A lot of people told me that as soon as I set foot in Israel, I would feel like I'd come home.
That wasn't my experience with arriving in the country writ large, but it's how I felt when
I stepped into Nava Tehila, the monthly Friday night
Jewish Renewal service led by Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan.
One reason I felt at-home was that I ran into almost everyone I know in Jerusalem there.
Friends from ALEPH, acquaintances from Ohalah, folks I met last Shabbat morning at the Leader
Minyan, folks I've met at school, someone I met at the initial briefing session for the
Encounter program last week, even someone I knew from the PANIM transdenominational rabbinic
student retreat last year. What an amazing intersection of my various Jewish lives!
Beyond that, I feel at home wherever the music is really good, and the music at Nava Tehilah was great. An excellent drummer, two guitarists,
a violinist, three song-leaders, and about 200 people singing with intention and heart. That's
pretty much exactly my idea of a good time.
But maybe the deepest reason I felt at home was how the minyan dovetails with my ecumenical sensibilities. I first read about Reb Ruth's minyan in a Jerusalem Post article,
the Faiths, which begins, "A rabbi, a monk, and a Sufi walk into a minyan. It sounds like the
set-up to a bad joke circulating by email. But it's a reality every month at Nava Tehilla,
Jerusalem's first - and only - 'multi-faith' Jewish renewal gathering." (It's a good article, worth reading.)
To be clear: the service is entirely a Jewish service. The davenen (and extra-liturgical conversation) is in Hebrew (with English translations of the teachings so no one feels left out.) But
the doors are intentionally open to members of other faith traditions. I mentioned that there was a violinist? He was a
monk in brown and white robes (a member of a French Catholic order called the Beatitudes.) I saw a few of his fellows there, and a nun, and an Indian couple in traditional dress,
and someone I could swear is Ghanaian (Ga, if I had to guess, though he vanished after the
service before I had a chance to go say hello and see if my Ghana-dar was working right.)
After our opening chant, Reb Ruth offered words of welcome, and reminded us that we are all
participants here, welcome to sit or stand, daven full-text or join in the extended chanting of
brief pearls from the psalms, meditate in silence or dance with abandon... as long as whatever
we choose to do, we do wholly. She treated each psalm during kabbalat Shabbat as a gate into
the service, and before each offered a brief teaching from this week's Torah portion (in
Hebrew and then in English) which was sealed and sweetened by the singing.
During "Lecha Dodi," when our singing and dancing and bouncing reached a fever pitch, a new bride and groom came into the middle of the circle, and we sang to the Shekhinah manifest in the literal bride as well as to the Sabbath Bride. And then we sang the last verse and my heart cracked right open, and I covered my face and wept. From that moment on, I felt luminous.
Looking around the room at this joyful immersion in kabbalat Shabbat and maariv services,
I thought, this is what Isaiah meant when he voiced God as saying, "My house shall be a house
of prayer for all peoples." In that basement room at Kol Haneshamah, where two hundred people
of various faith traditions gathered to welcome Shabbat together, I think that statement came true.
Afterwards most of us walked (beneath the darkening sky and the most amazing sliver of new moon) to Ruth and Michael's (beautiful) home for a potluck supper which began
with blessings and schmoozing, and continued after dinner with song and a kind of Torah-teaching
open-mike. Meanwhile, other people helped put out and clear up the potluck supper while Ruth
and Michael circulated -- which reminded me of our New Year's gathering, actually, the sense
that this is a community of friends which feels ownership of the regular gathering so that the
hosts don't have to run things.
I didn't stay long -- only until about 10:30 -- because it's been an awfully long first week of
class for me, and my Friday was particularly emotionally challenging. (Rewarding in proportion
to its difficulty, but difficult nonetheless. More about that soon.) But I'm so grateful to
have found my way to this monthly Renewal minyan -- and, in a bigger-picture sense, to have
found my way to Jewish Renewal, a home I can carry with me wherever I go.
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