Rodef Sholom: A Reform Jewish Congregation in Marin County, California

Kol Yisrael arevim ba’zeh/All Jews are responsible for one another.
Congregation Rodef Sholom stands as one with Israel
Tags >> Giving

סְעָד לִבְּךָ פַּת־לֶחֶם / Satisfy your heart with a loaf of bread -Judges 19:5

Chef Jeff Kirshbaum and his Mitzvah Kitchen team have been churning out 60+ challot and 18 hot meals for our congregants in deepest need weekly for close to five years now. You've tasted his challot. You know the man's got skills. Well we've got good news. Chef Jeff's got a new convection oven. And he wants to put it to good use. Starting in mid-March, you can subscribe to the Mitzvah Kitchen's new Artisan Bread Club. Sign up, and every Thursday afternoon, a fresh hand-baked loaf of artisan bread will be waiting for you at the temple. And if you're smart, you'll pick up a challah for your shabbes table at the same time.

All Mitzvah Kitchen subscription money goes to support youth education at Rodef Sholom (Subscription rates--$4/challah and $5/artisan loaf per week). Treat your tummy right.   Contact Gigi at to subscribe.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, I shared my vision for working with you to raise our “Sacred Capital,” a reference from Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman’s book ReThinking Synagogues. I spoke about what you could do to help us raise Sacred Capital at Rodef Sholom by showing up with your heart, spirit, mind and soul to deepen the meaning and purpose of all that we do, and to support one another throughout the years. Since that time, and with the help of Rabbi Hoffman’s most recent book, Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary, the board of directors, clergy, and many congregants have begun a process to ensure that all of the great individual initiatives at Rodef Sholom—Mitzvah Kitchen, Nichum (comfort through connection, e.g., visiting the sick, delivering meals and comforting mourners) Moreh Derech (Jewish guides who welcome and engage new members), Kol Hamishpacha (whole family education) Mitzvah Day, Tzedek Circles (social action projects created to help people do what they believe in—together), and more—work together to create a visionary whole that is—as a whole—more relevant to you and to our community. This will undoubtedly be a long-term process, but a process with enormous dividends for all of us.

Although the board feels an inspired imperative to focus on the long term health of the congregation, we also have a responsibility to ensure that our current operations operate in an efficient and financially sustainable manner. Like so many in our community, our congregation has been hard hit by the economic downturn. After two years of revenue shortfalls, achieving a balanced budget has required painful cuts to programs and positions held dear. Nonetheless, in accordance with the bylaws and our consciences, we adopted what we believed would be a balanced budget, including a repayment to the reserves from which we borrowed to meet prior shortfalls. Yet in spite of our most diligent planning and difficult spending cuts, we are once again facing a revenue shortfall.

This year, 62% of our members asked for a scholarship with their annual membership. As you know, Rodef Sholom does not deny membership or religious school to anyone for an inability to make payment in full. This policy, forged with great thought and care by those who founded this sacred home, reflects our deep concern for the spiritual health of all who cross our threshold and our commitment to ensuring that our spiritual home is a fully welcoming one.

Yet this holy commitment has financial implications, particularly during a time like this when so many are in need for so many years in a row. It is with gratitude that I share how generously many of you have responded to help us address this shortfall. Through the Tradition of Giving and other gifts, you have kept on track the programs and people we all cherish. Thank you. I wish I could report that our work in this regard was done, but it is not. And we will continue to reach out to all of you to ask for your help.

Next month, the Voice will include an article from our treasurer, Jay Bellin, about the status of our budget discussions. Following that, our finance committee and board will be finalizing and approving next year’s budget. Many very difficult decisions will have to be made. 

Therefore, I have two urgent requests for you. First, please contact me and share with me your ideas for how to preserve what we have, grow to new heights and care for all those who need us. Second, when your membership renewal arrives in May, please consider thoughtfully whether you still need to receive every dollar of scholarship aid you have received in the past. If you do, we will be there for you. If you can do more, I assure you every dollar pledged makes an important difference.

Finally, on February 1, many of you were present at a funeral for a beloved member of our community, a young man who died suddenly, leaving behind a wife and young child. He grew up in our congregation and he taught at Rodef Sholom. Led by our clergy, more than 800 people gathered to support and carry his family through this time of indescribable grief.   It was a day where nothing short of Sacred Community would do and a day in which the Sacred Capital of our congregational home was abundant.   We need one another. And I am so very grateful to be entrusted with the job of ensuring we will be here for one another in strength, spirit and love now and for generations to come. 


Marc Press

Although Hurricane Katrina is old news and five and a half years later, New Orleans is dealing with the aftermath of the more recent oil spill, the city has still recovered from the great storm. At Rodef Sholom, we have not forgotten the struggle of the people there to rebuild. After 5 trips, they are no longer anonymous people -- many of them are our friends. This April, we are once again gathering congregants who want to go back to continue the sacred work of rebuilding the lost communities of this great city.

The Lower Ninth Ward is one of those lost communities, with acres of seemingly empty overgrown fields. When you look closer, every 30 to 40 feet you come across a slab of concrete where a home once stood. People who lived there for generations have scattered across the country to find refuge with family and friends in safer places. Now, many of the people who moved back into the neighborhood are poor and have found other ways to make a living, many of which are illegal. Although drug deals now take place on many street corners, on one corner there is a most unusual sight. It is a small run-down building that used to be a black-owned grocery store next to a big community garden. Parked behind the garden is a funky blue and orange graffiti painted bus that reads NY2NO (New York to New Orleans). It is powered by bio-diesel fuel, and gives social justice tours of the levies and neighborhoods. 

