Seeking a Jewish Community

Parent Q&A

  • Searching for the right-fit Jewish community

    (10 replies)

    Hello BPN,

    We are expecting our first child soon and I'm looking to join a temple or Jewish community to help them connect with their Jewish identity.  We are not religious, and my partner is not Jewish, though I am highly connected to Jewish identity and culture, and would like to find support in passing this along to our child.  Do you have suggestions for a synagogue that might be a good fit?  We are in North Oakland.


    Temple Isaiah - Lafayette, CA

    Worth the trip, great community!

    I’m kind of in the same boat, my little guy is almost 5 months old and I’m Jewish while my husband isn’t. I would recommend checking out the local JCC. I work for one in SF so perhaps I’m a bit biased but I’ve been thinking about checking out the one in Berkeley soon. 

    Without a doubt, Temple Sinai in Oakland.  We are so happy we enrolled our child in the preschool there, which is absolutely full of interfaith families and a very high number of non-Jewish and non-religious families.  It's a wonderful school with caring teachers, and a lovely community.  Honestly, we were just looking for a solid school that worked logistically for our family.  We didn't realize it would quietly forge such a strong sense of Jewish identity and belonging for our child.  We've stayed members of the synagogue because our child loves the place so much, it feels diverse and welcoming, and the two Rabbis are both absolutely fantastic.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Looking for a reform temple

August 2008

Hi All,
We recently moved up here from Los Angeles, and have noticed there isnt a very big jewish population up least compared to LA. We went to the SF JCC and we were told we needed to ''seek it out'', meaning joining a temple. I am more of a cultural jew...meaning I speak a little yiddish, eat bagels and lox/deli on sundays, and I dont eat pork, unless it is well hidden in something like pepperoni (;-), and celebrate passover and chanukah, with the occasional fast on yom kippur. (Im sure you get the point) And like most cultural jews, I married a catholic who is open to conversion and raising our 4 month old daughter jewish.

We want to join a reform temple with mixed couples and chavurah in contra costa county. Our goal with the temple is to meet other families like us, and have a place for our daughter to learn about jewish culture. I know there are a few out here in Lafayette, WC, and Danville. I just dont know which one is right for us.

We are in our late 30's, professionals, love to go out to dinner, travel, go to the theater, drink wine, attend sports events, shop etc. Which temple would we fit into?
Shalom Smith

Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond is a wonderful, smallish reform temple. We are located off of the Hilltop exit. There are about 100 families at TBH, all ages, many are interfaith. We have a great religious school for the kids. Temple Beth Hillel is a warm and friendly congregation. We have a part time rabbi, Dean Kertesz. Friday night Shabbat services are twice a month with one pot luck dinner before service once a month. There are adult ed classes for anyone who wants, lay led Torah Study every Saturday morning, celebration of all the holidays, a great cantor and a choir that is always open for new singers. We're big into music. My husband is the temple President,Dana Meyer. You can call him at 510, 812-1599 or check out the website, Good luck, and welcome to the bay area. June

I'd be glad to help you learn about the synagogue options in your area and figure out which would work best for you and your family. I run a nonprofit organization called Jewish Gateways, and we help people who are seeking to connect with Jewish life and community. If you call or email me we can talk more about what you're looking for and I can make suggestions. I can also help you meet people at whatever synagogues you'd like to try out, which most people find is a better way to explore the community than just walking into a service. Our website is, and it has my contact info on it. Bridget Wynne

We too were recently looking for a reform synagogue. We live in Walnut Creek. We looked at 3 reform ones and decided on B'nai Tikvah . It's about 300 families. Seems very warm and welcoming. My advice is to go and check them out for services, events, etc. Temple Isaih (Lafayette) is the largest reform temple in the area, but it may be too big for your taste. Good luck. Email if you want more info. mhb

I suggest that you make an appointment to meet with Rabbi Asher at B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. It is a wonderful, warm, family friendly, open minded reformed temple. Call Judy Blum (the temple administrator) at: 925.933-5397. You can say that Cookie sent you. Cookie

Whoever told you that you had to ''seek out a temple'' was right. They are all different and have different personalities much like people. You sound like you are looking for a reform congregation, and from the sound of it, it seems like you would fit right into Beth El in Berkeley. But, it seems like it might be far for you to come if you want to have community and you want your daughter to go to religious school.

But, you really need to make some appts. and go out Shul Shopping. Call the offices and tell them you are new and want to check out the temple and meet the rabbi. I am sure any where you call will fall over backwards to accommodate you.

When I lived out your way, I used to visit Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. I liked it a lot, but knew I was moving so I did not join. I also have visited Temple Sinai in Oakland, which I love to death, but it is not convenient to me.

Anyway, welcome. I am sure there is the perfect match out there for you.

There are several Reform temples in Contra Costa and since they all have interfaith couples you probably want to tailor your choice to other elements also. Like - what city do you live in? With a four year old who will be entering either the preschool or, in a year, the Hebrew school, you may want to consider drive time from home to shul.

You mention a chavura - you want to find out which ones are actively forming chavurot.

VERY important - if your husband is seriously considering conversion, he needs to be with a rabbi that he feels very comfortable with as the process is an intimate and powerful one.

