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New Pathway: Ann Arbor's Jewbilation Offers Another Option for Intermarrieds.

This article is reprinted from the Detroit Jewish News with permission. Visit

Somewhere between "no place to go" and "getting lost in the shuffle" is a unique Shabbat service offered at the Ann Arbor-based Jewbilation.

Founded by the Rev. Lauren Isenberg Zinn, Jewbilation serves as a fellowship primarily for interfaith/intermarried families and couples who want a connection to Judaism.

For Rev. Zinn, who is Jewish and married to a man born a Christian, the congregation is the answer to a personal and familial quest. "For so long I had been searching for something that felt right for me and my family. Finally, I realized I had to create it," she said.

Unaffilated with any Jewish movement, Jewbilation's philosophy includes the practice of traditions of Judaism in an environment that offers a willingness to incorporate and share the teachings of other faith traditions and spiritual practices. Rev. Zinn says the congregation "allows me to express my Jewish cultural, religious and intellectual background and interests, my Jewish persona, without having to be limited by it."

In August 2002, Rev. Zinn was ordained as an interfaith minister by the New York-based All-Faiths Seminary International under the tutelage of the institute's founder and president, Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman, a psychotherapist and graduate of Yeshiva University in New York. She hopes Rabbi Gelberman's aphorism, "never instead of, always in addition to," is the saying Jewbilation embodies.

She is currently enrolled in the Modern Rabbi Program of the Rabbinical Seminary International in New York, a program of individualized training in divine wisdom and spiritual guidance. According to the Rabbinical Seminary Web site, the modern rabbi is distinguished from a traditional rabbi in his/her emphasis on spiritual guidance and personal and practical ministry rather than Jewish law.

New Beginnings
Jewbilation's first service was held in March 2001, just weeks after Rev. Zinn became an adult Bat Mitzvah at Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.

"To me, that first service was a gift to myself and the community for having accomplished my Bat Mitzvah," she said. More than 40 adults and 23 children attended. Jewbilation is referred to as a congregation rather than a synagogue. Service attendance ranges from 35-85 participants.

Jewbilation was inspired partly by the services offered at Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg's Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy and Rabbi Stacie (Fine) Bahle's Ahavat Shalom in Traverse City.

While some Jewish couples attend Jewbilation services, most participants are in intermarried families, where each partner comes from a different religious background. That may include not only couples where one member is Jewish, but couples in which neither partner is Jewish.

They may attend for the "opportunity to learn Jewish practices while also learning from other traditions," Rev. Zinn said.

For Nikki Rosen-Lieberman, her Catholic-raised husband John Lieberman and their two children, Jewbilation is a place "to feel comfortable and be with similar families." "I was looking for something in Ann Arbor for my kids that would be inclusive of the fact that their parents come from two strong families of different religious backgrounds," said Rosen-Lieberman, a member of the Jewbilation board of directors. "I wanted my husband to be welcomed and my kids not to feel alienated from either family."

Rev. Zinn runs a Hebrew school and tutoring program--in her home--for kids and adults, and creates Hanukkah and Purim programs for the children she teaches. She makes herself available to anyone seeking life-cycle officiation, pastoral care and counseling. Jewbilation has had a baby naming and new-home ceremony. Last month, she officiated at Jewbilation's first Bat Mitzvah service.

Conducting Services
The fact that the bimonthly Shabbat service--and those held on selected holidays--take place in a space rented in the Calvary United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor may be symbolic of the hospitality of the congregation to those of all religions.

Prayer booklets have readings in English, Hebrew and transliterated Hebrew. Three small Torahs were donated to the congregation by Rev. Zinn's mother, Eileen Isenberg of Royal Oak and Durham, N.C., and are covered in homemade fabric cases created by Rev. Zinn.

Her service lasts no more than 30 minutes and may be accompanied by guitar, drum, clarinet or piano.

It includes a brief overview of the next holiday, a blessing for children, the recitation of the mourner's Kaddish (prayer for the dead), Mi Shebeirach (prayer for healing) and the chanting of the Shema (daily prayer of Jewish identification). Tunes vary from the traditional to the creative--including a Hindu version.

Occasional special readings may include the words of a guru, Mother Theresa or leaders of other faith traditions.

During the pre-service dinner, family educational programming is held. According to Rev. Zinn, some Jewish participants also attend area synagogues. And that may be a good thing, said Rabbi Robert Dobrusin of Beth Israel.

"If interfaith families feel they are most comfortable approaching Jewish rituals and family life principally with other interfaith families, it is wonderful that Jewbilation can provide that for them," he said. "But I hope they would find comfort in joining with other families in the community as well."

Family Life
Rev. Zinn grew up in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills as a member of the Conservative Congregation Shaarey Zedek. She once explored Orthodox Judaism. The Zinns--including husband Frank, and children Mara, 10, and Sadie, 4,--live in Ann Arbor. Rev. Zinn received both a bachelor's degree in philosophy and planning and a doctorate in urban, technological, environmental planning from the University of Michigan. She also holds a master's degree in philosophy from York University in Toronto.

She lived in Israel, first on a kibbutz and later as a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

On weeks when there is no Jewbilation service, Rev. Zinn often attends other Jewish services or occasionally a non-Jewish service.

Her family observes many Jewish traditions in their home, including the Friday night blessings and Havdalah.

While she said, "I wouldn't call (my husband) a Christian because that implies accepting Jesus as one's savior and he does not," she said he "enjoys celebrating Christmas and Easter in a cultural way as opposed to a religious way. And he finds meaning in many Christian values."

While Christian-born John Lieberman does not practice a religion, his children spend holidays like Christmas with his extended family.

"There is a need for both families' religions to be recognized--not observed religiously--but recognized," said his wife.

Should they feel the need to utilize the programming of a larger Jewish congregation, involvement would be in addition to Jewbilation, she said.

"Jewbilation fits us," she said. "It is our family of friends with similar experiences."

For information on Jewbilation, contact Rev. Lauren Zinn, (734) 996-3524 or

Hebrew for "May He Who blessed," the first words of the prayer of the same name. Traditionally said in synagogue during the Torah service, a holistic prayer for physical and spiritual healing, asking for blessing, compassion, restoration and strength. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "separation" or "distinction," the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evenings. Hebrew for "holy," a prayer found in Jewish prayer services. There are many versions of the Kaddish, the best known being the Mourner's Kaddish, said by mourners. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew, literally, for "sitting," refers to a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts (including Torah and Talmud study). A yeshiva can be a day school for elementary or high school students, or a place of study for adults. Traditionally, a yeshiva was attended by boys/men only; more recently, yeshivas have opened for girls/women and even co-ed yeshivas now exist. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "hear," the first word and name of the central Jewish prayer and statement of faith.
Shelli Liebman Dorfman

Shelli Liebman Dorfman is a Detroit Jewish News staff writer who covers the spirituality beat.

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