Become a Sh'ma Group Guide | Congregation Beth Am

Become a Sh'ma Group Guide

Become a Sh'ma Group Guide

Beth Am's Small Groups initiative is growing! Beginning at the High Holy Days, we will be forming new Sh'ma Groups. We are currently looking for warm, friendly individuals to create and guide new Sh'ma Groups. Below, you will find:

To better understand what happens in these groups, take 12 minutes to watch this video of Michele Parker's talk about her experience as a Sh'ma Group Guide.

These groups are peer-led, meaning YOU get to decide on the common thread or interest that ties the group together (i.e. you're all parents of similar-age kids or you're all into hiking, etc). It's a chance to do something that is meaningful to you with a group of people who share that common experience or interest. Each group will ideally be facilitated by a pair of guides. If you are interested in becoming a guide, we'll train you. And, you'll have a coach to help you prepare for each meeting, and serve as a resource and support as you lead your group. Trainings are held periodically.

If you're interested in starting a group, but still have questions, please email the Sh'ma Groups Leadership Team at, or call Rabbi Heath at (650) 493-4661.


As a Sh’ma Group Guide you are core to weaving the social fabric of shared belonging by cultivating a safe space and modeling behavior that demonstrates your own openness to the transformative power of community.

Your role will be central to shaping a group - based on the idea that when we are in relationship and well-connected, we can better care for the well-being of one another.  And when we support the spiritual growth and learning of one another - we will live better and richer and fuller lives.

What is a Group Guide?

Being a guide means that you are willing to welcome a small group of people into your home or arrange for another suitable location. We don’t expect you to be Rabbi Akiva, an expert in Judaism. We don’t expect you to be Moses, a professional group moderator and facilitator. You only need to be like our patriarch and matriarch, Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed-in guests and embodied the value of hospitality. You need an open heart and an open mind.

What are your responsibilities as a Sh’ma Group Guide?

  1. Once your group is formed you should send them a letter of introduction and welcome and set your initial meeting which should take place in your home. As a Guide you will be in charge of helping your group coordinate the calendar of your meetings. Your group should meet minimally once a month, for six sessions. We have developed curriculum, which is available online.
  2. 3-5 days before each meeting we ask you to send a reminder email to your group confirming time and place. You can use our template as a guide.
  3. At the beginning of each meeting you will want make sure that there is time to nosh, say a blessing, review the brit (covenant) for the Sh’ma Group, and ask an opening question. We also ask you to record who is present. This will help us in our evaluations.
  4. At the first meeting read through the sample brit. Then, ask if anyone proposes any additions to the group brit. Some possible additions: meeting place? Childcare?
  5. This can also be a good time to talk about the fact that meetings will begin on-time and end on-time and that attendance at small group meetings is expected. Members of your Sh’ma Group are accountable to one another.
  • If someone cannot make a meeting they are expected to contact the Guide beforehand. We understand someone may need to miss a session, but if absence becomes habitual (2 times) it is time to reach out to that individual. Simply calling or scheduling a time to meet and asking about the absences may be enough to find out what is going on. Please be in touch with your coach so she or he is aware of the situation and to talk about strategies if the need arises.
  1. Discussion guides are available to Group Guides online.
  2. You will need to set the structure of each session and moderate the conversation. If your group is going to participate in an activity (walking, biking, knitting, etc.) we suggest either facilitating the learning prior to the activity OR incorporating key elements of the learning into the activity (i.e. pausing to discuss a question at different points during a hike or while knitting).
  3. At the end of each session we ask you to send a quick update email to your coach responding to the following questions:
  • How did the group respond to the learning? Did it spark conversation?
  • Is there something pressing that needs to be communicated to us?
  1. Remember that in addition to your day training, each Sh’ma Group Guide will have a coach. Do not hesitate to be in touch.

Key Responsibilities for Group Guides:

  • Determine the organizing principle and description of your Sh’ma Group.
  • Help the Sh’ma Group develop and observe a covenant, brit.
  • Create a safe space and embrace those who are present.
  • Schedule Sh’ma Group gatherings so that the group meets regularly.
  • Provide or organize the nosh and the location of the Sh’ma Group gathering.
  • Facilitate or delegate the facilitation of the learning.
  • Encourage shared responsibilities.
  • Communicate with Sh’ma Group members outside of the meetings.
  • Communicate with your coach.


If you want a vibrant and healthy Sh’ma Group, you have to be intentional. Aim to balance the core values and remember that a Sh’ma group is none of the following:

Sh’ma Groups are not a class

If a group simply becomes an information dump or an academic pursuit, people will quickly lose the point (and you will probably lose the members of your Sh’ma Group). Many of us love learning and lectures. But if the Sh’ma Group experience becomes an intense learning space where members are pupils and the guide is a lecturer, you will miss the whole idea of building community. Instead, we use materials from Ask Big Questions as the basis for a structured conversation that is based on the shared experiences of the members of your group, exploring the big questions that are relevant to each of our lives.

Sh’ma Groups are not a social club.

Because Sh’ma Groups are not a class, it’s possible to swing to the opposite extreme by having a group that is too relationally focused and isn’t transformational or connected to Jewish learning.  In our over-stressed, over-scheduled world most people shed unnecessary responsibilities. The Sh’ma Group that operates as a social club will be the first to go. A good Sh’ma Group challenges its members to grow. The social club doesn't concern itself with that—which is a key reason it's not a healthy Sh’ma Group.

A Sh’ma Group is not a weekly meeting.

You will schedule the Sh’ma Group gathering around work, kids, and vacations. A group that meets infrequently risks losing its identity quickly. We have to work hard to keep up relationships. But the meeting frequency shouldn't feel like a chore, either. It also shouldn't feel like a poorly thrown-together meeting designed around the convenience of the group members. Your role as a guide is to help create a positive and intentional experience.

A Sh’ma Group is not just a group of 8-12 people.

Don't get hung up on the total group numbers. Focus on the experience of the Sh’ma Group!

A Sh’ma Group isn’t just “home-based.”

We encourage you to begin meeting in homes and in settings where meaningful conversations and sharing can occur. Over time, as your group knows each other better, the locations may change. Find places that are right for you: homes, a nature trail, at Beth Am, are all good places to gather. We hope that your Sh’ma Group will also participate in the larger gatherings of temple life (Shabbat, holiday celebrations, educational programs, etc).

A Sh’ma Group is not group therapy.

People in your Sh’ma Group will likely share aspects of their personal lives. The discussions will be enriched through the sharing that intimacy and safety provide. Remember, the Sh’ma Group is not a time for members of the group to get off-track and describe and discuss their personal problems in great detail. But it is okay for people to share their struggles! Allow space for silence as well. Remember, no fixing, advising, saving or setting straight. No advice is necessary, unless solicited. Use the brit to encourage people to respect one another and bring their full presence and attention to the group.

Congregation Beth Am
  • 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
  • (650) 493-4661 Contact Us

We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).