by Lynn Feinberg
For Shabbat Behalotecha 13 women gathered at a holiday house owned by the Jewish community of Oslo to experience Shabbat. The women filled all roles; from cooking to davvening leadership and Tora leyning. This was the second gathering of its kind in Norway, a country where there are less than 2000 Jews and where the two only synagogues (one in Oslo and one in Trondheim) are orthodox, meaning that women always participate from the women's section or gallery during synagogue services.
The weekend was initiated by rabbinical student Lynn Claire Feinberg and co-led by Hazzan Jalda Rebling both educated under Aleph Jewish Renewal.
The women came from a broad spectrum of Jewish backgrounds; from modern orthodox to identifying as cultural or traditional Jews, some active members of the established community, others not belonging to any community, some always having known they were Jewish, others having become Jewish or learned about their being Jewish at a later age. Some were well versed in following a traditional service and understood Hebrew, others could not even read Hebrew, much less understand. This diversity in relationship to what it means to be Jewish was an exciting element in all the discussions and sharing that emerged and helped bring new understanding to what it might mean to be a Jewish woman of today.
The three services; Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbes Shacharit and Shabbes Mincha created a container for the gathering. Beginning Friday evening with the humming of melodies for Kabbalat Shabbat before kindling the Shabbat candles at 20:20 pm and ending with havdalah at 1:15am (as is the rabbinical ruling during summer when the sun hardly sets this far north), made this a shabbes with plenty of time for recreation and recharging the soul. This was a shabbes full of song, prayer, deep sharing, laughter, good food and time to be each other's company. A gathering such as this could not have been possible without volunteer participants to help plan, cook, set the space and organize practical matters before and during Shabbat. Sharing the practical work added to the sense of community.
In order to even make it possible for those who were not able to read Hebrew to follow the service, Lynn Claire Feinberg had prepared a Siddur that in addition to the Hebrew text was translated and transliterated into Norwegian. This Siddur, modeled from Siddurim created by the Renewal and Reconstructionist movements, is the first Siddur of its kind in Norwegian.
In order to lead services that could be accepted within an orthodox framework certain key parts of the service such as Barchu and Kaddish had to be omitted, paying respect to the fact that from an orthodox perspective a gathering consisting only of women cannot be called a minjan. Thanks to the training both Jalda and Lynn share from learning Davvening Leadership and having participated at many innovative services led by fellow students and teachers, this restriction did not make the services feel less authentic. Alternative texts in English were sung instead of Barchu, and "Ana El Na Refa Na la", in place of Kaddish Yatom. Before and after reading Torah alternative texts used by orthodox women in Jerusalem were used. These texts actually proved to be more beautiful than the traditional blessings. With only women participating it felt more appropriate to have services that were somewhat different from the traditional. This fact made the Renewal elements in the services feel more natural than they might have had the aim been to make a fully traditional service. The use of group alliyot to the Torah added to this experience. In general, Jalda's firm experience as a cantor helped bind the different parts of the service together, combining traditional nussach with familiar and less familiar melodies. With guiding words Lynn helped open to a deeper understanding of the service. With an experienced gabbai and Haftara reader originally from Baltimore among us, the torah service became a worthy centre piece in the morning and afternoon services. This Shabbat weekend was trans-denominational in a very real sense of the word.
Comments from participants after the week-end;
A great pleasure to experience and partake in a community of Jewish women. The setting gave space for laughter and sharing at a gut level, a sharing between Jewish women that is rare. It felt liberating to have a community experience with room for both religious expression through services and song, yet with enough space for sharing on a more mundane level. The space was able to contain a plurality of expressions that included women from different religious stances, with different ages, and different backgrounds. The setting gave everyone a space from which to honour their own boundaries; some did not want to touch the Torah nor try on a tallit, whilst others did, yet everyone felt included and a part of the community. This was no "charter trip", but an adventure where one could be on a personal journey together. The weekend managed to convey the main teaching of what Shabbat is; a time for joy and pleasure in community. For some it was important that the boundaries of orthodoxy as defined by the Rabbi of the Jewish Communities of Norway had been respected, signifying that to partake in a weekend such as this does not mean the same as being in opposition to the existing community. This way of celebrating Shabbat could in theory be acceptable for all Jewish women in Norway or Scandinavia without them having to fear that it is against Halacha. With the openness that was present the women experienced a space where it was possible to talk openly about Jewish issues from both a religious as well as a non religious perspective. Many expressed the joy of having experienced spirituality in a Jewish context. All the music and song reached in, and made room for spiritual openings. The music in the services opened spiritually on a deep level even without understanding Hebrew.
The weekend gave a good balance between structure and time to shmooze, between teachings and services and time to get to know each other, time to rest and recreation ˆ this added to the experience of making this a very special Shabbat
Jalda's expertise helped give a deep cantorial experience and the Tora service gave the Shabbat an extra dimension. Its presence created a special and dignified frame around the services and contributed to add to the experience of the Shekhina's presence.
The way Jalda shared songs, and her unique way of teaching made the songs a part of us even before we realized it.
Lynn's open and including perspective in regards to what it means to be Jewish and what shabbes is about created a "container"/(environment) that was both safe and open at the same time. It is enriching that Lynn has initiated this kind of a journey for us and others to travel. With a journey such as this Lynn creates a place where Jewish souls can meet.
Hazzan Jalda Rebling is ordained as chazzan (kantor) through Aleph Jewish Renewal. With her many years of experience as a Jewish storyteller, singer and actress and a teacher of Jewish culture she has a wide knowledge from which she can share and make Judaism come alive. During the last years she has been responsible for training two minjanim (prayer groups) in Germany where she lives. She is the main responsible person in forming a the European Jewish Network, Ohel Hachidusch; www.ohel-hachidusch.org <;http://www.ohel-hachidusch.org/> an organisation from where to teach, develop and express Judaism and Jewish culture for all who for different reasons do not feel at home in traditional communities or for those who seek Jewish experiences and learning beyond what the traditional communities are able to offer. She will soon begin a training course in davvening (jewish prayer) leadership in Europe.
Chief responsible for the weekend is Lynn Claire Feinberg from Oslo, a rabbinical student under Aleph Jewish Renewal. As a part of this education she had participated in a two year program in davvening leadership and has a certificate as an Eco-kosher Masgiach (overseer of kashrut). She is an Historian of Religion having specialized in Women and Judaism and is also trained as an Astrologer. She teaches a variety of Jewish themes and is presently engaged in creating texts and material to be used at the Jewish Museum in Oslo as it is being established. As a specialization within the rabbinical program she is training to become a mashpiah ˆ a Spiritual Director.
Aleph Jewish Renewal in USA is a movement that aims at bridging all Jewish paths and denominations and to promote Judaism as a living tradition and tool for inner growth and social action in the 21 century. As Jews we are facing changes that are as vast as the ones that happened after the fall of the 2.temple and the rise of rabbinical Judaism 2000 years ago. An important part of the renewal of today is women having more visible roles as spiritual leaders and creators of ritual space. Since the circumstances of Jews living in Europe are different than in the USA, Ohel Hachidusch has been created as a vehicle for this kind of change in Europe.