Monday, July 18, 2005

Repairing Friday night

On Friday night I led kabbalat shabbat at Tikkun Leil Shabbat, co-sponsored this week by the DC Reform Chavurah, at the Religious Action Center. There were over 100 people there! This included people on the TLS email list, the regular DCRC crew, and the summer interns at Machon Kaplan.

This new Friday night initiative ("a summer series of songful, soulful Sabbath services featuring a teaching about a social justice issue and followed by a potluck vegetarian dinner") has only met three times so far, and has been a smashing success from the beginning, overflowing every venue. Though there is a moratorium on talking about the future of TLS (at the moment it is officially of finite duration, like the Mob Project), it seems unquestionable that TLS will continue in some form beyond the summer, and that lots of enthusiastic people will step up to make it happen.

TLS was started by some people (full disclosure: close friends of mine) who have been around the DC Jewish scene for a while and decided that, instead of complaining about the things they didn't like in an attempt to change elements of the existing scene that are resistant to change, their energy would be put to better use creating something new and positive. Over 100 people agree! Many people have already found TLS to be their new Jewish home, including others who have been similarly frustrated with the existing options, plus those who never got into the existing options to begin with, plus those who have just moved to DC (always a large group when a city has that much turnover).

I'm also happy that DC Reform Chavurah exists. As I have discussed at length, people in the 20s/30s demographic who came up through NFTY and the whole system (and who don't become rabbis) tend to disappear from Jewish communal life and/or abandon their Reform roots. (To be more precise, their Reform roots abandon them.) Until a group like this comes along and smokes them out of their holes! After dinner, we were singing songs from the old country that I hadn't heard in 10 years. And I may have a love/hate relationship with the Reform movement, but the RAC (where the Civil Rights Act was drafted in 1964) represents the side of it that is the most unequivocally positive (with the exception of their silence about the war in Iraq). [Kol Zimrah (in NYC) has also attracted this "Reform expatriate" crowd out of the woodwork.]

Some of us were discussing the portability of various models of independent minyanim (since we all want to start them wherever we go when we finally move out of NYC/DC/etc.). Presumably in smaller Jewish communities it will take more effort (more than just viral marketing) to assemble the people. I wondered if maybe the TLS model is more robust than the KZ model, since KZ requires a critical mass of people who can lead services in a very specialized style (hard enough to find even in NYC), whereas TLS has a different style of services every time (the first two were more Carlebach-egal; this time was a hybrid of KZ-style and DCRC-style; a future one is co-sponsored by Zoo Minyan), so it only requires people who can lead services in some style (since each person can lead in his/her style when it is his/her turn). Someone else suggested that the opposite is true: it is rarer to find a set of people who are flexible enough about their davening that they'd be ok with having a different style of services each time, and easier to get people who prefer a specific style. Thoughts?


  1. The RAC didn't oppose removing Saddam? Wow, I've never liked them this much!

  2. I agree that it's harder to get people who are flexible than to find enough people to lead davening all the time. One reason I think that TLS has been able to overcome this has to do with the nature of transience in DC. Because it's such a straight-out-of-college destination, I met a number of people who were using the series as an opportunity to check out what's going on in terms of independent minyanim in DC.

    That said, I think it's a great approach and am very excited to be participating. I'm disappointed that I didn't make it to the last TLS, and I'm definitely looking forward to this week's.

    Josh R

  3. Props to TLS, DC Reform Chavurah, and Jews United for Justice, Washington DC's local Jewish social justice organization, for hosting such a ruach-filled service and dinner. What's really great about these events is that in addition to the community and the ruach, we are called to connect values to actions through a "d'var tikkun" from a different local social justice organization. If you're around this Friday, join us and the Van Ness Minyan at 2737 Devonshire Pl. NW in Cleveland Park for services, dinner, and a d'var with Sariel Ende of My Sister's Place. Check out for details--