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Don’t Miss Hanukkah For Kids (And Their Parents And Adults Of All Ages) On Friday, December 8 and Hanukkah For Adults (And Older Children) On Sunday, December 10 With Singer/Songwriter Craig Taubman

2017 December 1 by

On Friday, December 8, we’ll have our annual Pre-Hanukkah Shabbat dinner (6:15 p.m.) and service (7:00 p.m.) with latkes and dreidels, chocolate gelt and plenty of singing and joy. It will, as always, be fun for all ages, but especially geared to families. Click here to RSVP or call the office for Shabbat dinner.

A more adult Hanukkah event will take place on Sunday, December 10, at 5:00 p.m., when we’ll hold our final “big event” of 2017.  This will be a “Hanukkahpalooza” with joyous melodies and celebration. Orange County needs a big concert at Hanukkah time, like we used to have, and this is it! Craig Taubman, one of America’s most famous singer/songwriters in Jewish life, will perform a rare concert with his band.  There will be a few Continue reading »

Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev, will speak on “Israel: Democracy, Religious Liberalism And Listening To The Concerns Of The American Jewish Community.”

2017 November 27 by

I have some wonderful news. Although our December 1 speaker had to cancel his visit, we immediately found an exciting Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev, to be with us that evening. The title of this letter is the title of his talk and he’s going to speak about democratic tensions in Israeli society over religion and minorities and with the American Jewish community. What should our role be, as American Jews who feel so connected to Israel? How much of a say should we, who support Israel through philanthropy and political advocacy, have in Israeli societal and political decisions, since we don’t live there? How much should Israel pay attention to us and our vision of Israel? How has the Orthodox denial of liberal Judaism in Israel affected our feelings about Israel as well as our opinions about Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Continue reading »

From Trumpism To Taubman-mania: The Next Three Incredible Weeks At University Synagogue

2017 November 16 by

There’s always a lot going on at University Synagogue, but the next three weeks are incredibly jam-packed! I can’t include everything today but here are some highlights:


This Friday night, November 17, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll give my annual “White House Report” at services. I cannot begin to describe the despair in Washington, DC by long-serving Republicans and Democrats within and outside the Administration, on Capitol Hill and in governmental agencies, and the chaos and confusion over Administration policies and Presidential tweets, the understaffing of Cabinet agencies and the demoralization of serious men and women, of both political parties, who feel demeaned and dejected. In all of my years of attending my annual three-day White House briefings for White House Fellows, I have never seen such dispirited leaders. It’s not the polarization of Republicans vs. Democrats that stands out – it’s the establishment vs. those who are inexperienced and radical.

Continue reading »

From The Balfour Declaration To Today – Meet Our Jewish And Arab Israeli Speakers This Friday Night!

2017 November 8 by

A hundred years ago on November 2, 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, declaring its support for “a national home for the Jewish people.”  Thirty years earlier, the First Zionist Congress had met in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, as Jews were split over Zionism, and six months from now, during this Jewish year 5778, Israel will celebrate its 70th birthday with virtually all Jews (and many others) fully rejoicing in the moment.

The State of Israel has been a great achievement in Jewish and world history.  But Zionism’s work isn’t yet done, because our Jewish home has not yet given its non-Jewish, primarily Arab citizens, full equality. Continue reading »

Meet My Friend, Danny Rubin, Writer Of The Film (And Broadway Musical) “Groundhog Day” – This Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.

2017 November 6 by

“Groundhog Day” is an iconic movie.  Even its title has become a colloquial expression for “becoming stuck” and repeating the same thing again and again.

We’re showing the film this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the Regal Westpark 8 Cinemas, 3735 Alton Parkway, Irvine as part of our Film Festival.  It’s a very funny comedy with profound moral lessons about rejecting narcissism and embracing altruism, finding meaning in the everyday, living “in the moment” and opening yourself up to caring and love. 

