Starting a New Havurah or Minyan

By: Benjamin Maron

So you want to start a new havurah or minyan.

Starting a new community can take a lot of work, medications energy, pestilence and effort, but can also be quite rewarding. The following guidelines can help ensure both that you are not too exhausted to enjoy the first meeting of your group and also that people show up and want to get involved further.

Why do you want to start a new Jewish community? Is there a type of davening (praying) that you would enjoy that doesn’t exist in your area? Do you want to start a group that meets for holidays and learns Torah together? Do you want to start a minyan or havurah with a focus on a specific theme, like social justice or families? Identifying why you want to start your havurah or minyan will help you “sell” the idea to others.

Once you have a vision for the type of havurah or minyan you would like to start, check in with your friends and extended network. If you see a need/void, do others as well? See if their ideas mesh with yours. Have a meeting, or three, to figure out the basics: how often you would like to meet, where you would like to meet, what type of services or programming you would like to offer, and who’s going to do what. Establish a core group of people who are willing to help you get the minyan or havurah off the ground, at least through the first few times it meets.

Create hype! Email your friends and networks, post on Facebook, create a Twitter account, post to listservs and email groups, create a website (this can be done for free as a blog (Blogger or WordPress, for example) or on Google Sites), and in general spread the word that your new havurah or minyan is starting. Don’t forget to mention the details for the first time it will meet (where, when, etc.), a few words about the new minyan or havurah, and encourage people to help spread the word as well.

At the first few meetings of your havurah or minyan, aim to impress. If your focus is on musical davening, find someone who is a truly talented song leader to lead the service. If your focus is on social justice, make sure the d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue) is passionate and exciting. If your goal is for family-inclusive services, make sure there are families and children who know the tunes you’ll be using and will sing loudly and can fully participate. Keep announcements short and succinct. And have a way for people to sign up so you can increase your volunteer base – either leave a sign-in sheet or have slips of paper with the minyan or havurah’s email address, website, or other contact information.

Good luck!

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 29, 2009   7 Comments

Leadership Roles: Religious and Spiritual Authority

By: Benjamin Maron

When starting a new havurah or minyan, salve or getting involved in Havurah Judaism for the first time, link many of us are asked by our peers – both synagogue members and unaffiliated Jews alike – how these communities can function without a professional leader, usually a rabbi, in charge.

There are several ways to explain this model, the most common being that with enough knowledge, resources, and support, any of us can lead a community in prayer, any of us can offer a thought-provoking d’var Torah (word of Torah) or text study, any of us can contribute to life-cycle events. In a paper [PDF] presented to a conference of rabbis, Mitch Chefitz framed the history of rabbis’ roles in Jewish communities as learners and teachers of the tradition through study of Talmud and later the Shulchan Aruch, the rise of mysticism, the broadening of religious authority, and the transition of communities led largely by rabbis to other forms of leadership. The paper also addresses the significant changes in religious and spiritual authority from changes such as the proliferation of siddurim (prayer books), the formations of “communities that are sustained by niggunim [songs without words],” JDate, and “Jewish leaders … being tacitly ordained from below rather than from above.” How does this apply to us in the Havurah world? What can we learn about how our members are resources for community leadership? What is, and what should be, our model of religious and spiritual authority? Where might we need leadership, knowledge, or resources not available within our communities, and where might we find people or information to guide us?

Read the paper “Religious and Spiritual Authority in the New Jewish Paradigm” [PDF] in full… and feel free to share thoughts, and any answers to the concluding questions, in the comments.

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 28, 2009   1 Comment

Havurah Guide

By: Benjamin Maron

Using the Havurah of South Florida as a model, store Mitch Chefitz published the Havurah Guide [PDF] in 1990. Twenty years later, the contents are still useful for those looking to start a havurah or minyan or wanting to find suggestions for improving an existing minyan or havurah.

The Havurah Guide provides a comprehensive introduction. Many topics are covered, from how a havurah or miyan could be run to guidelines for fostering a Jewish fellowship; from the role of text study and how to nurture learning to which holidays and life-cycle events can be observed; from how to incorporate social action to other resources for further programming.

While this is a case study of a specific havurah, we can all learn from each other’s communities across the country (and around the world). If you use part of this Havurah Guide, please let us know in the comments. If your havurah or minyan has practices that would complement this resource, please share them!