I refer interfaith couples to Jewish connections all the time. Here are some options: 1. call me at Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples at 510-663-8350 and we can talk about your desires and requirements. 2. You might like to be on my eletter to more than 700 other interfaith folks in the bay area - events and info specific to interfaith (see previous letters at 3. Your husband may enjoy looking at a bay area site that is getting started by and for seekers and Jews by Choice at (that's .NET not .com) Cheers! Dawn Kepler

Seeking diversity-friendly reform congregation

Sept 2007

We're moving to Oakland soon and are looking for a reform or similar synagouge or congregation to join that is friendly to and includes a diversity of Jewish people and beliefs, as well as interfaith couples and families, and same-sex couples and their families. Any suggestions? anon

Visit Temple Sinai ! It is that simple...tons of diversity - interfaith, inter-racial, same-sex...just a wonderful & welcoming place to belong. We could not be happier! Loving Temple Sinai

You're describing Kehilla ! We've been members there for several years as an interfaith couple. You owe it to yourself to check out a few services. The temple is near the Grand Lake Theater. It's worked well for our family. Check it out at: Jeff

Netivot Shalom is a diverse, accepting, participatory community. Our community includes same sex families, inter-married families, single parent families, and singles of both young and older age brackets. Netivot has by far THE best learning opportunities and shabbat programmming for both adults and children (ages 0-13). I have been a member for 10 years. Netivot is a vibrant, diverse and truly spiritual Berkeley Jewish community. Visit us in our new building at 1316 University Ave (2 blocks below Sacramento) or on the web at We also have a new dynamic Rabbi who you will definitely want to meet! chalyn

Welcome to the East Bay! You would be and would feel very welcome at Congregation Netivot Shalom , a progressive, egalitarian, participatory, and inclusive community. It is located in central Berkeley and there is a large number of members from Oakland (as well as from San Francisco, Marin County, central Contra Costa County, and the Peninsula). I think our distinguishing characteristic is the extent of member participation in all aspects of synagogue life, from prayer services to social action to youth education and beyond. I know a number of interfaith and LGBT families at Netivot, and the congregation is actively involved in efforts to include these families. We are part of Project Welcome, an outreach program to welcome interfaith families and LGBT into synagogues. Netivot has also been a leader in the successful movement to allow ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis in the Conservative Movement, and our rabbi co-founded an association of LGBT-Friendly Rabbis.

I would venture that we hold diverse opinions on matters of belief and politics, although somewhat to the left of the national average. Netivot is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, but you might find it closer to your expectations of a Reform synagogue than to a typical East Coast Conservative synagogue.

I hope you will visit Netivot and see if it is right for you and your family. If you have children, please check out one of our nationally recognized programs for children (call ahead for the schedule: 510-549-9447 ext. 101). I would also be happy to talk to you personally. Shana Tova! David

Forgive me if I missed a previous post that said all this -- since you say you're moving to Oakland, you may want to explore one of the Oakland congregations. The Oakland congregations reflect Oakland - they have interfaith families, Jews of color, LGBT Jews. The Reform shul is Temple Sinai - an old, large congregation, about 900 families. Typical of Reform congregations, they have lots of interfaith families. You should give the office a call at 451-3263 and talk to Gabby the membership staff person. She's warm, wonderful and married to a lovely Muslim man.

Or give Temple Beth Abraham a call. They are the Conservative shul. They too have a diverse membership and a charming rabbi who leads Rock n'Roll Shabbats. 832-0936

Or call Beth Jacob, the Orthodox shul - but I must say a truly unorthodox Orthodox shul. They are small & intimate. Their rabbi teaches a lot to the general community and has a large following of devoted students. 482-1147 If you want more information feel free to call me. I work for the Jewish community as a whole. Dawn Kepler, Building Jewish Bridges, 510-839-2900 x347 dawn [at]

Child-friendly services and rabbis

August 2006

I've been drawn to the Jewish faith for some time, yet steps toward conversion were put on hold until my daughter was old enough to attend tot Shabbats, which I think she is now(3.5 yrs). I am looking for recommendations for child-friendly services and rabbis. I've already taken an intro class and read many books, but I'd love it if there were a class for people who want to convert. I am interested in more liberal synagogues. Thanks dawn

Hi Dawn:
I'm delighted to read your post on the Berkeley Parents list. I am a rabbi, and I run an organization that helps people connect to Jewish life. I am offering an Introduction to Judaism class that starts in October and might be appropriate for you to take as one step towards conversion. If it would repeat the class you've already taken I'll be glad to talk with you about other possible classes in the community. I would also be happy to speak with you about what rabbis and synagogues might work best for you and your daughter, once I know more about where you are located and what your interests are. Please call or email if you'd like! Warm regards, Bridget

JGate is an independent, grassroots group that reaches out to Jews, their families, and all who seek connections to Jewish life and community. We welcome you for Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations, salons on Judaism and social justice, Jewish study sessions, and rabbinic mentoring. We are ready to help you find your \x93home\x94 in the Jewish community

I'm not Jewish, but a friend of mine invited me to attend a service at her wonderful synagogue, which was extremely child-friendly, at least for our 8 year olds. There was child care. It's very progressive and not very traditional. The whole Shabbat service was inspiring, with lots and lots of music, singing, good sermon, and even some dancing. It's called Chochmat Halev and here's the web site: Lauren

I attend a wonderful, very liberal congregation in Berkeley, Chochmant HaLev . There are Family Shabbats the second Friday of each month, absolutely awesome adult (but child friendly) service filled with music and dancing on the first and third Fridays, and a host of other really interesting offerings. There is a weekly (or bi-weekly, for the younger children) school program and ultimately Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation. (Since my son is only seven, we haven't gotten that far yet.) The congregation is very diverse (ethnically, age wise, family make up, religious backgrounds, etc.), which is one of my favorite things about it. NC