The 25th anniversary of “Groundhog Day” is coming up and my friend, Danny Rubin, the film’s writer, is traveling from his home in Santa Continue reading »

We Were At The Terrorist Attack In New York

2017 November 1 by

Ruti and I feel profoundly fortunate to be safe and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in New York City yesterday.  We were/are in New York yesterday and we were waiting to hear back from our son Adam as to when we would meet him for coffee.  Adam, a mergers and acquisitions attorney, is an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a block from the World Trade Center.  Ruti and I decided to stroll along the water on the bike/pedestrian path when we received texts and then a call from Adam telling us that his building was on “lock down” and that, from his office on the 32nd floor, he was watching the atrocious attack unfold.  We were only a half-block away from the final moments of the attack site when we got Adam’s messages.  We immediately turned around and warned others walking and riding bikes near us and, moments later, saw the police and ambulances arrive as helicopters flew overhead and the sound of sirens filled the air.

An hour before, we had visited the 9-11 Memorial Fountain and talked about how the rebuilt area of Ground Zero truly made a powerful statement about American resiliency in the face of terror.  It was our third visit to that site since 9-11 and, each time, we have experienced the sanctity of that sacred space.

Writing this letter a day after the attack, Ruti and I feel grateful, mournful, angry and anxious – all of these emotions repeating themselves within us in random order.

We look forward to seeing everyone next week when we return to Irvine.  It will be comforting to be home with all of you.

Life is fragile and precious.  Never waste it or take it for granted.  Make every moment count.  Resolve to meet evil with courage and, in a world of so much hate, bring more love.



Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

Wall Street Journal White House Reporter And MSNBC Political Analyst Eli Stokols

2017 October 19 by

The young people, whose families have belonged to our congregation over the years, have grown up and spread their talents and achievements around the world.  Some have gone into journalism, like Ezra Klein at MSNBC and now Vox, David Molko, formerly at CNN, Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC, and Eli Stokols, Wall Street Journal White House Reporter and MSNBC political analyst, who will be speaking at services tonight about the challenges of reporting on the White House.  We’re proud of all of our young people and we admire those whose work improves the lives of others and furthers the Jewish vision of Tikkun Olam/repairing the world.

Eli is well-respected by so many in D.C. and around the country for his articulate, fearless and cogent perspectives on contemporary politics.  He has a keen mind that passionately searches for the truth and an unwavering dedication to his craft.  Still in his thirties, Eli has an even brighter future.  (Click here for his bio.)


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

Eight Great Days! Hollywood, Music And Food

2017 October 16 by

Eight great days!  Are we talking about the fun-filled Sukkot that has just passed?  No!  How about the joyous Hanukkah that will arrive in just 8 weeks?  No, again.

The “Eight Great Days” that you shouldn’t miss begin this Friday night, October 20, when one of Hollywood’s most interesting and successful writers and producers, Howard Gordon, speaks at University Synagogue on “Terrorism, Anxiety, Politics And Popular Culture.”  Many of us have been riveted, season after season, by his Showtime breakout series “Homeland,” based on the Israeli hit “Hatufim/Prisoners of War.”  (I remember when Howard told me years ago that he was flying to Israel to negotiate for the rights to “Americanize” the series.  Little did we know then how “Homeland” would become one of the most suspenseful and politically insightful shows of the 21st century.)

Continue reading »

“America The Beautiful Or America The Violent?”

2017 October 3 by

“Yitgadal veyitkadash shmey raba…” So begins the Mourner’s Kaddish, which, when we recite it this coming Friday night at services, will also be recited for the 59 murdered victims in Las Vegas.

Once again, in America, mental illness and the easy accessibility of weapons have created a mass tragedy. Slowly, the story will be pieced together: Why did it happen? Who saw something and said nothing? Who said something but it was ignored? And, could this tragedy have been averted?

