Visions of the Minyan’s Future: 5768

Visions of the Minyan’s Future: 5768

Aquarian Minyan members and R. Diane Elliott gathered in the sukkah of the JCC on Sunday evening, September 30th, from 7-9 pm, to share visions for our holy community in the new year. After a brief sharing of teachings about Sukkot and a chant, participants began by reflecting silently on the following questions:

  • What would you like to see the Minyan doing in the year ahead?
  • Are there special programs you'd like to see introduced?
  • Ways of working and being together you'd like us to try? Topics you'd like to study?
  • Things you'd like to try out in our services?
  • Special practices you'd like to see us introduce (or re-introduce) in the year ahead?

We spent the balance of the evening sharing our future visions with each other. The following summarizes what people said about each topic raised.

Participants felt a resurgence of fresh connection with the Divine and with the Minyan in recent months, akin to that which was present at the time of the Minyan’s birth, and envisioned its being sustained in a balance between better organizational structure and openness to innovation. Members called for the community to build on this huge flowing of spirit that was reported so often through the High Holy Days, both by longtime members and new people.

Members would like to see extended into the coming year the shekhinah energy evident in the High Holy Days services, embodied in R. Diane’s leadership and in the chants led by member Jamie Isman. Incorporating feminine Hebrews forms into services, into the siddur and in a special service focusing on this theme were all suggested by various participants. One participant felt there had been a slackening of this emphasis in recent years in the Minyan, and felt reenergized by how it was manifest in the cycle of services just completed. This was seen as an important way the Minyan can play a continuing role in extending and innovating in Jewish liturgical practice in the future.

A through-line in our discussion was established early on, as one participant expressed what a gift the Minyan has received in R. Diane. Members envisioned a variety of ways that her leadership could be more fully realized and better supported in the coming year, and repeatedly emphasized the priority of the community’s supporting her unique approach to rabbinic leadership, even as the participatory quality of lay leadership and that of other rabbis were put forward.

Increased emphasis upon the various cycles of Jewish practice were part of several participants’ visions: of the liturgical year, reflected in observances and teaching around each major holidays, as well as in daily practice and in the weekly rhythm of Shabbat observance. Members envisioned a revitalization of the Minyan’s Shabbat services as a strong, year-round anchor of community life. With Diane’s leadership, engaging such other Bay Area Renewal leaders as Cantor Richard Kaplan, R. Michael Ziegler and R. Jacob Gabriel in leading really innovative practices they can’t necessarily try out in other communal settings. Establishing the Minyan as a venue for Renewal rabbis and spiritual leaders from all over the country when they visit the Bay Area was proposed as a way for the Minyan, providing a valuable service to the wider Bay Area Jewish community and diversifying the viewpoints and practices in which our community can partake.

Some specific holidays mentioned for greater emphasis than in the recent past were Chanukah and the mid-autumn period. (A Melavah Malka is planned for late October.) Strong holiday observances approaching the scale of the High Holy Days would help secure the Minyan’s membership and financial base, in people’s visions.

Participants envisioned a growing core of members engaged in ongoing study with Reb Diane, directed both toward inner work (especially in the realm of embodied practice, which is Diane’s greatest strength and priority) and in the study of texts, and focusing on both seasonal and ongoing daily practice. R. Diane expressed specific interest in establishing a small study group that could meet once a month for ongoing study on an intimate scale; this might provide a core group to present a special conference next Elul focusing on the work of R. David Wolfe-Blank z’l, on the occasion of the publication planned by Elaine. Another idea was to focus on the 13 midot addressed in R Rami Shapiro’s recent publication.

Much interest was expressed in the Minyan leading the way by offering programs and activities focused on the spiritual needs of the aging. A good number of Minyan members are themselves focusing on these issues in their own lives, as well as in community work (such as the Barkans in their Live Oak Institute, Miriam Chaya). Reb Zalman’s saging work should also be incorporated here. Adult b’nei mitzvah, though open to adults of all ages, can also offer a focus for serving elders. Elders could lead a special Shabbat. This can be developed as a unique focus for the Minyan in the Bay Area Jewish community.

This would not be to the exclusion of other age groups, however. Members agreed that efforts should be made to include younger generations in the Minyan community, recognizing that special efforts must be made to make Minyan participation attractive and meaningful for younger adults. The Minyan’s depth of spiritual practice is needed by younger people, too, and liturgical practice can shift and be revitalized (for example, by incorporating more innovative music) in Minyan services and events,

Serving children was also envisioned: having daycare for every service that provides substantive education for children, even if they are at first few in number. Involving children in the regular Torah service, with special blessings, would be a part of this. Finding ways to support adult leadership of this education program would be achieved by the Minyan, in the future that participants envisioned.

People envisioned services that embody the Minyan’s tradition of innovation and vitality. Rabbi Diane has shown her ability to create a container in which member contributions can be meaningful and welcomed. Participants envisioned her leadership role being clarified and welcomed by all, which would involve increased acceptance of her new role by longtime members.

People envisioned a community better able to mobilize itself to serve the needs of members confronting special challenges in their lives. Many members are struggling with illness and injuries; organizing the community’s capacity to respond, without this devolving to Abigail, as it has in recent years (or left to Rabbi Diane, as in recent months), was an important part of people’s visions.

People envisioned the “greening of the Minyan,” addressing members’ environmental sensitivities and addressing environmental concerns in programs. Getting out onto nature – for example, having some HHD services outdoors, as well as other services and activities at other times of year, was put forward as a vision for the year ahead.

Finally, people envisioned there being an organizational structure that democratizes participation in community life. Where the Minyan has relied upon Abigail and Shoshanah so heavily in recent years, more members would be involved and organized. Adequate funding would flow from members and from special grants to support the programs outlined above, with a structure of member fundraising that shares this work as well. Participants saw this structure as essential to supporting R. Diane’s work as well, allowing her to focus and delimit her hours of work for the Minyan to those for which she is compensated, with members handling what properly belongs to our community.

Do you have visions not reflected here? Are you inspired to work on something? Please convey your ideas and interests to Don Adams, the Council member who prepared this summary.