This is the Mile End Chavurah for you

Rachel Kronick (far right) plays guitar and leads a Kabbalat Shabbat Service for the Mile End Chavurah on November 14th at Dépanneur Café.

In the summer of 2009, ten people sat down in a café in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal and spoke about their need for community and for a space to explore their Jewishness. Many felt estranged from mainstream Jewish institutions and yet all felt a longing to connect with other Jews and with Judaism. Thus was the birth of the Mile End Chavurah (MEC).*

“There was clearly a deep hunger for a progressive and open space for Jewish exploration in this part of the city. It started with a group of friends and friends of friends gathering for Shabbat dinners at each other’s Mile End and Plateau apartments. It’s now a registered not-for-profit organization with an elected Board and a diverse membership who collectively carry out a year’s worth of cultural and spiritual programming. We’ve grown super quickly, but in a way that’s organic and true to our grassroots origins,” said Dan Levy, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mile End Chavurah. “The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. We’ve seen hundreds of people of all ages, denominations, orientations and degrees of engagement with Jewishness (from the observant to the disenfranchised to the non-Jewish) participate in our holiday services, Shabbat dinners and cultural salons.”

MEC’s “unorthodox” community is committed to creating spaces of Jewish ritual and learning that are inclusive, warm, lively and engaging. Participants are made up of Jews of all backgrounds, non-Jews, GLBT-identified individuals (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) and families. Women and men participate equally and fully in all aspects of ritual, learning and leadership. MEC is non-denominational, but inspired by the ideals of the Chavurah movement, progressive Judaism and Jewish Renewal. The community leads and teaches each other; it honours both tradition and innovation; and it values egalitarianism and inclusivity.*

“Our growth over the past two and a half years has been tremendous and it’s basically been through word of mouth, friends, family and extended social networks. The Mile End Chavurah recently held its first Annual General Meeting and we now have membership, bylaws and an elected Board of Directors. We consider incorporation as providing a necessary infrastructure for the Chavurah to continue to function as a do-it-yourself, autonomous community. There is a sense then, if not of permanence, of foundation,” explained Layla Dabby, Communications Director and Chair of the Board of Directors. “As we continue to grow, our goal is to keep the Chavurah true to its purpose and core values: to foster a sustainable Jewish community that is progressive, curious and constantly evolving.”

And constantly evolving it is, with each holiday, celebration and service distinctly different from the one before, which is simply part of the Mile End Chavurah’s charm.

“No two Mile End Chavurah services are exactly alike. Sometimes the crowd is older and sometimes there is a gaggle of kids roaming around excitedly. Sometimes the majority wants to immerse in prayer and sometimes the majority wants to question, discuss and challenge the very notion of ritual,” said Dabby. “Services are almost always musical and generally joyful; there are spaces for collective celebration and spaces for private reflection. At our last Shabbat at Dépanneur Café, the evening evolved spontaneously into an open mic cabaret with Chavurahniks taking up the guitar and piano to sing everything from horas to Great Lake Swimmers. There was even some off-the-cuff Yiddish rapping. This is the Chavurah for you.”

The Mile End Chavurah has received a Gen J Promise Grant to support Jewish programming for young adults in three areas: Shabbat (grand and petit Shabbat and Saturday morning series); holiday programming; and culture (Salon series, Born Again Tour, Christmas for Jews and Jewish Food Workshops). Federation CJA’s Outreach and Engagement initiative has been involved with MEC on various projects including Sukkah in the Street, various panel presentations and salon discussions, holiday celebrations and LE MOOD.

For more information on the Mile End Chavurah, please email info@mileendchavurah.org.

Visit mileendchavurah.org and facebook.com/mileendchavurah

*As written on the Mile End Chavurah website at mileendchavurah.org

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