On Naming: What Do We Call Our Congregation?

The synagogue space in Temple Beth El

My first memories of participating in Jewish life are physical ones. The congregation that I attended for the first half of my childhood was Temple Beth El, a very large Reform temple in Bloomfield Hills. The sacred space in this synagogue is as large as it as majestic. The ark stands two or three stories high; when the cantor’s voice flows from the equally tall speakers, you feel in your bones that you are in a holy space.

However, it wasn’t until I attended High Holiday services led by Rabbi Ora at a Unitarian Church(!!) that I felt in my heart the genuine holy feeling of being instantly at home with my Jewish faith. Although our meeting spaces are not quite as palatial as my synagogue of origin, I still call our congregation “temple.” Going to temple” means more to me now than it ever has, because what I learn there resonates with me on a level truly deserving of that name.

Carol Lessure calls our congregation “Recon or Hav – that is the name I called it originally when it was a Havurah – and means community to me. Certainly not the same name we used growing up; we went to Temple or Shul.”

Like Carol, many of us call our congregation ‘The Hav” or “The Havurah.” Up until recently our congregation’s official name was “The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah.” In Hebrew, Haver means friend.” A Havurah is a group of friends coming together. Beginning in the 1960s, many young American Jews who felt that traditional Judaism didn’t speak to their experience began practicing in community groups that collectively came to be known as the Havurah Movement. Although our congregation does not go back that far in time, many of those who started this congregation came together out of a similar sense of faith and community.

Our Havurah, sharing in Community and Food! (In true Jewish style)

As their numbers grew, the members of the Ann Arbor Havurah welcomed in more and more peoplle from our community who felt the same feeling of home as I did on my first visit. Eventually, we became the “Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation.” According to former member Danny Steinmetz, the name change “…had implications for the conception of a more formalized, fuller service congregation.” Our congregation has met this goal in a style truly fitting of a Havurah.

Clare Kinberg’s article on members leading services in the absence of a rabbi is a perfect example of how our community continues to practice Havurah Judaism within the Reconstructionist Framework.

Many others, such as Seth Kopald and Rabbi Ora, call our congregation “Shul.” Interestingly, Shul comes from the Yiddish word for “school.” Many began calling their congregations shul as a homage to an earlier phrase, Batei Midrash, or “House of Study.” It seems appropriate to call our congregation Shul, since the practice of exploring, debating, and learning is fundamental to how our services are structured.

Whether you call our congregation Temple, Shul, or The Havurah, one thing remains constant: our commitment as Reconstructionists to be inclusive of everyone’s experience. We all come to the table with a lifetime of experience as Jews that informs how we view this congregation. What is important is that when we are together, we are a community that at its core is one of equality, inclusion, and exploration.

Do you have something to say on this topic? Or would you like to contribute to next weeks exploration of “What We Call Ourselves As Reconstructionists?” If so, please email me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!