Two years ago, Rodef Sholom booked a tour on that bus, and learned about the amazing project that a visionary educator from Manhattan founded. His name is Nat Turner, and he carries the legacy of the 19th century Nat Turner who led a slave rebellion. The Nat Turner of today is an African-American man who had a teaching position in a cushy Manhattan high school. Tired of seeing the pictures on the news of struggling black people in Louisiana, who did not know how to help themselves out of poverty and lack of education, he decided to focus on poor black high school students who had dropped out of public school. He sold everything he had in New York and drove down to New Orleans to make a difference by using his own education and teaching skills to bring an end to the vicious cycle of poverty of one neighborhood. The lucky recipients are the kids of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Nat Turner so inspired our teens that they independently came home and raised $1,000 to buy the teens at Our School at Blair Grocery an air conditioner. We delivered that check the following year and met with Turner to see what progress had been made in a year’s time. Recently, the New York Times wrote an article about Nat Turner and Our School at Blair Grocery (click here to read it). And this year we are going back to New Orleans with an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice to work directly with Nat Turner at his school, Our School at Blair Grocery!

We are now a group of 16 lucky people who leave for New Orleans on April 10, 2011. There is room for four more people. Are you with us? The blessings that you will take home at the end of a week will last you a lifetime.

If you can’t come with us, you can still help
When we travel to New Orleans, we will not be going alone. We are going on behalf of the entire congregation. With your help we can lighten the burden and bring healing and redemption to many broken lives.

We are asking you to join us in this holy effort by contributing tzedakah for the rebuilding of this community. It is our goal to bring $3,000 with us to New Orleans. Many of you were so supportive last year, and the people you helped were so grateful. This year’s money will be used to buy appliances and other necessary household items for the school we are repairing so that we can bring comfort and dignity to the students who will learn in it. We want Congregation Rodef Sholom, to make the greatest impact possible.

We want to make a real difference in the lives of the people we meet there, and be proud of the work we do and the contribution we make. You can make your checks out to Congregation Rodef Sholom, with “New Orleans” in the memo, and bring them to the office.

Thank you, 

Claire Mikowski

On December 17, 2010, the “Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010” was signed into law. The 2010 Tax Act raised to $5 million the exemption from the estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax.

In addition to raising the exemption to $5 million, the 2010 Tax Act extended through 2011 the provision in prior law that facilitated making charitable gifts directly from IRAs. Thus, an IRA distribution made before 2012 is excluded from gross income if the distribution is made from the IRA to a qualified public charity. There is a deduction limit of $100,000 per taxpayer.

This is an important provision in the law for someone whose IRA constitutes a significant portion of his or her estate and who wants to make lifetime charitable gifts to a charity.

IRAs are also an ideal vehicle to use to make gifts to charity at death. Because the assets in an IRA have not yet been subjected to income taxes, when the owner dies (or, if a spouse is the designated beneficiary, on the spouse’s later death) the IRA will be subject to a combined income and estate tax rate of about 50% before it passes to children (assuming the combined estates exceed $10 million).

One appealing way to completely avoid estate and income taxes on the IRA is to name a charity such as Rodef Sholom as beneficiary once the IRA owner and the spouse are gone. The effect of this is that the government contributes 50% of every dollar that passes to Rodef Sholom, and the husband and wife together contribute 5

Another effective IRA strategy is to convert the IRA to a Roth IRA. By doing so, one recognizes the deferred income in the year of conversion (or, if preferable, in the two years after conversion). But all income after the year of conversion accumulates tax-free. This is not for everyone. It typically makes more sense to make the conversion in a year of lower income or in a year when one has tax losses to offset the income resulting from the conversion. Also, a conversion makes more sense for people who have enough wealth to pay the income taxes from assets outside the IRA. This strategy also is more advantageous for people who don’t need the IRA money for retirement.

As with traditional IRAs, charities can benefit from a Roth IRA conversion. One strategy is to create a charitable lead trust where the charity receives the income from the trust and the donor receives a charitable contributions deduction to offset the income resulting from the Roth IRA conversion. After a period of time, the assets in the trust pass to family members. 

One attractive feature of the Roth IRA conversion is that one can look back, and if the assets have gone down in value since the conversion, the conversion can be undone. The IRA owner has until October 15 of the year after the conversion to re-characterize the Roth IRA as a traditional IRA.

Finally, prior to 2010, one could not convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA if one had adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more. That income limitation has been lifted for conversions occurring after 2009 so that anyone, regardless of income, can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

These are a couple of strategies involving IRAs that could benefit Rodef Sholom and give you significant tax savingThere are other strategies as well.

To learn more about planned giving, join us for the 2nd annual Estate and Legacy Planning event, Guidance for Giving: How Jewish Tradition Leads the Way, with a special presentation on Ethical Wills (Sacred Living, Sacred Dying) led by Rabbi Michael Lezak on Sunday, March 6, 9:30 am-11:15 am in the sanctuary. A light breakfast will be available in the social hall at 9:00 am. Please RSVP to Jane at or 479.3441. Thank you.

Jewish Community Federation (JCF) San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties The Jewish Community Federation Catalyst Initiative has awarded Congregation Rodef Sholom a grant in the amount of $20,500 to sustain religious school scholarships. JCF works to care for the vulnerable, educate and engage the Jewish community, and promote Israel and Jewish peoplehood around the world. For more information, visit

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