Chevra Thilim is the oldest orthodox synagogue in SF. Rabbi Zarchi, is the young, learned and soulful leader of the congregation. His sermons consist of deep insights into the Torah reading and frequently brings out kabbalah interpretations. After every Saturday service, a sit down kiddush is served. There are always one or two congregants that take a new person through the service.
This is Chabbad run Modern Orthodox synagogue located in a rundown building. When my boyfriend and I visited the synagogue most of the congregants were older men and women. When I stepped into the women's section one old woman gave me a dirty look, not sure why. Although They bill themselves as a Modern Orthodox synagogue the mechitza (divider) between the women's section and the men's section is too high and makes it difficult to follow the services. My boyfriend on the other side of the mechitza did not fare much better, he was completely ignored, the rabbi shook his hand like he has leprosy or something. I met Chani Zarchi (the rabbi's wife) before and she seems to be friendly and approachable, her husband on the other hand seems to be aloof and arrogant (New York style rabbi ?). I was told that Chani does not come to the services often because she lives far from the synagogue and cannot walk with her young children. It is too bad because she can make this gloomy place more lively. After the services they had a kiddush (luncheon) and again we sat alone and were ignored, we did not even finish our food, we were just happy to leave. I read that the synagogue is raising money for renovation which I think it is waste of money. After all smiles are already free!, Take for example the Mission Minyan, they need to rent their own place which is a plain simple room in a community building but it is always full to capacity.
Having been in a "spiritual diaspora" I wanted to return to my community but was nervous about returning with such little knowledge to a community that had so much. The entire congregation was more welcoming, non-judgmental and helpful than I ever could have imagined. Everyone has made my husband and I feel welcome and has inspired us to learn and grow. We look forward to and thoroughly enjoy our time at the shul, including Shabbat services, Torah study, and our anticipated Hebrew classes.
Congregation Chevra Thilim lives up to its name as a group of friends in prayer. Rabbi Zarchi is a learned in Torah, Talmud, and Zohar, and is able to put a meaningful and emotionally-engaging spin on these Jewish treasures in English and Yiddish for the contemporary spiritual seeker. Rebbitzin Chani is also very learned in Judaism and is a fabulous cook and organizer, not to mention being a role model of an excellent mother. The members of this congregation include many immigrants with many talents who are warm and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. I have good Sephardi and Mizrachi friends, including a rabbi, who participate in services here, with the Ashkenazi members, and everyone senses that it feels "heimisch," really a nice homey closeness to HaShem. The small children who both cuddle up to their parents then run off to play with their friends instill a sense of the celebration of life in contrast to the generational segregation popular at less traditional services. The historical character of the shul adds an element of simplicity which appeals to me.
Great services, great cantor, satisfying experience. Only downside is sort of old run-down building, but apparently they are going to redo it!