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The Coming Revolution

The Miami Herald reports,

Mitchell Chefitz, a motorcyclist, novelist, kabbalah scholar and spiritual “coach” at Miami’s oldest Reform synagogue, never saw himself as a rabbi. Funny, some of his congregants never thought they would join a synagogue.
“Outside of denominational life, I had found a very different way of being a rabbi,” said Chefitz, who for 22 years lead alternative worship services with Havurah of South Florida, a network of home-based study and prayer groups. “There was no pageantry; every word was directed to God.”
Now, as head of Temple Israel, a historic synagogue that sits on a barren lot next to a discount auto parts store on 19th Street and Northeast Second Avenue, Chefitz has ignited a spiritual revival — turning a shell of a congregation into a dynamic urban spiritual center where the Sabbath Queen is greeted with African drums; gay, straight and older married couples mingle; and meditation, yoga and chanting are studied alongside kabbalistic texts and works by Hasidic scholars.
Once the largest synagogue south of New York, the congregation had withered from more than 1,800 families in 1970 to 400 households when Chefitz took over in 2002. Since then, its has gained about 100 members, launched home Torah study groups and turned a deficit of $216,123 into a projected surplus of $76,296. The synagogue has raised more than $250,000 through its Torah restoration project and — for the first time in decades — is attracting enough families to warrant a Saturday morning “Torah tots” program.
“We saw an empty congregation that was dying,” said Chefitz, who’s lanky, wears beatnik-type wire-rimmed glasses and tends to speak in metaphors. “When a ship is dead in the water, you can push it any way you want.”

Full story.

11 thoughts on “The Coming Revolution

  1. Hell yeah. I am all about the Jewish spiritual revival thing. It seems like a lot of people are interested in the “radical” notion that a synagogue is a place to talk to God, not just schmooze with your friends or thoughtlessly race through liturgy. Here’s hoping there are plenty more “dynamic urban spiritual centers” in the works.

  2. “It seems like a lot of people are interested in the “radical” notion that a synagogue is a place to talk to God, not just schmooze with your friends or thoughtlessly race through liturgy. ”
    Not to defend schmoozing and racing, but the schmoozers and racers tend to spend a lot more of their non-Friday night and Saturday morning time practicing various aspects of Judaism (regular prayers every day, keeping kosher, studying, observing Shabbat the entire day). It’s a much bigger challenge to pay attention during Shabbat services under these circumstances. On the other side, it’s not that hard to show up once a week for two hours on Saturday and stay focused.

  3. Well, I don’t know your community, Shmuel, but I seriously doubt that a synagogue with yoga, meditation and chanting etc. has too many members who practice Judaism on a 24-7 basis. Further, if that synagogue demanded that its members eat strictly kosher, observe Shabbat for the entire 24 hours, and pay tuition for yeshiva for their kids, I suspect it wouldn’t last too long.

  4. For me, 25 on the dot, for some, 24 hours 48 minutes, etc. I just didn’t want to tangle my point up in minutiae. But as a start, let them try for the first 24…the rest will take care of itself.
    Do they have a kiddush club?

  5. Do they have a kiddush club?
    – – – – – – –
    Yes – but they serve organic wheat-grass juice.

  6. I seriously doubt that a synagogue with yoga, meditation and chanting etc. has too many members who practice Judaism on a 24-7 basis
    I feel like it’s still too soon to tell with all the Renewal and teshuvah-type stuff, but I believe it will encourage people to become MORE committed to Judaism on a 24/7 basis, not less. Just a hunch.

  7. J said, the schmoozers and racers tend to spend a lot more of their non-Friday night and Saturday morning time practicing various aspects of Judaism
    While I totally sympathize with the challenges facing people who daven regularly, I also think there’s an argument to be made about quality over quantity of worship.

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