Article Discussion: Growing in Inclusivity

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October 28, 2010 at 9:00 am #5172


Click here to read the article: Growing in Inclusivity

October 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm #5174

Debbie B.

I am lucky enough to be a member of two lay-led egalitarian minyanim. For both minyanim, we have had, for different reasons, to choose a new name or modify the old one in the past few years. But both have chosen to keep the word “egalitarian” in the name because it describes core values. The first is that, like the minyan in the article, we consider men and women equally in ritual roles: women can and do count towards a “minyan”, lead all services, leyn Torah and Haftarah, take aliyot or any other honors, even including Hagbah: lifting of the Torah scroll. However, in both minyanim we still reserve the first two aliyot for Cohanim and Levi’im, although batei Cohain/Levi (daughters of Cohanim and Levi’im) are considered eligible. In one minyan we have discussed dropping the distinction with one reason being the fact that tribal reservations for aliyot seems to go against the “egalitarian” spirit. In one minyan, the Cohanim also do the “priestly blessing” during High Holidays, and we have a bat Cohain who chooses to “duchen” as well and a bat Levi who participates in the preparation rituals.

At any rate, the other reason that both minyanim feel that we are “egalitarian” is that although they both have members who are ordained rabbis, they are simply “members” with a single vote on minyan matters the same as any other member; no one serves as “mara d’atra” (religious decisor). Like the minyan in the article, different members lead services and leyn at every service (weekday mornings too, for one of my minyanim), although we do have members who have served as professional cantors for other congregations. So we are “egalitarian” in having no official clergy. This is a little tricky in the case of one minyan that is not “independent” and has chosen to remain affiliated with a synaogoue (even when that affiliation had to change when the original synagogue merged with another one that was not within walking distance). I think we were all relieved when the rabbi of synagogue we are now affiliated with has been most respectful of our desire to maintain our independence and has not imposed himself as “mara d’atra” on us. We are also non-hierarchical in minyan governance. One minyan is very small with no formal “board” or even “steering committee”. We make decisions in group meetings with all members invited. My other minyan has a “board”, but board members serve only a year or two, and the board is not empowered to make important decisions without a minyan vote.

Being a member of a lay-led minyan is a lot more work than being a member of a synagogue with paid staff to do a lot of the work. I’m reminded that we need to get on the phone to start lining up Torah readers for a service that we are coordinating in a few weeks. And I need to spend a little more time practicing the Torah reading for Toldot because I don’t yet know the trope as well as I ought to. But I have realized that it is the work that one puts in and the way members create an inter-connected web of favors and obligations and shared experiences (e.g. I will volunteer to leyn when you are coordinating because you stepped in to give the D’var Torah when there was a last minute cancellation when I was coordinating; or: I am happy to bring a meal to a family with a new baby because other members did that for my family when my son was born.)

My minyanim are also welcoming to all who wish to join. They welcomed my family warmly back when we were an “interfaith family” before I converted. We have a few families where the adults are of the same gender. And we have a couple inter-racial families (mine is one) and families with trans-racial adoptions. But I was very interested to read about the specific ways that the Tikvah Minyan does things to make their minyan more comfortable for visitors or newcomers, like having a page number handout (because announcing lots of page numbers all the time is annoying) and a designated member in the front to give the cues for standing/sitting. These are great ideas that I will propose to my own minyanim.

One of my minyanim is about 30 years old now; the other one is about 15 years old. I hope that Tikvah Minyan will continue to thrive as well.

November 9, 2010 at 11:52 am #5197


Dear Friends: What a great article and a great comment on it! Thank you for sharing the innner workings of your minyanim. It is very interesting.


November 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm #5203

I’m really impressed by the steps you take to make sure that everyone can fully participate and feel comfortable, regardless of their knowledge of the complexities of the service. As someone who came to Judaism twenty years ago but is trying to expand my participation in the community, I still sometimes have moments when I’m not sure of the right thing to do. At those moments, it’s a bit of an extra struggle to remind myself that I belong there. Having someone at the front to look to is a simple but powerful idea. May your community go from strength to strength.

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