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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 »

“When Dreams Come True” – 30th Anniversary Gala on June 3, 2017.

2017 May 23 by

save the date boxWe will be honoring at our Gala our three founding Presidents and all those who joined in the early years of our congregation. Even if you don’t know David Sandor, Carol Richmond or Hinda Beral well, even if you don’t like Gala dinner dances, even if you are not the most active University Synagogue member, I’m asking you to be with us.

We have so much to celebrate and we have come so far in such a short time. From a tiny havurah to one of the largest congregations in Orange County, from wandering Jews, who met at UCI and in hotels and churches, to our large and beautiful congregation’s building, Continue reading »

“Erwin Chemerinsky: An Honored Member of University Synagogue Now and In The Future”

2017 May 18 by

Erwin Chemerinsky 2So many people have called or emailed me to say how sorry they were to hear that UCI Law School Founding Dean and beloved University Synagogue member, Erwin Chemerinsky, will be leaving Irvine for a new position as Dean of the Law School of UC Berkeley. This is a wonderful opportunity for Erwin and we’re excited for him, his wife, Catherine Fisk, who will be a tenured law professor at Berkeley, and their daughter, Mara. Erwin’s legal brilliance and his incredible talent as an

administrator brought UCI Law School not only into being, but advanced its reputation, in less than a decade, to one of the top 30 law schools in the country. Professors wanted to teach at UCI so that they could work with Erwin and students wanted to go to UCI because of his dynamic reputation. Continue reading »

Israelis and Magic

2017 May 15 by

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut/Israel’s Independence Day. Sixty-nine years ago, the Jewish state was reborn and, with it, our hopes and pride for the future.

One hundred and twenty years ago, the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel. One hundred years ago, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration gave world Jewry hope that Israel might come into being.

Fifty years ago, our people worried, in June 1967, if this new state would even survive. Am Yisrael Chai – we are still here – and Israel continues to amaze, comfort and even challenge us. Too often we think of Israel in the abstract. But whenever the Merage Continue reading »

Coffee With The Rabbi

2017 May 11 by

Dear University Synagogue Members,

Please join me for a “Coffee With The Rabbi” on Friday, May 26 at 6:30 – 7:45 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 »

Love, Love, Love

2017 May 8 by

Our two previous vow renewal ceremonies at our “Evening of Love” services were extraordinary events. Thirteen couples who had been married for only a few years renewed their vows on the bima along with others who were married six decades ago! They brought friends and family from inside and outside the congregation and a large crowd of University Synagogue members – single and married – joined in the celebration, shouting mazel tov from their seats. Continue reading »

“Someone You Should Know”: Dr. Colleen Coleman

2017 May 4 by

Every so often, we hear of someone who has performed an incredibly selfless act. We read a story in the paper or watch it on television, and we smile with admiration at his/her profound altruism. Our faith in humanity expands and we are reminded of the pivotal role that one person can play in the lives of others.

In our tradition, “Pikuach Nefesh”/saving a life is one of the greatest mitzvot. We save one life and we rescue a whole world of friends and family, including children and descendants not yet born. Saving one life saves a world, says our tradition. Continue reading »

“Sharing Our Past, Creating Our Future” – RSVP today for our 30th Anniversary Gala on June 3, 2017.

2017 May 1 by

At High Holiday services, I spoke a bit about the Jewish mystical tradition of Gematria. Each Hebrew letter, in Kabbalah, is assigned a numerical value, so that this Jewish year 5777 equals 26 (the total of 5 + 7 + 7 + 7) and 26 also equals Adonai/YHVH (Divinity) as well as 6/3/17 – the date of our 30th anniversary Gala dinner. It’s “bashert” – June 3, 2017 will “align the cosmos” for an incredible celebration!

Obviously, I’m not speaking literally, but I am celebrating with transcendent and overflowing joy. I am kvelling, as I know so many of you are, that University Synagogue has shaped our Continue reading »