Wednesday, / February 21, 2024

We’re Taking the Ramp

There are seventy “faces” to the Torah, says the Midrash. Like a prism refracting disparate colors of light, Torah enlightens the entire spectrum of humankind with the wisdom of the Divine. In this feature, we invited individuals who have come to Torah study as adults, to reflect upon something that they have learned.

Do not ascend My altar by steps – וְלֹא־תַֽעֲלֶ֥ה בְמַֽעֲלֹ֖ת עַל־מִזְבְּחִ֑י

Exodus 20:23

Our family has deep roots in San Francisco: my grandchildren are seventh-generation San Francisco Jews. I have been active as a community leader in everything from our Jewish Community Federation to AIPAC, and served as the president of the largest Reform congregation in Northern California. 

Twenty years ago, in my quest to become more Jewishly educated and elevated, I began studying with my local Bay Area Chabad rabbis. Together, we formed a beit midrash, a house of study where an eclectic mix of people from very diverse backgrounds come together in the pursuit of wisdom. Each time we meet, we become more united over the words of Torah. 

Recently, we studied about the altar in the Tabernacle. The altar must be approached by a ramp — not steps — because, some commentators suggest, stairs are too regimented a method of ascent. A ramp, on the other hand, is gradual and seamless; even the smallest movement forward brings one higher.

Armed with the energy of our Torah study, we in San Francisco are taking the ramp. I want my family and my community to be elevated with the joy and meaning of Jewish practice; I want San Francisco Jews to know that there are many ways to access our beautiful heritage — right here, where we are — and that Judaism is more than just a two-day-a-year experience during the High Holy Days.  

San Francisco is not Jerusalem; but, with small and steady steps, we can rise steadily on our own ascent.

Donny Friend is a real estate investor and principal of Howard Properties, a family-owned business in San Francisco. He was formerly president of Congregation Emanu-El. 


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