Our country is constantly and appropriately concerned about terrorism and spends incredible resources to protect us. Homeland Security measures are everywhere – at airports, cameras on streets, monitoring communications and so much more. But when it comes to even the most modest and sensible gun
control measures, too many members of Congress are so afraid of the NRA, that they are willing to leave us completely unprotected and vulnerable. Continue reading »

Ages 40 And Under Coffee With The Rabbi

2017 September 18 by

Dear University Synagogue Members 40 & Under,

Please join me for a “Coffee With The Rabbi” on Friday, October 13 from 5:45 – 6:45 p.m. at University Synagogue. I would like to get to know you better and find out what University Synagogue can do for you. Almost 50 new members – singles, couples and families – have joined University Synagogue in the last two months through our “40 and Under” offer! Free childcare will be available for those who sign up by October 2.more–>

There will neither be fundraising nor will anyone be made to feel uncomfortable if his/her level of synagogue involvement is minimal. The only reason for this Coffee is to learn more about you and your needs so that our synagogue can truly reflect the diversity of our membership. I’d love to have you be with us.

The coffee will start promptly at 5:45 p.m. and will conclude no later than 6:45 p.m. If you would like to stay for services, they’ll be at 7:00 p.m., but it’s up to you. Here’s the service announcement for Oct 13:

Shabbat Services led by Rabbi Rachlis and Cantor Braier. White House Reporter for The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC political analyst Eli Stokols will speak on “Covering An Administration In Which Truth and Reality Are Increasingly Subjective”.

Please click here to RSVP no later than September 8 to Heidi Altman or call the synagogue office at (949) 553-3535.


Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

Give the Gift of A Jewish Future

2017 August 28 by

Imagine that you’ve been given dozens of vouchers, worth thousands of dollars each, to give as gifts to friends and family.  There are no strings attached.  Overnight you have been granted the ability to become a philanthropist.

You don’t have to imagine it.  It’s true.  It has happened.  Everyone in our congregation and beyond now has the opportunity to help ensure the Jewish future by telling everyone whom they know – 40 years old and younger – that they can get a FREE MEMBERSHIP in University Synagogue simply by calling our congregation.


Tell your children and grandchildren and those of your friends; tell your colleagues and neighbors and everyone you know. Continue reading »

Crazy Speech

2017 August 24 by

University Synagogue has always proudly engaged in interfaith and intercultural dialogues over the years. Our closest relationship is with Irvine United Congregational Church with whom we have shared a Thanksgiving service and adult education for almost three decades. We know each other and trust each other, and even more, we are both religiously liberal, inclusive and humanistic.

It’s harder, quite frankly, to dialogue with Christian evangelicals or Muslims who have a more fundamentalist and exclusivist theology, meaning they think that their beliefs are true, superior and even perfect. Continue reading »

Free Speech, Fun At The Beach, Free Membership

2017 August 21 by

This Friday night, please be with us for Shabbat dinner at 6:00 p.m. with UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, followed by 7:00 p.m. Shabbat Alive services (at which we will dedicate a plaque in memory of our beloved pianist Brian Sepel) and, then, at 8:15 p.m., continuing with an extremely timely discussion on “Free Speech” by Dean Chemerinsky and Chancellor Gillman.

To have a distinguished constitutional lawyer and an equally renowned political scientist – co-authors of a recent book on the subject (that will be available at the Oneg Shabbat) – is an incredibly rich opportunity to focus on one of the most crucial issues that our divided country faces today.

Many people – generally advocates of free speech – are having second thoughts about its limits in light of hateful anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses and white supremacist/Neo-Nazi rallies as in Charlottesville. Continue reading »

“Make America Ethical Again” – This Friday Night

2017 August 16 by

A few days ago, I changed the topic of services for this coming Friday night because of the tragedy in Charlottesville. We need to be together to reflect, to express pain and anger, to discuss how to talk about this continuing hatred with our children and grandchildren, and to plan a group strategy for responding to this latest recurrence of shocking political ugliness.

The theme on Friday night will be “The Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK and White Supremacists: How Should Jews And All Americans Oppose These Hate Groups?” and it’s a topic that few of us ever want to address. Still, we must.