Hi Dawn, There are lots of Jews on this list and you'll get a lot of people saying their rabbi and their congregation are terrific -- and they're all right! I would suggest that you do some shul shopping and rabbi shopping. The rabbi you choose will probably work with you for a year - you need to feel very comfortable with that person. This experience will be an intense and meaningful one. I work with folks considering conversion, who have converted (or who decide not to but want to learn more anyway). I run a program of Outreach for the East Bay Jewish community, you can reach me at the Federation at 510-839-2900 x347 or 925-943- 1484. I can send you a copy of Resource (the local Jewish yellow pages) and I can talk to you about the many options around you. I also have a listserve for people considering conversion to Judaism, as well as one for people who have converted. These groups -- totally about 90 people -- share information, support, good ideas, etc. We have a quarterly brunch where everyone has a great time. Occasionally smaller groups go out to dinner together. I'd be happy to connect you with all of them and to invite you to the brunchs (the next one is in early October. Oh, and of course everything is free. As for conversion -- Mazel tov! and Welcome!
Dawn Kepler Building Jewish Bridges dawn at Dawn Kepler

Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley (2215 Prince) has fabulously child friendly services. The kids love it. First and third Shabbat at 7:30 has a great band, lots of dancing and childcare which the kids can come and go from. The kids often sit on cushions in the front. The 2nd Friday at 6:30 is a service for families with young children. Very sweet and spiritual. They are affiliated with Jewish Arts, Culture School which has a wonderful program for young kids. You can also inquire about conversion classes. The website is: or there is a link at The Rabbis are very,very child friendly!

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

Radical church or synagogue

August 2006

I'm looking for a radical church--I am open to the type of spirituality, we're open to Christian, religious science, etc. I do care that the language is gender inclusive, that the theology is positive and affirming and non-orthodox. I'd like to start attending church w/ my 2 year old daughter to have her develop a sense of community, but many churches I've tried are a little too staid or too orthodox for our tastes. Someplace with really good music would definitely be a bonus. Thanks for your help. anon

My family goes to Chochmat HaLev (translation: Wisdom of the Heart) in Berkeley on Prince St. It's a ''Center for Jewish Spirituality'', as opposed to a synagogue. I find it radical in it's approach because the Rabbi (Avram Davis) consistently puts out a message of compassion and the importance of community-- two very important concepts, especially in current times. they have clebratory Kabbalat Shabbat services twice a month on Friday nights and lots of other community activities in between. Oh, and the music is FANTASTIC!! I definitely encourage you to check it out, and feel free to call me if you'd like to ask more questions . I have lots to say about this wonderful community. i was not raised or born jewish, but I LOVE this community and there are MANY interfaith and diverse families there. Check them out at

Good luck, Rachel

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

Editor Note: Additional responses to this question are on the Christian Churches page.

Synogogue friendly to interfaith families

May 2006

I am looking to get back to my Jewish ''roots'' and help my 2 year old daughter learn about her Jewish heritage. My husband was raised Catholic but now does not practice any religion. We do celebrate Christmas (in a very secular way),but he is open to raising our child with exposure to the Jewish faith. Could you recommend a temple either in Berkeley or Contra Costa County that would welcome an interfaith family, and that also might offer some adult education and kids activities? I'm not sure where to begin! Do I just show up for Shabbat services? Thank you. Confused Interfaith Family

I am a member of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette and although both my husband and I are Jewish there are a considerable number of interfaith couples who belong, as well as different ethnicities,which I enjoy.

On a recent high holiday children's service, the officiating rabbi invited those not Jewish to come up to the front for a special blessing and to acknowledge personal challenges that they may have faced to embrace the faith of their partner. It was actually very emotional for those standing in front of the crowd as well as those of us in the pews.

I share this to tell you that there is an understanding, an embracing and a welcoming of interfaith couples. I have met many couples where one partner is Jewish (either the man or the woman) and they have chosen to expose their children to the Jewish faith.

It is a reformed synagogue, which in my opinion is more relaxed to begin with. I don't feel beaten over the head over what I 'should' believe, yet every time I am there I feel the warmth of the faith and the people I am surrounded by.

You can attend services as a visitor--just show up. That's how we started out; going to children's high holiday services and family services which are held usually the first Friday of the month. It will give you a sense of how the clergy interfaces wtih families and children and the oneg shabbat afterward where we say the hamotzi and enjoy drinks and desserts is a wonderful and friendly social time. I hope you'll take a look! Good luck to you karen

I have been shul-hopping for a while now and am finding that most synagogues are friendly/welcoming to interfaith families. Especially one near Hilltop in Richmond, Temple Beth Hillel, email tbh at or call 510-223-2560. Also, contact Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay which has a program for interfaith couples called Building Jewish Bridges run by Dawn Kepler whom you can reach at dawn at and 510- 839-2900 or 925-943-1484. Shalom, Lindy Seeking Jewish Roots too

Like your family, mine is interfaith - actually, my husband has no religious orientation or identity at all. I'm Jewish. I've found that Kehilla Community Synagogue , on Grand Avenue in Piedmont, is very welcoming of our interfaith, interracial family. The congregation is Jewish Renewal, which works well for me. I love the community at Kehilla, find it meets my needs spiritually, and offers classes, kid stuff, and more. I've been a member for about five years now. You can check out their website at You might want to start by taking your daughter to the monthly ''Tot Shabbat'', which is the first Friday of the month at 6:30pm. It's a potluck dinner with a brief service that is designed for young children. We used to go, and it was a great way to introduce my daughter to Judaism and to meet other Kehilla families with young children. Feel free to email me if you have more questions about Kehilla, and good luck! Lisa

