Intown Havurah Shifts to First Day

Intown Havurah Shifts to First Day

By Logan C. Ritchie /

Havurah is defined as an intimate group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services, sharing communal and lifecycle events, and learning.

Rabbi Jonathan Crane, an Emory ethicist by day, leads the Atlanta Havurah service.
Rabbi Jonathan Crane, an Emory ethicist by day, leads the Atlanta Havurah service.

Atlanta Havurah, with more than 100 members, is hosting its third annual Rosh Hashanah Service: Havurah Style on Monday, Sept. 14, in Decatur.

Meeting in intown neighborhoods, including Candler Park, Winnona Park and Oakhurst, Atlanta Havurah has grown rapidly since its first Havdalah potluck more than seven years ago. What started as several families getting together monthly is today a treasured community in which the young and old are at home.

A cross-section of Jewish life is evident in a havurah this size. Some members are self-proclaimed “nonsynagogue people,” while others belong to Congregation Shearith Israel (Conservative) or Congregation Bet Haverim (Reconstructionist) and work or volunteer with Ahavath Achim Synagogue (Conservative).

Many work in the Jewish community as shop owners, religious school directors and educators. The havurah complements Jewish life.

The past two years the group has organized a second-day Rosh Hashanah service in Decatur. In 2013, 100 people attended the service, followed by a potluck lunch. In 2014, attendance grew to 180 people praying, singing, learning and socializing to celebrate the Jewish new year.

Rabbi Jonathan Crane, the Raymond F. Schinazi junior scholar of bioethics and Jewish thought at Emory University’s Center for Ethics, is a havurah member and the spiritual leader of the service.

“People could not speak highly enough of the experience after the first year,” he said. “They loved the sense of community and doing something new.”

Two factors influenced the timing: Second-day services seemed logical because havurah members were marking the first day with family, and Rabbi Crane was under contract for High Holidays at a synagogue outside Atlanta.

Enthusiasm and a strong call to try again for a third year persuaded Rabbi Crane to move the service to the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

When planning the community gathering, Rabbi Crane spoke with a core group of havurah members and asked them what the most important aspects of Rosh Hashanah services are.

“Certain values and experiences rose to the top: interactive, kid- and family-friendly, engaging, egalitarian,” the rabbi said. “I took pieces of each to weave together a service that draws from the four channels of mainstream Judaism: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox.”

Rabbi Crane created a mahzor (holiday prayer book) that pulls together all types of Judaism “to honor traditional liturgy with creative and interpretive liturgy,” he said. “It incorporates my own appreciation of Judaism and diverse ways in engaging in community celebrations. Also, my vision of what being a rabbi means: to open up to all Jews regardless of their upbringing.”

The mahzor and service are designed to invite Jews of all stripes to encounter the liturgy, text and themes of the High Holidays. With the help of a leadership team, Rabbi Crane created a service that is engaging and intellectually stimulating for adults, offers educational opportunities for children, and brings together an encounter with Torah and Rosh Hashanah celebrations.

“My goal is to teach, engage and empower you in Jewish knowledge and competency,” he said. “It is imperative to offer diverse ways for Jews to find community and engage in liturgical celebration of holidays.”

What: Rosh Hashanah Service: Havurah Style

Where: Decatur Recreation Center, 231 Sycamore St., Decatur

When: 9:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14

Tickets: $25 for adults, $18 for children (nearly sold out at press time);

More: Babysitting and children’s services are available by age group. A potluck lunch follows services.

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