This year’s Hashivenu Forum in Agoura Hills, California, is about community and Messianic Judaism. I had a day-long experience of community here. It is a different kind of community. A kind you don’t get to experience every week of the year. It is one of the reasons that people make the effort to get here, no matter how low money is, now matter how scarce time for travel is.
Take, for example, the Shacharit (morning prayers). While an unabridged Shacharit (especially Mondays with the Torah service at an hour and twenty minutes) is not my usual preference, there is no minyan like this one. Sixty or so people, all with very high Hebrew literacy, come together with a wealth of knowledge of melodies to make the prayers beautiful. The largest minyan I know of in Atlanta is a little smaller and much dryer (the dreaded speed-davening without melody). More about my experiences yesterday after the jump.
As the conference itself began, my friend Jon from L.A. shared a journey paper. He spoke of his background as an adolescent who found out he was Jewish. What mattered most to me was his description of how, as a young adult, he met Rabbi Stuart Dauermann (a good friend and the founder of Hashivenu) in a bookstore. He said a powerful thing happened when this rabbi he met at random struck up a conversation and then gave him his phone number. A rabbi gave out his phone number?
Jon was deeply affected by Rabbi Dauermann’s friendliness. Over an extended period they met irregularly. Jon was in a mega-church at the time. But as marriage and childbirth loomed on the horizon, and stricken with Rabbi D’s talks, he asked his pastor, “Do you think it would really be possible for me to raise a Jewish child in this church?”
The pastor, thankfully, was honest. I wonder how many would answer as he did, “No, it wouldn’t be possible.” Jon and his non-Jewish wife made the move to Ahavat Zion, Rabbi D’s synagogue in Beverly Hills.
Later in the morning, Bruce Stokes, a sociologist and pastor of a Judeo-Christian congregation here in California, gave one of the two major papers, on community in theory and practice for Messianic Judaism. It was a passionate hour of sociological and practical exploration that went into the depths of the topic. For example, he discussed different systems of kinship in various societies. I had no idea some of the variations. Did you know, for example, that Eskimo society has a kind of kinship in which all the people who are of the older generation are mothers and fathers? People on the same generation are all brothers and sisters. Those of the younger generations are all sons and daughters.
This was part of a discussion of three kinds of kinship: consanguinal (for the most part, blood relation), affinal (legal, adoptive), and fictive (by choice). This is illuminating in a number of ways for Messianic Jews. Christianity is largely (theoretically at least) about fictive kinship (“Who are my mother and brothers? Those who do the will of God”). Judaism is largely about consanguinal and affinal (conversion). For Messianic Judaism, we will deal in blended and multiple forms and levels of kinship. Yeshua’s fictive kinship is formative for us and so is Judaism’s consanguinal (circumcision, perpetuation of the covenant).
Stokes’ major point (as in the book I reviewed and posted about yesterday) was that older religious models of the individual in society are not the way forward and he gave some of the most interesting ideas and models for deeper community. He compared the Rule of St. Benedict (the oldest complete Christian guide to community roles and rules) with his own Disciple Center here in California. The discussion moved to the very practical. Community is about kinship, roles, and rules. And we considered how to be better communities.
To keep from going too long, I will simply describe two more community experiences yesterday. But I had plenty more.
At dinner, we had a Zikkaron, a covenantal meal remembering the body and blood of our Messiah. It is a Hashivenu tradition now. And I am not generally enthusiastic about a three hour meal with lots of ceremony and guided ritual.
Imagine a room of sixty or more leaders and scholars, a bunch of intelligent people and independent thinkers, submitting to a group leader forcing us to participate with the group and not jump into our own conversations.
I was rankling a little at the need to submit and go along with the group at first. But the power of togetherness soon began to take over. And then the leader, Rabbi Paul Saal, had us stand and express our gratitude for anything we wished to speak about. It started slowly and I was skeptical much would come of it. But it turned into half an hour of the most meaningful togetherness of the whole day. The power of the group’s expression, of everyone’s appreciation for the pioneers, of mutual respect and commitment to the cause of Messianic Judaism, was an experience I will never forget.
Then, as usual, there was an informal circle of conversation that lasted until well past midnight. Over kosher wine and some mixed nuts from eretz Yisrael, we talked. We talked about hundreds of subjects. A lot of intelligent and passionate people joined in a mixture of the fun and the serious. Independent minyanim, the issue of people leaving MJ and joining Chabad (not as common as it used to be), ideas for community building, issues in biblical studies and rabbinics, and many more topics flew around the circle.
Hashivenu is a recovery of purpose for me every year. It reminds me why I am a leader in Messianic Judaism and why I want to remain one. It gives me hope for the future. We are a small movement, those of us who view MJ as a serious Judaism and who respect Jewish and Christian tradition. But we have amazing leaders and people who I believe can sustain our movement. The times to come need to be right. A pull for Jewish people and non-Jews with the right sense of calling needs to happen, a sort of revival of interest in faith and community needs to happen. But with God’s blessing, I think it will. I can’t imagine God not growing this little movement in the right time and in the right way.