This Shabbat was incredible! We had 120 people at our inaugural Shabbat on the Beach. We were in a natural setting and used our voices and instruments (marakas and tambourines) to give us a spirit of Shabbat. All ages were represented, from 1 to 96. Cantor Black joined me in leading a spiritual and memorable prayer service. We danced to Ki Hem Hayenu and joined together to the words of Debbie Friedman’s V’Ahavta. We said a mi sheberakh for those who returned from camp and a prayer to wish well those who are headed off to college. Afterwards congregants joined together in a picnic dinner. It was my proudest day as a rabbi because it brought our entire community together.
What made this event successful in my opinion is that we had an abbreviated service with plentiful English readings and short, catchy Hebrew tunes. There was a very low entrance threshold as well as much spirit and enthusiasm. Yet we are not content to stop at Shabbat on the Beach. We are next going to do a Friday Night Live on September 12 featuring musical instruments played by religious school students. The service will be abbreviated like Shabbat On the Beach but it will have a slightly different flavor, so as not to be predictable. G-d willing it will continue to leave people wanting more.
Our goal is not the program per say but creating a welcoming, positive experiences that lead into one another. It’s not a revolutionary concept but one that is being done by emerging synagogues: meeting people where they are at and having services, programs and engagement opportunities that respond to their interests. As I learned from a Cantor in Tucson, the key is to prepare the environment and make it conducive for success, making sure that people have positive experiences. It is working well so far, and G-d willing will continue to shape the future of the new Jericho Jewish Center. By providing new engagement experiences while concurrently maintaining traditional prayer services, we are soaring to new heights.
I’ll see you next on the trail for Hiking and Halacha on Sunday August 24!