Bila’am Revisited: Showing Up in Alameda

Image: The sign in front of Temple Israel of Alameda, CA. From their website.

Temple Israel in Alameda, CA was vandalized this week. Someone came by during the night Wednesday and broke two windows, and tried to break the glass doors of the synagogue with rocks. In the wake of the white supremacist violence in #Charlottesville, this was even more upsetting than it would normally be to local Jews.

Temple Israel is a small synagogue of only about 100 households. They have a part-time rabbi. They are about 15 minutes from my home, so I planned to get myself over there for Friday evening to show solidarity with the congregation. Then the emails began to come in – our rabbi, Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin was organizing our congregation, Temple Sinai, to show up in a group. There was to be a vigil with the Alameda mayor and city council before Shabbat services.

As it turned out, it was a real community affair: lots of Jews, lots of friends of Jews, and lots of Alamedans who were furious that some lowlife had brought such shame on their town. We heard from all the community leaders: from the mayor, Trish Herrera Spencer, the vice mayor, Malia Vella, and our state assembly representative, Rob Bonta. The acting chief of police gave his report and told us that the vandalism was being investigated as a hate crime. It was clear to anyone present and to anyone watching the report later that night on TV that the vast majority of Alamedans intended to send a message to bigots: bigotry is not welcome in their city.

Then we adjourned to the sanctuary inside to have Shabbat services.

Even though a lot of people left after the vigil, the little shul was jammed with people. One member of the temple staff had asked me if I’d do a reading in the service, so I sat in the front row. When I stood at the lectern to read the blessing, I was so moved by the sight of the crowd that I had to comment on it. What I was thinking was actually from a prayer in the morning service:

!מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel! – Numbers 24:5

The man who speaks those words in the Bible, Bila’am, goes on orders of King Balak to curse the Israelites, but he finds that he is unable to do so. Instead of a curse, he delivers a blessing. It is a beautiful blessing, and we repeat it in every morning service.

In much the same way, an evil person came to curse the Jews of Alameda with terror. Broken windows carry a dark meaning for Jews ever since Kristallnacht, a night of pogroms that was in many ways the opening salvo of the Holocaust. In breaking those windows, though, he succeeded in bringing out the good people of Alameda and the surrounding Jewish communities to comfort and strengthen the Jews he had intended to terrorize!

The evening also brought home to me the power of showing up. The people who came brought comfort and strength to a community. I am strengthened in my resolve to show up, to be visible in my support, for all minorities who are suffering and terrorized in this present time. I am resolved to show up more often for more people: in this particular time of bigotry, Jews are a target but not among the main targets. We Jews need to show up for African Americans, for immigrants, for Muslims, and for others who are in the cross hairs of white supremacists.

Have scooter, will travel! This week I’m going to Sacramento with ReformCA to lobby for prison reform. Our prisons are not places of justice. While someone who commits a crime should pay a price for that crime, that’s not how our justice system is working today. If you are interested in learning more about that, I recommend the film on Netflix, 13th.

I’d love to know where you are showing up to support the oppressed. Leave your stories in the comments section!

Published by


Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

3 thoughts on “Bila’am Revisited: Showing Up in Alameda”

  1. I drove 3 hours from my current home in Grass Valley so that I could show up at the vigil and service. I have been afraid to show up at vigils in this small town full of Jeffersonians; I would be there without a buddy. Rabbi, your words remind me how important it is to show up, with or without a buddy! Thank you.

  2. sorry to hear of the hateful deed, but so inspired that many many more are motivated by love and compassion

Leave a Reply