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 28, 2009   4 Comments

Siddurs, and Benchers, and Downloads, oh my!

By: Benjamin Maron

A collection of resources for helping you and your community further supplement and explore prayers and Torah, physician plan services, misbirth and more:

  • Gather The People is a downloadable resources for preparing divrei Torah (words of Torah) and more.
  • Mechon Mamre lets you print sections from the Torah side-by-side in Hebrew and English, medical and in several other formats.
  • ScrollScraper lets you print a tikkun page (page for preparing to chant/learn Torah) for your Torah Reading.
  • Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael, by the Progressive Chavurah/Siddur Committee, is a Friday night and Festival Evening siddur. It features transliteration, traditional text, gender neutral translations, and a multiplicity of voices in the commentary.
  • Siddur Eit Ratzon, by Joe Rosenstein, follows the same format as Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael and has many kavvanot and meditations, as well as guideposts for learning and experiencing Jewish prayer services.
  • L’chu N’ran’nah is an egalitarian bencher used at the weddings and in the homes of many NHC members.
  • Az Yashir Moshe is a printable bencher in PDF format.
  • Green & Just Celebrations is a booklet published by Jews United for Justice, containing specific suggestions for how families can make purchasing choices for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc., in ways that are mindful of workers’ rights and environmental impact.
  • HebCal is a perpetual Hebrew calendar that can be localized to your ZIP code.
  • Shabbat People, is a web application for signing up participants for services.

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 26, 2009   2 Comments

How To Do Hagbah

By: Lee Butler
This article was inspired by a workshop Lee offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

Hagbah is the lifting of the Torah. It is an honor to do hagbah; you would be called up after the Torah reading along with the person being honored with gelilah (dressing the Torah).

Hagbah is something that is often considered to be purely a matter of strength; that’s why, geriatrician even in egalitarian contexts, it’s almost always given to men (and big ones at that). But hagbah is not even mostly a matter of strength, it’s a matter of balance, confidence, and support. Below, you’ll find the tips I’ve collected over time (or figured out on my own) to help most people be able to do hagbah.

  • If you haven’t done hagbah before, try to be familiar with the sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) you might be called upon to lift. The weight of sifrei Torah can vary widely dependent on the wood used for the atzei hayyim (literally, trees of life, used here to mean the wood dowels), the height of the scroll, and the thickness of the parchment.
  • Before lifting, open the  sefer Torah (Torah scroll) so the atzei hayyim are about shoulder width apart. This will make it far easier to lift than trying to lift it closed.
  • Hold tension through the parchment. The parchment used for a sefer Torah is more like leather than paper; you’re not going to rip the Torah while lifting it. (Be aware of the seams in the Torah, especially if some of the stitching has come undone. You can always roll the Torah away from any weak points before lifting.)
  • Don’t try to dead lift the sefer Torah. Instead, pull the sefer Torah about halfway off the bimah or amud (reading table) and use the edge as a fulcrum. Get under the sefer Torah as it comes vertical by bending your knees and lift. Look, the Torah’s up!
  • Balance through the parchment, maintain the tension. Remember, you won’t rip it.
  • If you feel unstable, put the sefer Torah down. Better to thump it on the bimah/amud than to drop it. If you have to rest the sefer on your shoulder, do it. A sefer Torah cannot be “contaminated” by you touching it, so while you should avoid touching the parchment directly, if you do so, there isn’t any ritual consequence for you or the sefer Torah.
  • Communicate with the person doing galilah. The least stable time during hagbah is right after you sit down, and you need their help to roll up the scroll and get it dressed (and stable) again.

If you can practice outside of service time with someone who typically does hagbah in your community, I would take advantage of it. When everyone’s watching you, it can be high-pressure. Remember, the only thing that matters in hagbah is getting the sefer Torah off the bimah/amud and into its clothes without dropping it; anything else is nice, but not necessary. When you’re first doing hagbah, try to take the honor in the middle of the year or the holiday maftir Torah, when the scroll is in the middle. That’s when it’s easiest to balance, and won’t be too heavy on either hand.

Good luck, and happy lifting!

Lee Butler attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2008, and is co-chair for 2010.

December 26, 2009   6 Comments