JTA: Women rabbis at forefront of pioneering prayer communities

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Innovative Women Rabbis

Clockwise from top left, Rabbi Lori Shapiro of Open Temple, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum of The Kavana Cooperative, Rabbi Noa Kushner of The Kitchen, Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva and Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar. (Courtesy of the congregations)

…Open Temple, founded to reach out to Jews with very little Jewish background, has focused on education, and on community-building through events celebrating major holidays and b’nai mitzvot. The community already has a Hebrew school and b’nai mitzvah program, and is preparing to introduce regular Shabbat services in the coming year.

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Open Temple holding its family Rosh Hashanah service. (Jordan Teller)

Several of the communities are moving toward affiliating with one another in a more formal way.

In May, Brous, Kushner, Nussbaum and Heydemann — along with Romemu’s Ingber, Amichai Lau-Levie of Lab/Shul in Manhattan and Rabbi Scott Perlo (a former rabbinic intern at Ikar) from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue — met at the Leichtag Ranch north of San Diego to discuss ways to work together more closely and potentially articulate a common vision. The group’s participants, who jokingly call themselves the G7, said the discussions had not yet turned into anything concrete, but suggested that something more definite would be forthcoming in the coming weeks and months.

They all stressed that they were not looking to form any sort of movement.

The innovative communities and their rabbis are increasingly being cited as models for the Jewish future. Several were honored in the Slingshot Fund’s newly issued directory of innovative Jewish organizations, and Levy says she travels on a monthly basis to speak to synagogues about spiritual outreach and creativity.

How precisely these communities will evolve remains an open question. And in certain ways, they already have — adding new services as the congregations grow and as members’ needs and desires change. Kavana has created a Hebrew immersion preschool and religious school, and has added adult education programs as its cohort of older congregants grows. The Kitchen’s “Shabbatify” program organizes Shabbat dinners of 12 to 20 people in participants’ homes, and the community is in the process of opening a store to sell its self-designed prayer books and a Passover game.

But Myers, an Ikar member from its early days, says that as the communities grow and evolve, those that wish to survive in the long term will inevitably need to develop their institutional forms and find new ways to generate and harness energy.

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