Congregation Sof Ma’arav went from the Party Shul to the Zoomers: A Heartfelt Message to You

Information from Sof President Sandra Z. Armstrong

My biggest fear this morning was not the coronavirus but how was Congregation Sof Ma’arav going to keep our reputation going as a learning experience, a welcoming place, a week Torah reading experience, a lively Shacharit and Musaf service, an opportunity to explore our feelings while we listen to a D’var Torah, a service filled with the laughter of children as they learn about Yiddishkeit and join the Torah service procession (amid smiles from everyone), a place where HaShem would rest the Shechinah upon us weekly. Written below is a presidential diary of the last two weeks and how Sof has adapted.

A Wonderfully Ordinary gathering every Shabbat (written 3/16/2020)

Sometimes we have to sit back and reflect on all the good that we have been given and all the good that we have been doing. This is one of those times. Siddur Sim Shalom in the Musaf Amidah for Shabbat says: “May your gift of Shabbat continue to bind us to You throughout all generations, teaching each of us that holiness can be a living presence in our lives. May we serve You purely, without thought of reward. May we be inspired by the spirit of Shabbat, as we praise You, HaShem who hallows Shabbat.”

As the President of Congregation Sof Ma’arav and a proud member of this congregation, I am forever amazed at the amount of time and energy that goes into each and everyone of our beautiful Shabbat Saturday services. For during the week, starting Saturday night to Sunday and weekdays after, we are incredibly busy learning to read a Torah portion (sometimes for the first time ever), practicing a Haftarah, reviewing a lay leadership role in Shaharit, Torah service or Musaf. Many are practicing to go up to receive an aliyah on the bimah (again sometimes a first), planning what to bring to our lively onegs, baking delicious challah as both Peter and Arnie graciously do and prepping for hours with detailed messages out to the adult Biblical Hebrew classes, as Lorna does.

Robert and Rev Daniel are our Gabbaim keeping a meticulous eye on our service leadership. We remember others as we prepare our lists for the misheberakhs and say names of people we love who need our prayers, weekly reminders go out with yahrzeit notices as Morris faithfully does, shopping for oneg supplies as Jessie does, the weekly task of facilities manager opening/closing the building and putting microphones/lighting in place as Don does.

Others of us are preparing for incredible drashes (sometimes weeks ahead) as the Rabbinic drash Marc Flitter gave last Shabbat speaking of Hashem, the importance of Shabbat gatherings and the unfortunate circumstances of plagues/diseases. Naomi continues as our shammas giving out honors especially with kindness to our visitors that day.

We begin each Shabbat with either Torah study, a profoundly moving experience, or with Gregg in his Talmud class. Gregg shows us a glimpse into the minds of Rabbis 1000’s of years ago and he does it both with humor and expertise. On that note, how about Dina and Gregg announcing/emailing us each Shabbat, requesting everyone to respond to the line up of lay leyning and service leadership positions, as well as for our festival holidays, too. And then there are the children who walk out of the children’s class and light up the sanctuary as they approach the bimah with the Torah. And of course the Sof newsletter where Sid and Lynley pool all of us together in a wonderful version of who we are and who we are becoming.

Sof Ma’arav has been, is, and will continue to be. Sof is a place of intensely positive learning experiences for all of us every single week. For the congregants that I did not mention here, please forgive me, for the joyous task of putting a Sof Ma’arav service together is all consuming for so many of us and everyone is equally important.

Stay safe and be well………………………………………………………Sandra Z.


And now an Extraordinary experience as of (3/30/2020) Fourteen days later

I woke up this morning elated over our Zoom Shabbat services yesterday! What a break from, the news here, the news from the mainland and the dreaded coronavirus. We live in an uncertain, fearful time right now. A pandemic is not our ordinary existence and yet somehow, someway we are coping with our extraordinary way of living. Congregation Sof Ma’arav is our strong base to withstand the forces of nature that surround us and keep us physically apart. I say physically apart because spiritually we are still very close. As we become more creative with our zoom service, we feel better each Shabbat; more alive, more connected to each other and HaShem. I urge you to participate on any level in this weekly uplifting experience and become a Zoomer on Shabbat. The ruach created will stay with you through these difficult times.

Dina Yoshimi had the passion to put us together on Zoom! Is it the same as being physically near each other? Yes, the only difference is that we are in different places, in our homes yet together as always to celebrate Shabbat as a joyous occasion in our lives each week. We begin at 9:00am with Talmud study led by Gregg along with alternating Torah study each week. We are still doing it and doing it well! Gregg lays down the magnificent background and sends us the Talmud sheets ahead of time. He teaches us Talmud and the wisdom of our Rabbis and sages. Can you imagine learning to this extent in 2020/5780? What would our Talmudic Scholars have thought of this? What would Rashi be thinking? And Gregg does this with incredible knowledge, flair and humor combined.

We begin our service at 10:00am promptly with a lively Shacharit. Then a very abbreviated Torah service because we are not taking out the Torah but we are reading the parsha of the week out of our Etz Hayim. The Haftarah is chanted as usual with the prayers before and after (and Todah Rabah for this week to Marlene). We follow up with the prayers for peace, our country and Israel led by Don. And we sing a full Musaf together followed by Mourners Kaddish. We have a minyan of “way more than” 10 on the Zoom screen and so this is how we do it.

For our snowbirds on the mainland and Canada, some of you are joining us and we are thrilled! At Sof we have a “Snowbirds” representative on our board as Les Rosenthal because we have so many of you out there that belong to Sof and who we dearly miss.

Speaking of Snowbirds and I will end with this thought. Staying in place for so many of us is like being blanketed with snow on a blizzard.

The drifts pile up as we look outside and stare from our windows. Yet we are safe inside. When the sun comes out, the world is crisp and beautiful out there but we are better off inside. As we see the light streaming through our windows, we think of HaShem brightening up our days and melting away the large drifts of snow that appear before us. We stay positive; we work from home, rest, read good books, email our friends/relatives and have long luxurious conversations over the phone. We pray that this pandemic will be over soon and then we will be together at Sof again celebrating Shabbat yet in the meantime, zoom it is!

Please contact me with any questions.


An updated and new Zoom account is on its way.


With aloha and lots of love sent to all of you,


Sandra Z.

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