Many of the points brought forth in Rabbi Sid’s essay resonate with the values of Mile End Chavurah. Our community, which in the terminology of the essay, would be described as a synagogue-community, has no building and no rabbi and our programming includes equal amounts of ritual, education, and culture.
Mile End Chavurah was established as a response to the typical synagogue-center, which many perceived, and still perceive, as something that demands high sums of money to join and then dictates many rules about how one can express their Judaism. While affiliating with these kinds of synagogues made perfect sense to many of the generations before us, it did not make sense to us. As our community has evolved, we have also recognized the ‘softness’ of covenantal Jewish identity, and see that it is ‘up for grabs’. We have been trying various approaches to attract and retain the Jews who have expressed disillusionment with conventional Jewish institutions.
The goals and programming of Mile End Chavurah are aligned with at least three of the four propositions from Rabbi Schwarz’s essay.
In terms of Wisdom/Chochma, we have been offering educational programming for several years, which culminated in the establishment of a program called “The People’s Yeshiva of Mile End”. This program features various rabbis and leaders from our own city as well as those who might be visiting from abroad. Anyone can come to these events: Jews, non-Jews, men, women, etc. The goal of the program is to share knowledge, not to limit it.
The Mile End Chavurah community equally believes in programs of Social Justice/Tzedek. When the Syrian refugee crisis appeared on our collective radars, our community not only engaged itself in efforts of supporting refugees, but we sponsored events that educated people about what is involved – both the challenges and rewards. Our B’nei Mitzvah program and our new afternoon school program involve a social justice component, with the B’nei Mitzvah child engaging in appropriate activities and presenting their experiences to the community, and the students in our classes learning about various social justice concepts.
In terms of Community/Kehillah, Mile End Chavurah is completely lay-led, with a few exceptions where we have invited rabbis or other leaders to lead special events when no lay leader was available. We believe that we have found an approach that will allow our children and the generation that they represent to still want to be Jewish!
Peter Horowitz grew up as a non-observant Jew who was a member of an Orthodox congregation. As a leader in Montreal’s Mile End Chavurah, he helps to provide a Jewish home for many people who would otherwise have no connection to Judaism.