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Reform-Renewal rabbi uses
storytelling as a conduit
Shir Tikvah Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg and scholar-in-residence Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz.
habbat services at Congregation Shir
Tikvah the weekend of March 7-8 were
non-traditional — even for this most
experimental of Detroit's Reform congrega-
"We're trying to become a community of learners
— that's our goal," said board member Iry Wengrow
of Troy. "Not doing things traditionally is our cus-
Leading Shabbat morning services was Rabbi
Mitchell Chefitz, who has pursued the religious
applications of storytelling and meditation through-
out his 25 years on the pulpit.
He's also the author of two novels about the work
of a storytelling, truth-seeking rabbi: The Seventh
Telling: The Kabbalah of Moshe Katan and The
Thirty-Third Hour: The Torah of Moshe Katan.
Shir Tikvah Rabbi
Arnie Sleutelberg met
Rabbi Chefitz through
the Jewish Renewal
movement. The Troy
which has about 350
added a Renewal affil-
iation in 2001.
"Rabbi Chefitz's style
is grandfatherly, liter-
ate, passionate," said
Shir Tikvah president
David Berkal of Lake
Orion. "He speaks in
stories; he's able to give
a message without
your really knowing."
Rabbi Chefitz — who
prefers to be called
Rabbi Chefitz explains the power of storytelling.
Mitch — led the Havurah of South Florida, a
multi-stream fellowship offering a variety of oppor-
tunities for learning Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah.
In April 2002, he took over the rabbinate of
Temple Israel of Greater Miami, an 80-year-old
Reform congregation whose membership had dwin-
dled from a high of 2,000 members to some 400. So
far, the synagogue has grown by about 50 members,
said Rabbi Chefitz, a Massachusetts of Technology
graduate who received his ordination from Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
"You can feel the life pulsing in it again," he said
of the inner-city congregation, founded in the 1920s
by members of Miami's German-Jewish community.
Rabbi Chefitz said he is not building synagogue
membership traditionally, "from the children up."
Instead, he works with adult members to bring a
greater understanding of the mysticism and spiritu-
ality he feels are inherent to meaningful Judaism.
While he has kept the traditional English-based
Reform service at 8 p.m. every Friday, he has insti-
tuted a 6 p.m. service, "without prayer books, filled
with niggunim [wordless chants], leading into a
meditation on the Torah."
This was the kind of ceremony Rabbi Chefitz led
Saturday, March 8, at Shir Tikvah. Members of the
congregation contributed words to personalized bra-
chot (blessings); they joined in wordless chanting
and davening and gathered on the bimah to recite
the traditional prayers over the Torah in unison.
MIRACLES on page 42