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

My partner and I belong to a ''Center for Jewish Spirituality'' called Chochmat HaLev (meaning: Wisdom of the Heart), on Prince St. in Berkeley. It is a wonderful place, and full of interfiath couples (ourselves included). they offer classes and Several different ''flavors'' of Shabbat services including an awesom Kabbalat (celebratory) Shabbat, a family Shabbat (lots of kids, shorter) and a more traditional service 1x a month. Check them out at There is no membership requirement or anything, but we really supported the teaching and were anxious to support the organization. Go see for yourself, but beware, you will feel joy when you go! rachel

We have been members of Netivot Shalom in Berkeley for several years and really like the community. We are not an interfaith family, but I converted several years ago, and we also have a 2-yr-old daughter. Netivot is a Conservative congregation, but very opening and welcoming to interfaith families and families of all types. It is also egalitarian and very participatory. We have a wonderful ''tot shabbat'' the second and fourth Saturday of every month from 11am to noon. Perhaps this might be the best way for you and your daughter to check out the synagogue. We would be happy to meet you and show you around if you're interested in coming. Please feel free to contact me at kara-at-vuicich-dot-com. The synagogue is on University Ave., just west of Bonar. We also have some great adult ed classes. Kara

I recommend Temple Beth Hillel (TBH) in Richmond (near Hilltop). My situation was very close to yours. My husband is Catholic. We celebrate Christmas just for fun part (Santa, tree, festive spirit of gift giving). We checked out TBH a couple of years ago. We went a few times to see if we liked it. The plus for us was that it is a reform congregation which I thought would be better for my husband since there is more English and he could understand more of the prayers, etc. The temple members are very welcoming. They have services about twice a month (less pressure about trying to make it to services every week). Once a month, a Potluck Shabbat precedes the services. Many families with kids attend that one. There are several interfaith families. There's a religious school. There are lots of kids' activities. Our favorite is the Purim Carnival. I suggest checking it out. Here's the website: marcia

Chochmat HaLev , on Prince Street in Berkeley between Telegraph and Shattuck,, affiliated with the Jewish Arts, Culture and Torah school, has been very welcoming to our interfaith family and our 15 year old who belatedly decided he wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah. They have children's services once or twice a month, and children of all ages (even noisy ones) are welcome at the regular adult services as well. Chochmat has classes, meditation, shabbat dinners Another mom from an interfaith family

Dear Confused, I imagine any synagogue in this area would be happy to help you and are generally welcoming to interfaith families. The best place to start would be to call Alice Hale or Dawn Kepler at the Jewish Federation (510-839-2900) who run an organization called Building Jewish Bridges - Outreach to Interfaith Couples. If you have any trouble, please feel free to give me a call at Temple Beth Abraham at 510-832-0936 x 13. Rabbi Mark Bloom, Oakland blooms21 at

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

Have you tried contacting Jewish Family and Childrens' Services? They are on Dwight and Shattuck in downtown Berkeley marianne

Joining a synagogue on low-budget

April 2006

I am Jewish by birth, but my family did not belong to a synagogue growing up, nor did I go to Hebrew school or have a bat mitzvah. I see myself as culturally Jewish - my family celebrated Hanukkah growing up. That's about it, but somehow I grew up feeling connected with being Jewish. My husband was raised Conservative, went to Hebrew school, and was bar mitzvah. We celebrate Hanukkah, try to get to a seder each year, and try to have shabbat at our house on Fridays. This is already more than I experienced growing up, so on one hand I feel like we're doing well giving our daughter some experiences. While my husband and I belong to the local Jewish Community Center (Walnut Creek), other than sending our daughter to camp there each summer, I feel like we don't have a real connection with the Jewish community here. So I was thinking maybe we should join a synagogue. I have several friends who belong to B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek and was considering that. The problem is that we pretty much can't afford to join a synagogue. Last year I did the math and if we wanted to join, we'd pretty much have to choose between joining or sending our daughter to camp (camp would have to win). Anybody have any suggestions? Also, my husband and I are both agnostic, so it's hard for me to understand which synagogue we would feel most comfortable at, plus we adopted our daughter and she isn't Jewish by birth. Then there is the question of Hebrew school - where we are at is that if our daughter was interested, we'd send her, but wouldn't force her. Thanks for any suggestions for any of the issues I've raised!
looking for a Jewish community

I hope someone gives you a recommendation for a place near you but if you are willing to come through the tunnel look into Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland/ Piedmont. The website address is Kehilla's dues are sliding scale and there are lots of interfaith families (including my own) and families with a huge variety of past involvement from orthodox to atheist. Otherwise if there is a synagogue you like in Walnut Creek why not talk to them about joining and the financial issues involved? I may be wrong but it seems to me that they should have some sort of way of making it affordable for people who want to be there. I was also raised secular Jewish and am finding getting more involved with Judaism through Kehilla to feel really meaningful. enjoy your journey

Don't let cost keep you from joining a synagogue! I've never heard of a synagogue that turns people away who can't afford full dues. They often have reduced dues options which allow people to pay what they can reasonably afford. You just have to ask. Besides, you generally do not need to join a synagogue to attend most programs there (sending your daugher to Hebrew school is often an exception). You can start attending events and make up your mind about whether joining makes sense for you without having to pay anything first.

As for which synagogue you'd feel comfortable at...the only way to find out is to try a few. There is a huge variety of beliefs (including agnostic congregants), practice, and personalities within each synagogue. I've known people who join synagogues where the religous practice was different from their own, but the community was a good fit. Even if you decide not to join any, it can be an interesting adventure visiting a bunch of synagogues and getting a feel for each community. Elizabeth

If cost is holding you back stop worrying, every synagogue has an amount of membership that they state but you can always tell them your situation and work something out. They want you to join, they want you to educate your child.

Rabbi Asher at B'nai Tikvah is a very accessible man, soft- spoken, intelligent, non-judgmental. Being agnostic just puts you in the mainstream.

