MOSHAV NAHALAL, ISRAEL - A central Galilee couple have, thanks to The Jewish Agency's Partnership2Gether (P2G) program, developed a vibrant local community at the nation's oldest moshav farming community, they hope will give voice to the entire "octave" of Jewish identity in areas including Migdal Ha'Emek, the Jezreel Valley, and Nazareth Illit.
More than a decade ago, Reut and Yair Hammer of Moshav Nahalal, both second-generation Sabras from secular homes, had spent time in the US state of Michigan as P2G program delegates.
While Reut says "I was never in a synagogue until I was 40," the delegation, as a part of their programming, joined Kabbalat Shabbat services at a number of Michigan communities. Reut says that, in the Diaspora, it was a revelation to find what she viewed as an "open, creative, and above all – happy" kind of Judaism.
"We became aware of the spiritual black hole we had in our lives, and how it affected how we were educating our children,” she says. "Until we experienced Judaism in that way, we did not realize what we were missing.”
The Israel she grew up in was fiercely divided between secular and religious viewpoints. Reut and Yair believe, however, that today in Israel such clear distinctions are passé. And so, the couple has since worked tirelessly and enthusiastically for the entire "octave" of Jewish identity to be heard and experienced in the region.
When they returned from Michigan, and under the guidance of an Agency-supplied teacher, they started learning Jewish sources. After three years, they felt that their background was strong enough, and they wanted to add a spiritual dimension to their intellectual understanding. The first Beit Kehillah Community House was born at Chanukkah time, with 20 people creating their own Kabbalat Shabbat service. Today their membership numbers some 200 families, and this past Channukah, Nigun HaLev celebrated its bat mitzvah.
The Kehillah grew with the calendar: after Channukah, they celebrated Tu B'Shvat, then Purim, then Pesach, and then started celebrating life-cycle events – including bar and bat mitzvahs created uniquely for each celebrant.
The idea of the Kehillah grew—with other projects and with other communities which started their own Beitei Kehillah. Nigun HaLev helped and advised their sister communities. They also created their own siddur, one which integrated traditional liturgy with Israeli songs – "whatever they felt took them higher and to own their Judaism," says Reut.