This series of posts is dedicated to the Reconstructionist rabbis who served or visited the then small, now large, Congregation Darchei Noam of Toronto of my youth (Rabbis Joy Levitt, Allan Lehmann, Richard Hirsh, David Teucsh, Barry Blum, Deborah Brin, Larry Pinsker and several more student rabbis). With a special shout out to Rabbi Richard Hirsh who inspired the whole series with his dvar Torah on Shabbat Shuvah in memory of Rabbi Ira Eisenstein z”l . It is about how my deep and long exposure to a “traditional” Reconstuctionist service has made it hard for me to feel at home in other styles of worship. See Part 1: Liturgy and Part 2: Dvar Torah/Sermon. This is Part 3: The Style
When I first spent Shabbat with the man who became my husband, I felt right at home, even though I had never met his friends before. Later I realized that this was in part because he was the obviously right partner for me and in part because we spent Friday night davenning in a minyan where lay people prayed together in some graduate student’s apartment, ate pot luck food, sat on the floor that barely had enough room and sang joyously together. In other words, we were at an indie minyan (Porter Square), before the term “indie minyan” was popularized and before Minyan Hadar, which was born a little after our first child. (Though the term independent minyan was in use in the late 70s and early 80s- and is referenced in the humourous 1982 book, the Unorthodox Book of Jewish Records and Lists.) My future husband and I spent Shabbat morning was in student-led minyan. I felt at home because that was the Judaism (in style) of my childhood.
When I was a child my shul met in people’s homes and awkward rental spaces (the funniest was the Diet Workshop- bad for kiddish), and was lead by part-time rabbis who biked to shul or wore jeans and lay service leaders. Events were often in people’s homes. (And the Torah came to shul by car in the early days).
The rabbis were respected and sought out for their knowledge even as they helped intentionally forge a casual, comfortable, come-as-your-are, share-your-voice, participatory atmosphere. (Student rabbis from the era, if you ever felt unsure of how respected a student rabbi visiting from afar was, know that before you came there was much excitement and preparation in anticipation of your visits and careful planning of how to share access to your teachings.) We used to read this poem and feel it referred to us.
Happy Are We Whose Synagogue is Small by Danny Siegel Happy are we whose synagogue is small Because we love each Jew Because we have to Because we do Happy are our children Who sit in sixes and fours Learning Torah With the Rabbi For he knows them well enough To know them Happy are our homemade caterings Our hospitality on Pesach Our own-washed floors Happy the man who walks right in Day or night Through the unlocked doors To meditate and sit in peace Happy are we whose house is a shul
The shul I grew up in is now successful and large. It has a full time rabbi and many staff members. It has about 10 times the members it did in my early childhood. It has a beautiful building (built by fundraising that impressively stayed true to the shul’s core values) and so much programing that it would be a full time job to go to all of it.
Two years ago, when I was invited to daven Neillah in someone’s house ( bring your own siddur) I jumped at the chance. The fact that I’d never been to her house didn’t stop me from thinking to myself “there’s no place like home.”