Every stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is different, and every one has been amazing in its own way. But I suspect that our weekend in Vancouver may stand out in memory as one of the most memorable experiences in a year-plus of remarkable experiences.
Maybe that's in part because we traveled such a very long way to be there. Maybe it's in part because we were visiting such a storied community, one of the largest and longest-standing Jewish Renewal communities in the world. Maybe that's in part because the people at Or Shalom welcomed us with such open hearts.
Our visit began with a dinner gathering with members of the host committee, and then after a too-short night of sleep continued with brunch with a group of Or Shalom millennials who spoke to us about their spiritual lives, their hopes, and what "doing Jewish" looks like for them.
On Friday evening I led a sweet and intimate family Shabbat circle, a few prayers and a few songs and a meditation on the week which was then drawing to its close. Then we davened with the Or Shalom community, savoring a service co-led by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan and Rabbi Hannah Dresner (along with musicians Charles Kaplan, Martin Gotfrit, Joe Markovitch, David Kauffman, and Nomi Fenson.) We danced around the room, we sang and prayed, and we marveled at the beauty of the clearing evening sky as we opened the door to welcome the Shabbat bride. (And Rabbi David gave a beautiful d'var Torah about keeping our spiritual fires burning.) After davening and dinner we heard origin stories and histories from Or Shalom's almost forty years of existence, starting with the early years as a havurah in Reb Daniel and Reb Hanna's living room.
On Shabbat morning, Rabbi David and I co-led p'sukei d'zimra, the first section of the morning service. (As it turned out, we chose melodies wisely, and the community sang along with spirit.) Then we enjoyed a Shabbat morning service led in turns by Rabbi Hillel Goelman and then by Rabbi Hannah. I was privileged to offer the d'var Torah that morning, on what it means to me to be a nation of priests and how that dovetails with the work we seek to do in ALEPH. After another festive meal we facilitated a community open mike session, harvesting ideas, yearnings, "ouches," dreams, and hopes from the community at large.
On Sunday we breakfasted with ALEPH Canada colleagues at a vegetarian Vancouver institution, spent the morning with the Or Shalom board of directors, lunched with congregants and clergy, and spent the afternoon with a 2o+ person focus group of involved and invested Or Shalom folks. In between these meetings and meals and meetings-over-meals, we managed to walk a bit by the water; to marvel at the blooming trees and the view of Mount Baker in Queen Elizabeth Park; even, briefly, to see a harbor seal in its natural habitat! Our visit wound down with a final meal, and some debriefing and visioning for the future, with Rabbi Hannah before we regretfully made our way to the airport to begin the three thousand mile journey home.
We have hundreds of pages of notes from the Listening Tour so far -- from the nine stops we've made in person, and also from countless phone calls, zoom videoconference sessions, and emails. And we have many stops yet to go -- we're nowhere near done. We're beginning to see some common themes which are emerging (which are beginning to spark our conversations about what might be in the "Renewing Renewal" report we'll be putting forward before Rosh Hashanah). I'm fascinated by the things which are parallel or similar everywhere we go, and equally fascinated to see things which are different in each place we visit. I continue to be endlessly grateful that we get to do this work. It's an honor and a privilege to get to sit with people and hear their yearnings and hopes for what ALEPH and Jewish Renewal might become.
Dave Kauffman took some terrific photos from the Listening Tour weekend. Thanks, Dave! And deep thanks to the organizing committee and to all of our Or Shalom hosts.