“Congregation Eitz Or is a Jewish Renewal Community.”
What does that mean, anyway?
Well, one important thing is that you can’t tell Jewish Renewal by labels or customs. Some Renewalists closely follow traditional halakha (Jewish law), using Orthodox prayer forms, observing Shabbat and holidays in traditional ways, keeping kosher homes, covering their heads, and so on. Others prefer new approaches, experimenting with new liturgy, keeping Shabbat and holidays in their own ways, discovering their own relationships to halakha.
There is no Jewish Renewal orthodoxy, but certain key values unite the diverse community of Jewish Renewal advocates:
- A focus on Divine connection that derives from Hasidism and other ecstatic and contemplative traditions; Renewal communities practice ecstatic chant, meditation, sacred movement, and other activities that are undertaken with the intention of truly connecting to the Source of Being rather than merely going through the motions.
- Commitment to tikkun olam (healing the world) and tikkun halev (healing the heart), recognizing the human task of repairing the world as we join to heal our own hearts.
- A respect for and willingness to learn from other spiritual paths, and a desire to join with renewalists in other faiths to bring healing to the world.
If you are familiar with conventional Jewish services, you might be surprised by some things you experience in Renewal communities, such as group aliyot (Torah services that invite anyone who wishes to take part rather than reserving such honors for a few), unusual melodies and chants, spirited discussions over the meanings of Torah readings, guided visualizations, prayerful movement, and prayers chanted simultaneously in Hebrew and English.
At Eitz Or, there is no pressure to take part. Anyone is welcome to sit quietly while the congregation moves through a particular prayer or chant or movement, but if you feel like it, you are encouraged to try things out in order to learn what works best for you. Dress is casual. All services are fragrance free.
History of Jewish Renewal
The modern movement for Jewish spiritual renewal began nearly forty years ago, in havurot (groups of friends meeting to observe Shabbat), in political action groups, and in individual journeys. The most influential teachers were Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, ordained in the Hasidic Lubavitch tradition. Sent into the field to return Jewish spiritual seekers to the fold, they discovered in the counterculture of the Sixties reasons to broaden their own horizons, ways to refresh tradition rather than merely reproducing it.
Reb Shlomo is widely remembered today as the author of an incredible treasure trove of Jewish music; in 1967 he founded the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, an outreach center for Jewish spiritual seekers frequented by many of the then-young men and women who have become todays Jewish Renewal leaders.
Reb Zalman, ALEPH’s founder, is remembered worldwide as a spiritual guide and teacher to a generation of Jewish Renewal writers, educators, leaders and activists. He was an early pioneer of the havurah movement, integrating new influences with Hasidic tradition, helping to shape the democratic, ecstatic spirit of the movement for Jewish Renewal. We mourn the tremendous loss of this great spiritual teacher and leader in 2014.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, founder of Aleph