History Lesson: Chain

2017.09.08
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adtn“Everything you do, here and at home, is part of Sonoma Valley Jewish history.”

That’s what I like to tell the students in our synagogue’s Hebrew school, and it’s also one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.

The relevant piece of Torah comes at the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are commanded to bring the season’s first fruits to “the place where G?d will establish His name” — meaning, in later years, the Temple in Jerusalem. Part of the agricultural primacy ceremony involves reciting the formulaic history of the Jewish people we review every year at Pesach, beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” and recalling the slavery in Egypt before ending with “And now I’m here, in this land, with these fruits.” (Those aren’t the actual words, but they’re close.)

To know where you stand, it’s important to know where you’ve been. Last year, we celebrated Shir Shalom’s 20th anniversary. In that time together we have seen births, baby-namings, b’nei mitzvas, weddings, holidays and funerals. But we weren’t the first Jews in Sonoma (and, surprisingly, neither were the Shainskys). That honor belongs to Solomon Schocken, a 19th-Century German immigrant and peddler who opened a general store on Sonoma Plaza (and which he closed on Shabbat, at least for a little while) and who briefly owned the Sonoma Mission before distinguishing himself in various civic activities, including a stint on the Sonoma Town Council. (The Overlook Trail hill still bears the name “Schocken Hill” on city maps; it was the site of Schocken’s basalt quarry which supplied the cobblestones for San Francisco’s streets as well as the huge blocks with which Sonoma City Hall was built.)

So imagine lighting your Shabbat candles this Friday and prefacing the ritual with some of the story of your people, not only including the trek your own family made to the New World from wherever the Old Country was, but also with Schocken and the Shainskys, and the congregation before Shir Shalom, and all of our synagogue’s presidents and committees and students and everyone in the membership (and not forgetting every rabbi from Daum to Finley).

Quite a list. But that, in essence, is the Jewish history of Sonoma Valley. Long may it grow.

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