As Republicans, Democrats and Independents, as Jews and good people of all faiths and backgrounds, we need to work together and with other groups to ensure that “Unite The Right” White Supremacy “never again” Continue reading »

Coffee with the Rabbi – Friday, September 15 at 6:00 p.m. RSVP by Sept. 8

2017 August 2 by

Dear University Synagogue Members,

Please join me for a “Coffee With The Rabbi” on Friday, September 15 at 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. at University Synagogue. I would like to invite anyone in our congregation who wants to get to know me better or who is interested in new ways to improve our congregation. It’s also a chance for me to get to know you better in an informal setting. Continue reading »

Show Business and Shul Business

2017 July 26 by

Judaism can be incredibly entertaining, and experienced not just through rituals, services and classes, but through music, television, film and theater, as well. The Orange County International Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by University Synagogue, beginning again in about a month, always proves the power of film to teach, inspire and transform us.

“Homeland” on Showtime, based on the Israeli television show Hatufim, gives us the character of Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson, the moral conscience of the show. Whether the issues are peace between Israelis and Palestinians or if the CIA acts morally in a given situation, Berenson struggles to do the right thing as a Jew and an American. (By the way, Continue reading »

No Shirt, No Shoes, Still Services

2017 July 12 by


Our summer Shabbat services are always relaxed and informal, full of joyous music and enthusiastic discussions. Perhaps your life is too busy to attend services often during the rest of the year. If so, consider coming by in July and August. Perhaps the title of this letter above is a bit misleading! More accurately, no (dress) shirt, no (dress) shoes – you can still come to services.

At our beach services, I wear a Hawaiian shirt. At our synagogue, casual slacks and no tie are my summer outfits. What about you? Wear shorts if you want and sandals! Continue reading »

My Interview on the QUAZ: Sharing Some Interesting and Strange Q & A With You

2017 June 23 by

University Synagogue member Jeff Pearlman is a well-known author and journalist (e.g. New York Times best- selling author of seven books, Sports Illustrated senior writer, ESPN.com columnist, Newsday, Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, etc.)
He has a blog, the QUAZ, where he asks politicians, actors, singers, athletes and others to address issues – both thoughtful and weird. Recently, he asked me. Given that I received more responses to my recent Tony Awards/New York visit letter than almost any letter I’ve ever sent to the congregation, I thought you might want to read my very personal responses to Jeff. Here is an abridged version. Continue reading »

Some Things I Learned at the Tony Awards, the 9-11 Museum, Several Excellent Broadway Shows and their Implications for University Synagogue

2017 June 16 by

Judaism asks us to always see the sacred in the everyday, the holy in the secular and the transcendent in the wonders of nature, human creativity and artistic expression.

A few days after our incredible University Synagogue 30th Anniversary Gala, Ruti and I were off to New York to see our son Adam, attend some Broadway shows, visit a few museums and get together with some friends (including 89 year-old sex expert and former Haganah fighter, “Dr. Ruth,” whom we took out to dinner for her birthday, as we often do).

Many of you know how much Ruti and I love theater. (One of our sons and our son-in-law are actors.) Each year, in addition to seeing plays in Orange County and Los Angeles, we spend two weeks in Manhattan, in the fall and spring – seeing seven shows in a week each time! (Some people know “sports stats” – we know theater trivia!) This recent visit was even more special because we were guests of a friend, the CEO of CBS, at the Tony Awards. (See the picture above.)

Walking the red carpet (surreal!), sitting in the orchestra section, going to the after party until 3:00 a.m. at the Plaza Hotel and casually mingling with Broadway’s Continue reading »

“Two Important Changes at University Synagogue – Earlier Service Time 7 p.m. and Free Membership for Ages 40 and Under”

2017 May 25 by

Earlier Shabbat ServiceSome synagogues slow down during the summer, but not University Synagogue. For us, summer means Beach Services in Laguna Beach (June 23, July 21, Aug. 11 and Sept. 1), Shabbat Alive services (June 16 and Aug. 25) and weekly Shabbat services on Friday nights at a new time, 7:00 p.m.! 
Recently, families, who want to bring their children to services more often than just on Family Nights, have asked for an earlier time than 8:00 p.m.; others coming directly Continue reading »