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5 Questions for Ner Shalom’s Reb Irwin Keller

Thursday, September 13th, 2012 | Posted by | no responses

Congregation Ner Shalom opens its doors to the community for the High Holidays

Cotati’s Congregation Ner Shalom offers nine services this High Holy Day season on the theme “Being Human: grief, growth and putting things right.” Lay spiritual leader, Reb Irwin Keller, spoke about how the synagogue celebrates these ten days of reflection—from Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, to Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.

Why are these considered the High Holy Days?

These holidays are the most important for Jews. It’s a period of reflection, making good for things done wrong to each other or our planet, and recommitting to being a better human being.

How does Ner Shalom choose a theme for a new year?

We tend to relate to a mood in our community and country, and what’s going on for our congregants. It’s been a hard few years—the economy, many illnesses. We lost congregant Steve Norwick, which was sudden and difficult. It put us in a somber mood about who we are and the length of our days.

Can you say more about “Being Human”?

This year we decided to lean into this human experience—what it means to be so earth bound, so limited, but also to have a spark. To reach out to one another, to make the world better, to comfort and heal and experience joy—and how to cultivate that in our lives.

Ner Shalom is known for its openness and diversity, including interfaith families, the GLBTQ community, and people with disabilities.

Yes, we host a model program for kids with special needs and their families called Celebrations. We have our own service for kids with severe disabilities who wouldn’t function as well in a mainstream synagogue. We’re not a congregation that shushes children who have trouble keeping quiet.

Reb Irwin Keller, left, and Lorenzo Valensi. (Press Democrat)

In what unique ways does Ner Shalom celebrate?

We’re a very musical community. A lot of High Holiday music is original in our congregation. There’s also a dramatized Torah reading called Storahtelling™ that breaks open the text in really new ways: Characters in a story come alive. People have a chance to zero in on a particular problem that the story poses, or directly converse with the characters as a way of finding meaning in their own lives.


Rosh Hashanah takes place Sunday–Tuesday, Sept. 16, 17, 18
Yom Kippur takes place Tuesday–Wednesday, Sept. 25-26

85 La Plaza, Cotati
More info: 707-664-8622
Visit www.nershalom.org for a complete schedule and description of services or to register.

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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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