On Sunday, Aug. 8, from 4 to 7 p.m. Vashon Havurah will host a grand re-opening celebration; all islanders, Jewish or not, are invited to come and celebrate with us.
Island band Croaker will play Klezmer and Bluegrass music, Safa and Iyyad will serve Syrian food, there will be a no-host bar with beer and wine, lawn games and more. We will also be showcasing the design for our planned memory garden and selling engraved bricks.
We have much to celebrate; the glimpse of light at the end of the COVID tunnel and a chance to be together in person, our freshly painted blue building, and a return to our roots as a lay-led, connection-centered congregation.
Vashon Havurah was started in 1986 by a small group of Jews wanting to connect and celebrate together. The name “Havurah”, which means friendship circle in Hebrew, came from a national movement started during the counterculture of the 1960s. The Havurah movement wanted to move away from formal synagogue settings led by rabbis and into people’s living rooms for lay-led services.
As the group grew and evolved, a building was purchased in 2003 and a new name was chosen, Havurat Ee Shalom (Havurah of a Peaceful Island). Various visiting rabbis led us in holiday and Shabbat services, we had a bustling Sunday school and energetic excitement for what was possible. For a time, the Havurah was truly thriving.
As the years passed, our congregation has shrunk. Families wanting a bigger cohort for their children have sent them to Hebrew school off-island and left our congregation. Differing preferences about which rabbi fit us best lost more folks. Some are pulled to a more traditional, observant Jewish practice, others a more laid-back one, and many, if they identify at all, feel a cultural pull with little or no need for the more religious aspects. We are a small island with one Jewish congregation trying to fit the needs of a diverse, creative population.
For our Havurah to survive, we need to speak to the heart of who Vashon Jews are. Vashonites are folks who tend to think outside of the box; many are artists, creative thinkers, activists, environmentalists. Many are even spiritual in a way that isn’t directly connected to their Jewish roots; there are Pagan Jews, Bu-Jews/Jew-Bus (Buddhist Jews; Google it, it’s a thing!), secular Jews, and more. There are Jews by birth and Jews by choice and even gastronomic Jews! There are intermarried Jews and Jews with mixed heritage.
Vashon Havurah wants to connect with all of you. For that reason, we have returned to our Havurah roots and gone back to lay-led services. We will on occasion have visiting rabbis, but for the most part, we will create and celebrate our services and programs together. We have also gone back to our original name, Vashon Havurah (the new name’s pronunciation was too confusing).
The Havurah is once again us – all of us on Vashon who identify as Jewish in any way – and what we put into it is what will come out. Come and dream with us. If sitting in rows in a synagogue is not what spiritually touches you, come make a circle with us. If sitting in a building itself cuts you off from nature, let’s plan Shabbat services in a forest. If it’s the music that draws you, come to a singing Shabbat service. If it’s the food and schmoozing, come to our monthly Shabbat potlucks. If you want a more meditative experience, we can draw on a long history of Jewish mysticism. If services themselves are not of interest, let’s create a cooking group or a Jewish book group or a Jewish women’s group to honor the new moon. If you’re interested in genealogy, come hear the Jewish genealogist we plan to have come and speak.
Most importantly, if you have children and want them to grow up with some kind of Jewish identity, come talk to us. We want to put together children’s programming once again in a fun and dynamic way.
At our party, we’ll have a table set up to chat with people about what a Vashon Jewish community can be. We look forward to welcoming you and hearing your thoughts.
Please join us from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8, for Vashon’s Havurah’s Grand re-opening celebration, at 15401 Westside Hwy. S.W. Tickets are on sale at Eventbrite.com — search for Vashon Havurah.
— Suzanne Greenberg is the president of Vashon Havurah.