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Liturgically Traditional and Radically Inclusive Kabbalat Shabbat: The Why and How

by Rabbinic Intern SAM Luckey



For a long time, several Kehilla members have hungered for a more liturgically traditional service, for various reasons. People are different and like to pray in different ways. Some people are familiar with this kind of service from other communities or from childhood experiences, and it feels homey. Others are learning it for the first time and bring curiosity about how Judaism is expressed in prayer in diverse ways. Still others are hungry for more Hebrew, which may be familiar to them or a project of learning, a growing edge. For Victoria Alcoset, a long-time Kehilla member, as a mixed heritage person it is important to her to find a point of entry to any Jewish community. She learned the traditional liturgy visiting other Jewish communities around the Bay Area back when she was studying for adult B’nei Mitzvah and Kehilla’s main service was on Friday nightswe didn’t have services many Saturday mornings. She says “While I find Kehilla services deeply prayerful and communally satisfying, traditional davenen (Jewish prayer) gives me a passport wherever I go within Ashkenazi circles; it’s important to me to keep up my practice in that style as a common denominator with people who might not instantly recognize me as their own. And I sometimes think that for people who have converted to Judaism in other communities it can also be comforting to encounter a familiar service.”

Kehilla founders, spiritual leaders and community members have done a brilliant job adapting the traditional Jewish liturgy to make prayer services that are accessible, meaningful, connective, and reflective of our progressive values. By adding a different kind of service, Frances Kreimer, Talya Husbands-Hankin, and I want to diversify our service options. I believe that it is directly because of the work of the founding generation wrestling with and adapting the texts of the liturgy that a newer generation feels safe to go back to some of the source texts. We are excited to meet them on our own terms and develop our own relationships to them. I am full of gratitude for the deeply thoughtful and creative work of all those who contributed to Kehilla’s siddurim/prayer books, and to Kehilla’s distinct prayer style. Thank you!

The character of the liturgically traditional prayer service is different from the typical Kehilla service. We move through the whole text of the Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv (the evening service) liturgies, songful and in Hebrew. I love the way it feels collective, a group experience of singing and chanting with only light guidance from the bima. I feel a strong momentum gather as one prayer or song flows into the next, as our voices blend and our singing builds in energy and passion. Victoria describes her experience: “The vibration from singing and chanting opens a different realm of consciousness that helps me access the openness of my heart.”  

You may be wondering, ‘since this prayer service happens in other synagogues, why is it different or important to to offer it at Kehilla?’ Good question! Most places with liturgically traditional Jewish prayer have more conservative politics, especially concerning Zionism, exclusiveness around boundaries of who counts as Jewish, and heterosexism. It is a very rare combination to have this kind of prayer service and have Kehilla’s progressive politics and radical inclusiveness. For example, I am not counted as Jewish by the Conservative Movement since my mother is not Jewish and I haven’t converted, so when I go to Conservative synagogues to pray, I do not feel fully accepted or respected as a Jew. Additionally, Kehilla’s gender inclusion goes far beyond the binary-focused ‘egalitarianism’; we welcome and celebrate people of all genders in our community and in our leadership.

This service, co-sponsored by Kehilla and Glitter Kehilla, is a multi-generational space led by younger adults. People of all ages connect with a liturgically traditional service, and many people in a younger generation particularly are seeking places to pray in that way while being able to comfortably and safely bring our whole selves. Luckily, creating such a warm and welcoming environment is Kehilla’s forte!

We try hard to make the service accessible, by using a fully transliterated siddur/prayer book, announcing what is coming next, and helping people follow what may be new melodies to them by using hand motions to visually represent the notes. People are invited to participate however they feel comfortable to, such as by singing, humming, yai-dai-dai-ing, clapping, listening, chanting, reading quietly, dancing or just sitting back and letting it wash over them. Whether this kind of service is new for you or intimately known, we invite you to join us and try it out!

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