It sounds like you're already doing a lot at home. Why not give yourself the joy of extended community? Give it a try. another Jewish mom

Dues for synagogues are generally recommended, not required. We belong to Temple Sinai and they have a suggested amount for yearly dues and a sheet that allows you to write in how much you are will pay (or are able to pay...I assume many people actually contribute more than the required amount). When we joined 9 years ago, we also felt like dues were steep; my partner and I agreed on an amount we could afford and each year we have tried to pay more than we did the year before. I believe most synagogues have a similar policy. And truly-- no one tried to pressure us or somehow made us feel bad about it. We do recognize that running a synagogue is expensive... but I think if you make a good-faith effort, then you will do the best you can as time goes on. Perhaps you can think about how else you can ''contribute'' to the community there... in volunteer time or just in your active presence. Believe me, there are MANY people who have spiritual beliefs similar to yours (like us, for instance), but belong to a synagogue for a lot of other reasons... political, social, charitable, educational... Particpation in a synagogue does not actually have to mean that you have to go to services each week; you can particapte in one of their numerous social action or community volunteering opportunities, or take a class then and again, or get to know other families and form a Chavurah. It can be about finding a community.

I think any temple would want your family as members and would offer to accept you at whatever level of support you could provide. I have never heard of a temple refusing membership due to financial circumstances. They will ask you to make a pledge for an amount you can provide, and they might ask you to increase that amount next year.

It is expensive to run temples, and that is why they are asking for big bucks. From my own experience having a been a member of Temple Sinai in Oakland for 15 years, they are happy to accept a fraction of the asking fee. I provide volunteer services to them, but they don't require it.

Reform temples welcome agnostic individuals, and they certainly don't care whether someone was born Jewish. You would be an asset, because you are thinking of what the religion means, rather than merely being a warm body twice a year. You will probably enjoy lively discussions with fellow congregants. Stu

We belong to Temple Beth Hillel , a Reform congregation in Richmond, just off I-80. We have found it to be a wonderful, warm and intimate community--and much more affordable than many other synagogues. It also has been very welcoming to us: my wife is Methodist and our daughter is adopted. That has made no difference, except that my wife cannot do an aliyah. Otherwise, she is a full and participating member of the community. While I grew up in a Reform congregation, we also did not celebrate Shabbat at home, so I also feel like I am doing more than when I had grown up. It's taken a little getting used to, but it feels very comfortable now and we cherish this community. Joel

In response to both joining a synagogue and wanting a ''religious'' framework for kids, Kol Hadash is a Humanistic Jewish community that meets in Albany. It offers secular Jews a nontheistic philosophy that integrates Jewish identity and culture. Kol Hadash has a Sunday School that meets twice a month where kids learn about the holidays, history, culture, and ethics--all within a secular framework. Currently, classes are for kindergarten through bar/bat mitzvah. Many of the families are interfaith. There are monthly shabbats, and family shabbats. For more information, go to If you are interested in the Sunday School, you can visit now before the semester ends. Classes will start again in September. Contact SundaySchool[AT]

I'll share what I know about Jewish community institutions for both posters in the same message.

1) Low-budget. Most synagogues have some kind of sliding scale that you can ask for if you need it, if they don't have an explicit policy, you can ask the Rabbi. Also, you can go to a synagogue for Shabbat/many education activities without joining until you are sure it is the right community for your family.

2) Hebrew school. If your child already has a friend at the synagogue school you mentioned that would be a good starting place. You could also visit some Hebrew schools. Many are more interesting places than they were back when we were kids.

3) Hebrew school -- part 2. I look at it as imparting skills so tht my child will be comfortable in any Jewish community. My husband did not have any hebrew school, and now although he is culturally Jewish he feels uncomfortable at most Jewish events (being culturally jewish is an option on the East Coast and LA -- around here there aren't enough Jews to be Jewish without the Jewish Community.) In order to help my child learn, I participate as much as possible in her Jewish education (and have found a congregation, Netivot Shalom, that has a reasonable amount of family education, and a good hebrew school.)

4) Being Jewish without being doctrinaire; I would visit the synagogues/community groups nearby, and see what works for you. In Berkeley there are 4 groups with buildings and a number of minyans. You might want to stop by Lehrhaus/Hillel on Bancroft for info; or the Berkeley JCC (Walnut and Rose). The synagogues are Beth Israel (orthodox; has a great, welcoming preschool); Netivot Shalom (conservative; preschool Shabbat every other week); Beth El (Reform; large pre-school,and Camp KiTov for older kids); and Chomat HaLev (not affiliated; music and interest in mysticism). In Oakland, there are also a number of synagogues -- Kehillah (Grand Ave.); and Temple Sinai might be good entry points.

5) It is time consuming, but nothing substitutes for visits. I found that the best way to get to know people was through adult education classes, and through preschool shabbat/family education activities.
affiliated after I had a child

Interfaith couple looking at Sinai and Beth El

Jan 2006

Can anyone comment on differences between Temple Sinai in Oakland and Temple Beth El in Berkeley? I'm the Jewish half of an interfaith couple (with twin two-year-olds) and am looking to join a reform congregation. I'm curious to know how these two compare, both in terms of the congregations themselves and the preschools. Any insight would be much appreciated. Thanks

You'll no doubt get emails from members of both shuls expressing how terrific they each are. Both have many interfaith couples as members, both have a preschool and strong religious schools, both have dynamic members.

There are really two questions for you to ask yourself:

one, which one is closer to your home? Location is central to how easy it is for you to drop off and pick up and the ease with which you can attend services and events.

