Temple Israel

The Alameda Recreation and Park Department is hosting an Alameda Community Garden Day of Service from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, January 18 at the in-progress Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, at the corner of Constitution Way and Atlantic Avenue. The department is seeking volunteers who can weed, mulch, build planter boxes and compost bins, paint and assist with signage. Lunch will be provided. Children are invited to attend with an adult. Tools will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring work gloves.

There were very few religious occasions in my childhood, but there were rites of passage. One was my 13th birthday, on which I was finally allowed by my film-rating-observant mother to see a PG-13 movie: Fried Green Tomatoes starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker.

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I’ll never forget it. On a Friday night in seventh grade, it showed me my first vivid images of racism, brutality, segregation, alcoholism, adultery and domestic violence. I felt like a real grown-up watching it in the theater, a woman with knowledge of the dark side of life. I loved doe-eyed, open-mouthed Ruth - and because of her I always had a soft spot for the Biblical protagonist for whom she was named. To this day, that passage from the Book of Ruth is the only part of the Bible I can recite by heart. But I can do it. All 38 words!

So I was feeling pretty confident when I showed up to interview Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Alameda’s Temple Israel to talk about Shavuot, a Jewish holiday in which Ruth figures prominently. I was all set with a list of questions that would show off my familiarity with the lesser-known Jewish festivals, quickly distinguishing me from the larger, clueless Gentile public.

Sixteen years ago, Allen Bennett signed on for the proverbial three-hour tour at Alameda’s Temple Israel, offering to fill in for a few months while the temple’s leadership looked for a new rabbi. Now he’s retiring to a life of volunteerism, activism – and visits to the nation’s parks. It’s a rich reward for someone who moved to the Bay Area in pursuit of a degree he never earned but ultimately lent his time to a long list of interfaith and civic activities, building strong political and community connections in San Francisco (he’s was San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s rabbi), where he still lives, and here on the Island.