Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, recipient of the Joshua Venture fund, wants Jews to create community.
Really. I mean it.
“People feel alienated and lonely. Orthodoxy has created a framework for overcoming [that, but] in the non-Orthodox world, we haven’t figured out how to crack that nut yet,” says Nussbaum.
With The Kavana Cooperative, the volunteers (lead by Nussbaum) have drop-kicked the synagogue system and developed an alternative Jewish family in Seattle, Washington.
According to Rabbi Nussbaum, the reason the synagogue model doesn’t work has to deal with demographics. “Most synagogues are based in a post-World War Two audience.” The new generation is not stepping into the synagogue, so new communities, “alternative families” as Nussbaum calls them, have to be created.
The former rabbi of a suburban congregation, Nussbaum says that her “peer group wouldn’t walk in” to the synagogue because “demographically it was a different area.” This set Nussbaum to create something that would appeal to her and her friends.
Four years into “this glorious experiment”, Kavana is a co-op of a few hundred people with a “high level of commitment” to each other. Called a “Hillel for adults and families”, the Kavana Cooperative provides everything for a Jewish community including educational and social programs, life cycle events, Shabbat and holiday experiences.
Part of the problem with creating new models for doing anything is that there is no way to explain it. Nussbaum calls this “creating a new vocabulary”, and a constant process of defining “ourselves in contrast or comparison” to other organizations.
Is Kavana a synagogue? A havura? A school? A social club? Yes, yes, yes, yes and then some.
A week in the life of a Kavana Cooperative member can include Hebrew immersion for kids, “living room learning” in someone’s home, Kabbalat Shabbat in a coffee shop, Saturday morning traditional Shabbat minyan, or alternative holiday programming such as their upcoming trip to a local dairy farm for Shavuot.
Diversity is a key element to the Kavana experience. Unlike synagogues, which Nussbaum says are more like churches, Kavana understands that “prayer is one access point” to the Jewish experience, but that “community is the central thing.”
Mostly, it’s about “allowing people to figure out where they fit”, say Nussbaum.
Kavana Cooperative is working. Enough that the Joshua Venture has awarded the organization funds to further their goal, including setting up a leadership training program so this co-op model can be recreated everywhere.
Visit www.kavana.org for more info.