Two, which community is a ''fit'' for your family. The only person who can answer that is YOU and your spouse. You'll have to go to services, meet people, meet the rabbis and see which place feels like home.

Both congregations have a service called Tot Shabbat. These services are geared for families with children under school age. They start early and are brief so you can get the kids home early. Tot Shabbat is generally on the same Friday each month but always check because the date will be moved if there is a holiday.

Call Beth El at 510-848-3988 and Temple Sinai at 510-451-3263 to get the dates and times (usually at 6:30 to 7pm).

Best of luck with your shul shopping.

Also, if you'd like a member to met you, sit with you and introduce you to others, you can call me at work, I line up ''Shabbos buddies'' and would be happy to do the same for you.
Building Jewish Bridges 510-839-2900 x347 Dawn Kepler

I am a member at Beth El in Berkeley and I can't directly compare the two congregations because although I've been to Sinai, I've not been a member there. What I can say is that Beth El is extremely welcoming of inter-faith couples and has a fabulous preschool. I have heard others say that Sinai is more formal (I think Beth El is known for it's informality). You should probably check them both out by going to a few different services and/or events at each. Beth El has been a great place for me and my family and I hope you join! Happy Beth El congregant

Jewish Reconstructionists in East Bay?

Nov 2005

I am eager to delve deeper into my Jewish spirituality. I'm a convert and all my experiences have been in the Reform tradition, though Reconstruction resonates with me more. The nearest Reconstructionist congregation is in Los Altos and I'm in Oakland with no desire to commute that far on a regular basis.

I'm leaning toward joining Temple Sinai and see if there are some kindred spirits there, but thought I'd also check if anyone at BPN knows of or is interested in forming a Reconstructionist oriented chavurah/group in the greater Oakland area? The kind of activities I'm interested in include: study group (Torah and otherwise), celebrating Shabbat and holidays, doing mitzvot, and getting to know more folks who live (Reconstructionist) Jewishly. Thanks for your suggestions. keira


Other Advice

Have you called Jewish Family and Children's Services in Berkeley and asked them if there is a group in the East Bay, or the Jewish Federation in Oakland? One of those two should be able to refer you if there is one in this area.

Trying to get more connected to my Jewish roots

April 2005

I am trying to get more connected to my Jewish heritage, especially now that I have two children, and am looking for (more recent) recommendations for synagogues. I am leaning towards either Temple Sinai or Kehilla (we have gone to some events at each), and would like to hear what people like/don't like about these two synagogues.

I was raised by hippie-atheist parents. We celebrated no holidays and I had no experience of being Jewish except to know I was different. My husband is not Jewish but he is open to raising our kids Jewish.

I want to find a community where I won't feel out of place because I don't know the prayers/rituals. I have already felt a bit intimidated by Sinai because it is so big and because I came from a low income family- I feel some ''class'' issues when I go to Sinai (like what to wear so I don't feel too out of place). On the other hand, I am worried Kehilla may be too political for me (I know, whatever that means...) So I welcome any thoughts. Jewish mama

Reviews received:

More advice:

I just wanted to say that you speak for me too. I was brought up without any knowledge of Jewish prayers and rituals. Now that I am trying to integrate myself into a synagogue and find my ''roots'', it's very awkward not knowing when to stand or sway or face a certain direction. I have been to both the synagogues you mention and many others. I won't offer my opinion except to say that I found warm and friendly people at both Kehilla and Sinai. See my other post about Kol Hadash or contact me for more choices. Lindy

Jewish temple for agnostic non-Jew and family

April 2005

After reading recent postings recommending diverse reform synagogues in the East Bay, I wondered if there is a place in one of them for me and my family. I am agnostic/atheist. I was raised as a Catholic but do not believe in the central tenents of Christianity, except for its charitable attitude. Also, I have a graduate degree in Philosophy, do not like to be told how to think or what to believe, and thus, am uncomfortable with organized religion. My husband grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family and has many horror stories about it, although he believes in God, I think. We have two young children who have never been in a church or temple and have no religious experiences. That said, before moving to the Bay Area and getting married, I had some experience with reform Judaism that was very positive, attending services with a former boyfriend. People discussed religious issues intelligently, they allowed for differences of opinion, and best of all, there was no preaching or proselytizing. Plus, the communities were very warm and friendly. We have only a few good friends in this area and now I wonder if a reform synagogue would help us connect with more people and give us a positive spiritual experience as well. Is there a place in one of the East Bay reform synagogues for a person like me? My only concern is that the community not be too upscale, as we are a middle-class family of teachers. Anon

Recommendations received:

More advice:

I also suggest spending some time learning more about Judaism and getting involved in the Jewish community. Sabbath services are only one of many ways that Jewish spirituality is enjoyed and communicated. Check out the other events and lectures at the Berkeley JCC

Or for more long term intellectual commitment, take a regular class in Judaism or Jewish concerns at Lehrhaus Judaica, which meets at the Berkeley Hillel House

The main thing is that you yourselves discover where you fit in. Weekly lIturgical services are not always the best way to do this, because by nature they make newcomers feel a little out of place. They are also not as central in Judaism as they are in Christianity. Study, community service, and all varieties of related get-togethers are equally valid expressions of Jewishness, and might help you feel your way to your own identity as well.

