With Rosh Hashanah just a few days away, preparations are happening, whether involving apples and honey, a tender brisket or the weighty spiritual matters of the holy days. We approached a trio of Tel Aviv spiritual leaders on the latter topic, given the added challenge of creating spirituality in Israel’s most secular city. But times have changed in the Big Orange, according to these three, and they’re planning a holiday season that will get their people thinking.
For Or Zohar, 33, currently in rabbinical school at the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is home and where he began Tefillat Halev, Prayer of the Heart, just one year ago in the heart of the city.
At the time, it was just around Rosh Hashanah and utilizing a borrowed dance studio and a small budget from the Center for Progressive Judaism, Zohar and his wife drew upon their joint musical talents, his master’s in Kabbalah studies from Tel Aviv University, and a determination to never get too far ahead of the congregants.
The congregants are “citizens of Tel Aviv,” says Zohar, mostly secular people who are interested in “bringing some spirituality in a Jewish way into their lives.” The very musical service does not use a prayer book, and includes movement as well. Zohar muses that he’d like to create a PowerPoint for the service so that the congregants can be free to move their body when they pray. As for Rosh Hashanah, he wants to explore the relationship between repentance and creation, the two major narratives of the New Year. He’ll use music to awaken the group, creating an environment where people can explore their minds. The second day will include movement and dance, breaking old patterns and making new ones, exploring repentance and recreation through music, body movements and text study.
“To have a new creation, you need transformation,” says Zohar.
Kehillat Sinai, Tel Aviv’s Conservative congregation, will also be moving this year, but not in time for Rosh Hashanah, says Rabbi Roberto Arbib, a graduate of the Conservative Movement’s Shechter Institute. The congregation will soon be located in the quaintly chic neighborhood of Neve Zedek, where the synagogue will be housed in a 19th century Templer building. For the moment, his Bograshov Street congregants are a mix of families and singles, mostly Israeli, who revel in the egalitarian, pluralistic spirit of the synagogue, which connects them more spiritually to the prayers. At the same time, the New Year and the Hebrew month of Elul that precedes it is a time of preparation for Arbib and his congregation.
“You shouldn’t fall into Rosh Hashanah,” he says. “You have the time to prepare, to build up to it. Every year, I personally try to find a new point and not go back to where I was, to see what can be different this year. I want to wake up corners of our minds that are known but forgotten.”
There’s a similar spirit at Yakar Tel Aviv, the thriving outpost of Rabbi Mickey and Gilla Rosen’s long time center of learning and prayer in Jerusalem, a community sorely missing Rabbi Rosen, who died earlier this year. This Rosh Hashanah will mark Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman’s third year in Tel Aviv, where his community, which numbers 170 members, is a wonderful mix of young and old, observant and secular Jews, who look for a certain kind of prayer and creative, learning experience year around. It is similar in spirit to Yakar Jerusalem, which focuses on bringing together Jews of all backgrounds, offering them a spirited and vibrant approach to prayer in a welcoming Orthodox environment.
Yakar Tel Aviv, located near the Basel neighborhood, has a “traditional feel,” and the service, especially on the high holidays, is “orientated to community singing rather than traditional chazanut (cantorial singing), says Engelman, adding that “getting people singing is important at Yakar.”
Feel free to join any of these three congregations over the course of the high holiday period.
Tefillat Halev, Democratic School 19 Brenner, Tel Aviv, 050-253-4566
Kehillat Sinai, 88 Bograshov, Tel Aviv, 03-525-3907
Yakar Tel Aviv, 6 Yericho, Tel Aviv, 03-546-3555