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Starting a Havurah
You have moved into a town with no synagogue and the nearest Jewish institution is miles away.
But you have a sense there are other Jews living in your community. You would love to get these people together to discuss the creation of an informal ad hoc Jewish community. What to do?
The bad news is that there is no recipe for starting a community from scratch. The good news is that it is possible - and worth the effort. It takes detective work and a little luck.
Your first goal is to find other like-minded Jewish individuals, so you can't afford to be shy. Talk to everyone you know and ask if anyone they know is Jewish. If your child is participating in any programs at the library, or at the Y, or is in nursery school check the class roster for Jewish surnames. (Not always a guarantee of a Jewish family)
When you discover the first family give them a call. Chances are they will be delighted that you called. Chances are if they have lived in the community longer than you they will know other Jewish families.
Arrange a playdate in your home or meet at a playground, mall or restaurant . Be forthcoming. Discuss your interest in getting together with other Jewish families to form a chavurah. (group of friends)
You may not hit paydirt right away. It may take awhile before you meet up with people you feel you would like to begin a religious journey with. Donít be too picky, however. Overlook a few foibles or eccentricities in the interest of getting your project under way.
When youíve met one or two interested families who you think might be compatible you are ready to begin. An easy first step is hosting a Shabbat dinner. A great way to get everyone into the fun of Shabbat, and make the dinner less work for you, is to ask each family to contribute a dish to the dinner. Depending on your custom, set the table with your best china or break out the paper plates. Buy challah, kiddush wine, and shabbat candles. When everyone gathers together, light Shabbat candles, say the blessings over the wine and challah.(A good resource for the blessings, in Hebrew transliteration, Hebrew and English as well as ideas to enhance your Shabbat dinner experience is the Shabbat Seder written by Ron Wolfson, published by the Federation of Jewish Menís Clubs) Eat dinner together, have the kids play. After youíve had several dinners with this group, you may decide to invite other families to join. At the same time you may want to up the ante, add blessings for the children, have a subject for discussion, sing some Shabbat songs, tell the children a Shabbat story.
As time goes by, you may want to formalize this arrangement. The group can set goals. They can decide to add a Shabbat service before or after dinner. They can decide to celebrate some of the holidays together or to hold educational activities for the children. Whatever the decision, make sure that the goals are realistic and achievable. Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and discord.
Depending on your orientation, becoming a full fledged institution may be the best or worst outcome of this small Shabbat dinner in your living room. Keep in the back of your mind where you want this group to go. If you are content to keep the group small and intimate do so. Your connection to members of the group will be more intense and your religious experience more hands on. If you feel that you want to institutionalize the group, know that you will lose control and the excitement of being part of an extended family. However, you will be able to; hire a Rabbi to lead services and to preside at life cycle events, have a religious school for your children, a place to learn about Judaism. You will have created your own Jewish community.
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Mishpacha was initiated and funded by The
Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.