Hope this helps-- henny

Seeking a diverse, open minded reform synagogue

March 2005

I am looking for a reform/open minded synagogue to possibly join. I am Jewish (culturally--raised atheist) and am married to a non-Jew. I have a baby and most of my Jewish family has died. I'm so sad that my son will not know this heritage, will not hear Yiddish sprinkled in every conversation, and many not get that many of the teachings I give him, and many of the ways he lives are from his Jewish ancestry. I know that the old Eastern European Jewish community I grew up in is simply dying out and I won't be able to replicate this for my son. It seems like the only way to stay in touch with a Jewish community is to join a synagogue. This seems like a start, although for me it's a little hard beacuse my family was so anti-religion. I would like to explore some of the open- minded, welcoming synagogues in the East Bay and would love suggestions for which ones are diverse (my husband is African American) and which ones are easier to make connections with the members. I''m really lookign for a progressive spiritual community that is welcoming of people who have never been to a synagogue in their lives (that's me) but who identify as Jewish...Thanks. don't want to lose Jewish heritage

Recommendations received:

More advice:

while I am not a member, Temple Israel of Alameda, is very open (the Rabbi is gay and I believe the cantor is a Lesbian).Check out their website Good Luck!

Hi, Being somewhat anti-established-religion ourselves (I, raised by agnostics (non-Jews), and converted to Judaism 8 years ago) and my husband, (raised Reform Jewish), I cannot recommend a specific synagogue for you (we don't go to one).

However, I encourage you to celebrate the Sabbath with your son and husband on Friday nights. We have a 3 month old, 3 year old and 5 year old, and since the older two were little, we've been buying challah, and lighting candles and saying the blessings over them and wine (or grape juice) every Friday night. It's a good way to just slow down the pace of the week, talk, and re-connect with each other.

We bought a few tapes of Jewish music (try Afikomen on Claremont Ave.--a place with a wierd vibe, but they do have an excellent, wide selection of Judaica), some Sabbath candles, etc., and we really enjoy this little ritual with our kids every Friday night. They know the prayers in Hebrew, and they even do the triple-cover-your-eyes-wave-thing when we light the candles. So cute.

We're gradually teaching them about the holidays (there are a ton of children's books about Judaism and all the holidays), and even at this young age, they know they are Jewish, and are proud of it, without us belonging to a synagogue (though we do have a large number of Jewish and non-Jewish friends that we celebrate ALL holidays with). I understand your desire to find a Jewish ''family'', but maybe celebrating at home also will help integrate those traditions into your lives too. Best of luck, Stay-at-Home Jewish Mama

I think almost any of the synagogues in the East Bay would meet your stated requirements. (Maybe not the Orthodox ones.)

You didn't say exactly where you live, but why not go ''shul shopping'' and drop in on Shabbat services at one or two synagogues nearby to see if feels right? If you're afraid you'll get lost, get there a few minutes early and ask to sit next to someone who will help you follow the service. Then stick around and shmooze afterward. You can ask about religious education for your son if that interests you.

A list of synagogues is at ; click on ''congregations.'' Note that Netivot Shalom is moving to a new building in central Berkeley in May and Kehilla recently moved to Piedmont. David

You might try one of the renewal congregations in the Bay Area, which tend to be politically and spiritually quite progressive. You didn't say where you live, but Chochmat HaLev, which is in Berkeley, has really lovely family services every second Friday of the months. The children and families are quite diverse. I am also planning to check out Kehillah, based in Berkeley but moving to Piedmont soon. There is also Beyt Tikkun in San Francisco. I also know that there are several completely non-religious ''Yiddishkeit'' options in the Bay Area. Nanu

A friend of mine pointed out your posting to me. She is sending in a hearty endorsement of her own congregation. I'd like to talk about the East bay synagogues overall.

You are right that living Jewishly happens primarily in the synagogues. I work for the Jewish Federation and as important as their work is, it is the synagogues that are the heart of American Jewry. That is where you, your husband and your son will get support, education, and be able to live a Jewish life which unlike American life, is a communal life.

You don't say what city you live in. It is truly easiest to have your shul nearby. Then other members can help with carpools, share playdates, and easily get together for Shabbat and the holidays.

Every East bay congregation has interfaith couples, has Jews of color and has members from a variety of cultural, racial backgrounds. Reform & Renewal congregations will tend to have more, but the real measure of your match is, does the congregation ''fit'' you?

Start by shul-shopping in your own city. You can go to and look at the list of synagogues in your city. If you want to call me and talk about the make up of the congregations, their size, schools, preschools etc., feel free. (510-839-2900 x347 if you're in Alameda or 925-943-1484 if you're in CC. or email dawn[AT]

If you want a Shabbos buddy - that is a member who will meet you at the door, sit with you, introduce you around at oneg, answer questions, give me a call. I can get you one. My program is called Building Jewish Bridges: outreach to interfaith couples. Welcome! Dawn Kepler

Contra Costa Reform Synagogues?

Sept 2004

Our daughter has been thriving at her first summer camp at the JCC in Walnut Creek and is now more interested in all things Jewish, including an eventual bat mitzvah (or so she says now - she is 6). We live in Walnut Creek and are currently unaffiliated. I am looking for recommendations for synagogues in Contra Costa County, preferably in or near Walnut Creek. While we lean more towards Jewish Renewal / Humanistic Judaism, I don't believe there is any group near enough to us to work with the schedules of two working parents. Given that, a local reform synagogue seems like the next best bet. Is anyone out there a member of either B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek or Temple Isaiah in Lafayette? One thing that would be important to us (particularly my husband) is that the focus not be on money (e.g., how much you have and the like). My husband grew up on Long Island and had a negative experience as the (Conservative) synagogue his family belonged to was apparently all about money and not much about spirituality, community, etc. My family was unaffiliated and I did not go to Hebrew school, have a bat mitzvah, etc. and I basically consider myself culturally Jewish with no religious upbringing (I did take a couple of Intro to Judaism classes about 10 years ago through Lehrhaus Judaica that I loved). I figure we had better start looking into this now so that should our daughter continue to be interested in having a bat mitzvah that we are in a position to move forward with all that entails when it is time to do so (when is that anyway...about 8 years old?). Thanks much. Lori

Both Reform congregations in that area are good.

