientists) and also people who work in the trades, students, retired people etc. It's generally not that obvious who is well off and who isn't, unless you know someone well or go to their home.

As I said in the last post, I'm happy to chat more and to accompany you, or anyone interested in joining, to a service or event. Amy

March 2005

Re: Seeking a diverse, open minded reform synagogue

Hi! Mazel Tov on wanting to reconnect with a Jewish community. I am a member of Beth El in Berkeley and have honestly found the kind of community I remember from my childhood in Florida.

It's a small enough group that you feel like everyone knows you (and vice versa) and big enough to have excellent well-run programs like the Nursery School, Camp Kee Tov, and Midrasha (all for children) plus many great adult programs and classes. We're also moving to a gorgeous new synagogue at the end of the summer with the most amazing facilities.

As for diversity - well, my husband isn't Jewish either, plus there are many other interfaith couples at Beth El. There are many mixed-ethnicity families (African-American, Asian-American, you name it) and many gay and lesbian families as well. It's about as welcoming a community as you can get, with a great focus on community service and social justice. No one is turned away for lack of funds, either.

One caveat which I have found to be true no matter where you go or what you do - to feel a part of things, you must BE a part of things: sign up for a hebrew class, go to services, volunteer at a homeless meal or join one of the women's groups, book groups or prayer groups. You won't get that feeling of yiddishkeit by sitting at home by yourself! :) Romy

Your family sounds like ours in some ways (different in others). We have found a wonderful community at Beth El in North Berkeley. I was raised as a Jewish Atheist and that is who I remain. My partner was raised more observant but we didn't consider joining a temple until we adopted children. Then we went Shul shopping, hoping for a place that was close by and welcomed our lesbian family with bi-racial kids. Our son is black and our daughter is part Mexican. We were welcomed with open arms and now are much more invovled with Temple life than I had imagined we would be. Who I am has not changed and its a bit odd to be raising kids who are more observant than me. But what I get is a multi-generational vibrant Jewish community that my kids feel part of and nurtured by. My sons pre-school friends from Beth El are the ones he feels closest too. (He's now in first grade but still sees them all reguarly). My daughter is in a bilingual program in school and has her group of Mexican friends from school and her group of Jewish friends from Beth El. Both kids live for Kee Tov, Beth El's summer camp. The religious school and programming for kids is truly fabulous. We have gotten far more than I expected by becoming part of this community.

While I can't say there are many African American members, there are some. There is an African American woman who is in leadership at the Temple. We are having a program called ''Jewish Fusion'' on April 17 which is focusing on the racial and ethnic diversity of our community.

There are LOTS of inter-faith families at Beth El. They are very welcome and participate at all levels.

I would love for your family to join. I hope you'll check Beth El out and if you'd like to talk further, or want someone to go with you to a service or event there, let me know, I'd be happy to go with you and your family. amy

Check out Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. We have been very pleased w/ the reform nature & diversity of families there - we got involved through the nursery school & discovered that we found an great community for the entire family. Romy

August 2003

Re: Looking for a spiritual community with music & dance
Temple Beth El in Berkeley has a wonderful Shabbat service every month called ''Joy of Shabbat''. There is a lot of singing with the adult and children's choirs as well as musicians and often times there is Israeli line dancing after the Shabbat services. The next service is August 29. In general Beth El is a warm, open and loving congregation and very family friendly. Rabbi Ferenc Raj and Rabbi Jane Litman are very involved and accessible. Cantor Brian Reich makes every service at Beth El musical and moving. It is a good fit for our family and music is very important to us too. Julie

Feb 1999

Re: Looking for a child-oriented Jewish congregation

I'm a member of Beth El in Berkeley on Arch and Vine. It is a reform synagogue with a lot of interfaith families. Beth Els big plus is the great summer camp Kee Tov, a wonderful nursery school with a two year old program, an ongoing and large religious school and Midrasha program for teens (open to all Jewish teenagers). There is more and more adult education programing, a weekly Torah study group (with childcare available), a small Shabbat early Minyan. There is for the past year a growing community action group involved in community service projects...It is a larger congregation with a large age range and loads of families with small children. Rochelle