So what kind of place is Shir Tikvah? What kind of Judaism do we live? The best way to find out is to spend a little time with us.
But even we thought a label might be useful. With the help of a task force of members who did a lot of research to bring us some facts and information, we had a long discussion amongst ourselves about Reform affiliation versus Reconstructionist affiliation back in 2008. We did see many good things that might come with being part of a larger movement – but we also had questions.
Most research on congregational membership will tell you that there are Jews who join, and Jews who don’t. Therefore, a new congregation’s members are often people who move from shul to shul – people already accustomed to being a member of a congregation. But we discovered that some of our members had never joined a shul before. Some of us, therefore, didn’t know anything about either the benefits or the questions regarding affiliation. So first we did what Jews do: we studied. And we talked.
Here’s what we learned: Some of us had grown up in the Reform movement. Its egalitarianism and strong social justice component are aspects of Reform Judaism with which we strongly agree. We liked Reconstructionist Judaism because of its strong sense of horizontal authority (the movement’s strength is clearly grassroots), and its balance of modernism and respect for the power of religious ritual. Some of us wanted to explore Renewal Judaism, but found that despite its intriguing teachings, this very small and new movement didn’t have enough resources to help in the learning and development of our small and new congregation.
Our members come from across the spectrum: some were raised in Orthodox homes, some in secular settings, and some would define themselves as in-between. Rabbi Stone reflects her congregation: while she was trained at the Reform seminary in New York, she has learned in Orthodox and other, non-affiliated contexts, and does not see herself as representative of the Reform movement. In the end, the congregation voted by a very large majority – over 85% – to remain an unaffiliated Jewish congregation.
Maybe it’s the east bank Portland spirit (most of Portland’s Jewish community is on the west side of the Willamette River). Maybe it was the “against the grain” tendencies that made us Jewish Oregonians in the first place. Or maybe it’s because we just have a sense of who we are and a confident teacher in Rabbi Stone. Regardless of the true reasons, Shir Tikvah is proudly independent and unaffiliated. Labels Schmabels. Just as we accept people with all kinds of stories, we also seek to learn from and benefit from many different ways of practicing and living Jewishness. What kind of Jews are we? You are welcome to come and find out!