I asked a friend of mine to response to your quiry and she wrote this (see review of B'nai Tikvah )

The other congregation, Temple Isaiah, is in Lafayette. It's larger, and has two very approachable rabbis - Judy Shanks and Roberto Graetz. I'd be happy to talk to you about any synagogue in CC.

Memories from childhood experiences shouldn't prevent you from having a very different and rewarding experience now. We are a new generation and we've changed our institutions.

I am a member of a synagogue and have found a community that has embraced me and nurtured me, my husband and children. I certainly wish the same for you.

call me if you like, Dawn Kepler (510) 839-2900 x347 - yes, I work for the Jewish community, but don't be deterred by that, I'm a mom, a friend, a volunteer, a shlepper, just like you. :) dawn kepler

Looking for a spiritual community with music & dance

August 2003

Looking for a place to attend holiday and Shabbat Services and other Jewish events where we can find a spiritual community who shares our interest in music and dance. (I have reviewed the website for comments on this topic). Anon

I suspect you will get this suggestion from many others. I have never gone to Chochmat Halev (I'm Christian), but just tonight I saw many people streaming in and I could hear the music as I walked down the street. My friends who do go there love it! Chochmat Halev is, I think, a Jewish spirituality center. It's on Prince Street, just east of Shattuck (near La Pena), in Berkeley. Elizabeth

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

Alameda has two Temples. My husband attended services at the one on Bay Farm Island and seemed to like them. Last year they partcipated in the July 4th parade which I mention because their ''float'' included a gentleman playing on the violin. It was wonderful. Juliette

Check out the Jewish Renewal Communities: Aquarian Minyan ; Kehilla ; and Chochmat HaLev . There's a lot of overlap with these 3 groups. You can get a list of synagogues in the jewish resource guide ( Don't be shy about just showing up for a service. anon

Looking for a child-oriented Jewish congregation

Feb 1999

I'd like to find a very child-oriented Jewish congregation in the East Bay. I'm raising my almost-4-year-old child as a Jew--I'm Jewish, my husband is Catholic--but most of what we've done has been family and home-oriented (we celebrate Shabbat and most of the holidays in some way). However, we have essentially no Jewish local friends/family members with children. I feel it's time for my child to become more involved in a Jewish community, though I'm not even sure exactly what I'm looking for other than something that offers a lot for children (and a place that isn't snobby!) I grew up connected mostly to conservative synagogues, so there's a familiarity-factor that makes me interested in looking into conservative congregations, though I think we'd likely be more comfortable in a reform synagogue or even something more progressive. I'd love to hear from other Jewish parents about their synagogues.


More advice:

You might want to check-out preschools at synagogues. We just started our son in Gan Sholom at Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. I think temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and Beth Israel in Berekely also have reputable preschools. For Hebrew schools there's a lot out there and you need to do more thinking about what kind of education you want your kid to have. You may want to check out the Conservative synagogue in Berkeley, Netivot Shalom . Sophie

Judy, Some thoughts in response to your inquiry about synagogues in our area, a couple of ideas. Firstly, it's such (as you know) a personal decision, so many issues and even nuances involved. Having said that, some ideas: Congregation Netivot Shalom is a very warm, child-friendly and family-centered congregation. Rabbi Stuart Kelman is a very knowledgeable, intellectual man, associated for many years with the Agency for Jewish Education in the East Bay before becoming the spiritual leader at Netivot. His (great) wife, Vicky Kelman, is one of my colleagues in the professional Jewish community and is director of the Family Education Programs at BJE in San Francisco. It is a Conservative, egalitarian shul with many smaller sub-groups and lots of opportunities for involvement. Many of our friends with little ones belong and love it, and there is a real effort made at outreach and to making people feel welcome. They presently conduct services at the Berkeley-Richmond JCC, and have an office in Berkeley.

Additionally, Temple Sinai in Oakland has wonderful things to offer. Rabbi Steve Chester is a real mensch of a guy, they have a new, lovely young woman associate Rabbi as well as Cantor. Lots of good role models. A more traditional approach perhaps. An absolutely great preschool run by Suzanne Goldman.

Beth El in north Berkeley is yet another wonderful reform congregation, great for families, lots going on, great pre-school. I don't know the rabbi personally but have heard good things.

A friend of mine with slightly older kids had the following advice on joining a congregation. She said to think not only of how the place welcomes the family, but the quality of the religious school, if that is the route you plan to have your child travel. She said it is in that way your family is most likely to interact with the synagogue down the road.

Just by way of background, I am Director of Jewish Programs at Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco and have worked in the Bay Area Jewish community for 15 years. I'd be happy to answer any questions or share any observations with you. The good news is we have an abundance of great choices. Best wishes, Deborah

I wanted to say thanks to all the wonderful people that responded to my query for information about local Jewish congregations. I got lots of very informative, helpful responses that will help me tremendously in my search for the right congregation for us.I received information about Sinai (Oakland), Kehilla (Berkeley), Aquarian Minyan (Berkeley), Beth Hillel (Richmond), Netivot Shalom (Berkeley), Beth El (Berkeley), Beth Abraham (Oakland), as well as the afterschool program at Jewish Community Services.

One other thing that may help others in their search: I found a list of synagogues in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties at, that contained links to many congregations' own web pages (some of which were informative, some of which weren't.) I also found a page where you could request a new to the area packet at In general, the web site for the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay,, seems to be a good resource. Judy