In Joshua’s Shoes: Home Shul?

One thing that I miss from Minneapolis is a shul that I can call my home. During orientation the HUC administrators suggested that we find a synagogue that we can call ours and that we find the time to get to know people in that community. In order to use that advice effectively, I have been shopping pretty extensively for a congregation that I feel comfortable praying in.

Before I came to Israel, all I heard about was Kol HaNeshama. This seemed like a great place to start exploring T’fillah in Jerusalem. As with any new community, there were some things that reached out to me and others that I struggled with. I really enjoyed the meditative aspects of their Kabbalat Shabbat and they use a very good mixture of melodies for various prayers.

As a place to start a nice relaxing Shabbat it was very warm and welcoming. I even ran into one of the Rabbis from Temple Israel there! But, being one of the more widely known Progressive congregations in Jerusalem, there was a touristy feel. Something just never completely grasped me there.

T'fillah on the Port Promenade in Tel Aviv

The next Friday morning I joined a group of HUC students headed to Tel Aviv for Kabbalat Shabbat on the Port. A progressive community near Tel Aviv, Beit Tefilah Israeli, holds services on the port of the Mediterranean Sea every Friday in the summer. It was incredible watching the sun set over the sea as we welcomed in the Sabbath together.

This was a very large group of people together to pray and there were spontaneous Hora circles breaking out as everyone celebrated. We sang an incredibly moving translation of “What A Wonderful World”. Part of the problem could have been that there were also many people there to “watch a concert” on the Port Promenade. That, as well as the distance from home play a part in my decision to not make Beit Tefillah Israeli my home community.

Back in Jerusalem, there are still tons of other options that I’m exploring. Not too far from my apartment is Congregation Har El. The word from many fellow students is that this is their favorite place to go. I decided to check it out with my roommate and some other students. We did not pick the right Shabbat to attend. The Chazzan was on vacation and we later learned that the Rabbi was home sick that night.

I was very impressed with the community’s response to this. Two people from the community stepped up and lead everyone. The incredible community support and the close setting make me want to try them out again. It’s a good thing HUC has organized a program there this Friday so I will give them a second try.

Yet the place that I have found the most comfortable and meaningful defines themselves as an Orthodox, Feminist Congregation. I would say that  Shira Hadasha is a Modern Orthodox community. They do have a mechitza, but it is made of a translucent cloth that is also pulled open for announcements to the community and I’m told they open it for any Torah service and it was barely noticeable during the services.

The atmosphere there was incredible. The nearly packed sanctuary was overflowing with an incredible presence, due in part to the niggunim that proceeded most of their prayers. Being partially led by a woman and partially led by a young man that looked no more than sixteen years old, this Kabbalat Shabbat made me feel incredible as I left. It is entirely possible that I have found my “home” away from home.

Havdallah with HUC Students

Concluding Shabbat every week has been a good, consistent experience this year. One HUC student started gathering everyone together for Havdallah. We have been meeting in various parks around Jerusalem and singing a variety of songs as we wait for the sun to set.

Complete with guitars, sometimes a drum and numerous different melodies, this is the perfect end to Shabbat for me. Recently we even started including a Siyyum, or closing songs, after we finish the Havdallah Blessings. These services have been incredible.

Joining The Women of the Wall for Torah Service

Not every service I have been a part of has been the most positive. Last week I took part in Shacharit for Rosh Chodesh with Women of the Wall. A very different experience than I have ever encountered in my life. I will not go into detail about the abuse received at the Kotel. If you are interested in my account from that morning, feel free to check out my personal blog.

The walk from the Kotel to Robinson’s Arch, the place that Women of the Wall continue their Torah Service, was another incredible display of community though.

What I have really found, so far, is that there are distinct styles and melodies for prayer services. I am still looking for a community outside of the HUC bubble to call my home congregation here in Israel. As a class, we have services two mornings and one afternoon each week and I am a part of a group of students that is working on creating more opportunities for T’fillah.

The Murstein Synagogue at HUC-JIR Jerusalem

In the HUC Sanctuary, Mustein Synagogue we are able to try out new traditions, customs and melodies, some even written by students. What I have come to realize between Shira Hadasha, Havdallah and other services is the most important aspect is the feel of the community. The specific details and customs have helped me feel welcome in different ways. There are still many other prayer experiences I hope to have here, and although I haven’t found the one spot that I fit perfectly, I’m well on my way to finding a Home Shul. Hopefully by the end of the year I can have a list of places in and around Israel that I can send people to check out when they visit Israel.

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About Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson has spent the last 25 years living in or near Minneapolis. After completing a B.A. in History at the University of Minnesota, he worked for Temple Israel, Mount Zion and Bet Shalom in a variety of capacities. While working in the Reform Movement, Brian developed a passion for Reform Judaism and is currently studying at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in the Rabbinical School.

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2 comments

  1. It sounds like you’re giving this a lot of thought. I’m glad you have found some good leads on where you think you may feel comfortable. I’m sure once you get settled it’s going to be hard to leave when the year is over. I think that would be the hardest part for me – not finding a place where I feel comfortable, but allowing myself to feel connected when I know it’s only for a limited time.

  2. As a follow up, I went back to Kol HaNeshama this morning for Shachrit. The community was considerably small this morning, but there was something more rejuvenating about it.

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