JRC

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston has “been my synagogue” for the past 10 years. I put those words in quotation marks after staring at the screen for 10 minutes trying to find words to relate the JRC to me. Those words came to me but I feel they need further explanation. Let me get back to that at the end of this post.

I came to the JRC shortly after becoming no longer single and learning the importance, if not the skill, of compromise. While not terribly religious on a daily basis I grew up in a Traditional congregation. That slice of Jewish observance falls a half step below orthodox. The women are not separated physically from the men but they play no direct role in leading the worship service or the business of being a congregation. Most of the service is in Hebrew and it tends to be long. Rabbinic sermons were filled with fire and brimstone. I only grew up at this congregation because my aunt and uncle belonged there when we moved into the neighborhood. Yet this approach to being a Jew was how I spent my formative years, provided the foundation of my Jewish education and all I knew for thirty years.

My wife on the other hand grew up in a Humanist congregation. I do not know exactly what this means but in terms of worship service it seems to have been lighter than most reform congregations. Short and mostly in English.  All I know is the family rabbi that married us refused to wear a yarmulke, the traditional head covering which I had been led to believe was part of Jew 101.

Needless to say, finding a congregation that we could both be comfortable in was going to be challenging. After 6-8 attempts at various places we lowered the standard of success to finding a place we both could tolerate. JRC became that place.  

In the first couple of years I was mostly focused on what JRC wasn’t. I would tell my friends how they shortened most of the prayers and did much more in English than in Hebrew. It felt less religious. Worst of all they used different tunes for the prayer/songs that I knew and loved. You cannot overestimate how closely my spiritual tie to the entire service, to being Jewish, was linked to those songs. I don’t particularly like change.

I believe my wife seemed focused initially on how much more Hebrew was read than what she had been accustomed to and the increased length of the services. We both however had appreciation for how music was integrated into the service which created beauty.  In my former place of worship, no musical instruments were allowed, just a small men’s choir. Here, in addition to a choir of women and men came guitar, piano, flute and cello. I began to notice the joy that much of the congregation took from the service. In the early years though I stayed true to my introverted self and emotionally held the entire experience at arm’s length. This was a place to be on the high holidays and a place for my son to receive a Jewish education. It continued to meet the “high” standard of compromise that my wife and I set.  

Fast forward to Wednesday, September 13, 2007, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year. I was in an ugly mood and having trouble connecting in any way to the service. The turning point for me came after the rabbi introduced one of the members of the congregation to provide her personal reflection, a regular event on the high holiday program of JRC.

The woman’s theme was redemption. She spoke of growing up in an orthodox tradition and learning to love being Jewish. As a young adult, however, she began feeling left out given the orthodox focus on men and the exclusion of women from the most holy aspects of the rituals. It was not until her partner chose to convert and become a Jew and then later dragged her to the JRC that she reconnected with her religion and found a warm and accepting religious community. She had been concerned that being female, gay and an adoptive parent were facets of her personality that would make connections difficult. At JRC she found not only people that would accept her as she was but also people similar to her.

For some reason this woman’s story struck me harder than usual. I was vaguely aware that JRC was an open and accepting community. I say vaguely only because I have always stayed on the periphery. In prior years, others had in similar personal reflections echoed those sentiments. I could also visually observe the differences in the congregation and how JRC conducted itself. This time however I felt the truth of her observations.

At JRC it does not matter if you are female or male, gay or straight, or young or old. Anyone showing interest and being deserving (based on their actions, especially in support of the JRC and its community) can participate in meaningful ways in the prayer service. As an example, my friend’s son Sam reads from the Torah though he is only a few years beyond his bar mitzvah. (He does an excellent job btw.)

On JRC’s website you will find the words below.

Welcoming

 

Joyful

Innovative

Dynamic

Inclusive
 

Caring

 

The JRC and its community are all that. The Rabbi, Brant Rosen has brought to us attention to religious study, humor, good nature, a focus on community and an activist’s focus on doing good works– both within the Jewish community but also anywhere else they are needed. Despite the fact that he looks as if he is barely out of rabbinic school he provides the right kind of leadership to this community.

Cantor Howard Friedland is one of the warmest individuals you could ever meet. This comes through in his chanting and his comportment in front of the congregation. Taking a slightly different road to JRC, he was a free-lance actor before becoming a cantor. While not having a long cantorial resume would have excluded him from consideration at other congregations, it was who he is and not what he previously did that mattered to the JRC.

So why am I writing over a thousand words about the JRC? The values of JRC are values that I hold dear. Values are a big part of who I am. That JRC and I had this in common struck me intellectually and I connected at least on that level. For me this was a significant step forward. The next day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah is attended by only 20%-25% of the crowd from the day before. I enjoy the more intimate setting. I sat with friends and actually prayed. The beginning of a connection on an emotional level. A baby step anyway. For now for me JRC is a place to be. It is my synagogue in name. My dues are current. For now I recognize that it is much more for many people and could be more for me some day. Who knows if or when? Stay tuned.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

2 Responses to JRC

  1. Frank says:

    Those are 1,000 very good words. It’s so wonderful to have found a nurturing place…and you have. I hoped the New Year started out wonderfully for you and your family, and it certanly sounds like it did. It’s a little late, but l’shanah tovah.

  2. 48facets says:

    It is as nurturing as I let it be. I do not open up easily to people I do not know well. Once that occurs it is hard to shut me up.

    Thanks for the good wishes.

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