I To Life
A Permanent Home
Congregation Or Chadash
offers an innovative approach
town and, to commemorate the
shul's 10th anniversary, the syna-
gogue will host a community-
en years after its found-
wide Kiddush on Sept. 9.
ing, Congregation Or
The root of the challenge, how-
Chadash (New Light),
ever, lies not in the synagogue's
a small, progressively Orthodox , previously nomadic existence,
congregation straddling the Oak
but in its innovative approach to
Park and Huntington Woods'
Orthodoxy, which makes some
Coolidge Highway corridor, has
observant Jews uneasy
much to celebrate. After years
According to its mission state-
of meeting in private homes in
ment, the shul "combines adher-
both neighborhoods, the con-
ence to Jewish law with the idea of
gregation has leased space at the
inclusiveness of all Jews, including
Michigan Jewish Institute (MJI),
women:' and therefore encourages
a Lubavitch-sponsored center for
women to participate in aspects
Jewish education on Coolidge,
of the shul service that are not
where it has use of the stained-
expressly forbidden by Halachah
glass sanctuary, a playroom and
but that nevertheless have his-
an area for Kiddush to be held.
torically been the domain of men
At the same time, the syna-
gogue, which counts about 20
At Or Chadash, women can
families as members, has much
perform galilah, the rolling, tying
to reflect upon, as regular attend-
and adorning of the Torah after
ees move away and shul-goers
the weekly portion has been read,
struggle to make a minyan, the
as well as read the prayers for the
quorum of 10 men required to
State of Israel, the Israeli Defense
pray in a community.
Forces and the government, and
"Our big issue is bringing in
give summaries of the weekly
more people so we have a more
Torah portion, either from their
steady minyan," Elliott Shevin, the side of the mechitzah or from the
shul's president, acknowledged.
front of the sanctuary
"But we've survived this challenge
The Torah is also paraded
for 10 years, so I like to refer to us
through the women's section
as 'the little shul that could."'
when it is taken out of the ark
Shul participants hope that
before the Torah reading, and
having a permanent address will
again before it is placed back in
result in increased attendance and the ark.
more synagogue offerings.
"The fact that in other shuls
"We'd like to have regular week- women do not do these things
day activities, and eventually offer is strictly cultural:' said Rabbi
babysitting, if the need arises,"
Cohen, a Denver native who
said Rabbi Eliezer Cohen, Or
received rabbinic ordination from
Chadash's spiritual leader.
Yeshiva University and who has
Currently, the shul holds ser-
taught Judaic studies at Yeshivat
vices on Friday nights, Saturdays
Akiva in Southfield for 32 years.
and Sunday mornings.
Women in the shul say that
To shore up its numbers, the
after years of sitting in the back of
shul is embarking on a modest
the sanctuary in other Orthodox
marketing campaign that will
synagogues, approaching the
increase its visibility. Cohen has
bimah comes "naturally" to them.
written a mission statement that
"After all, it's just as much the
will appear on publicity material
women's Torah as it is the men's,"
and flyers to be posted around
said Alice Subia, a Huntington
Special to the Jewish News
August 3 2006
Or Chadash members davening during a minyan are, from left, Rabbi Eliezer Cohen, Charlie Silow,
David Loeffler, Sam Miller, Greg Miller and Elliott Shevin at the podium.
Woods resident who, along with
husband Michael, began attend-
ing Or Chadash four years ago.
In addition to women's par-
ticipation, the shul encourages
the involvement of people with
intellectual and physical dis-
abilities,"because as with women,
they are most often left behind.
In some shuls, people don't give
people a chance if they don't read
perfectly;' Rabbi Cohen said. At
Or Chadash, a young man with
Down's syndrome, Sam Miller,
has been a regular Torah reader
and davener for years.
The synagogue has no formal
dues structure, relying solely on
contributions, making it an option
for people who cannot afford to
go elsewhere, and ensuring that
no one receives honors during the
services "based on the size of his
purse," Shevin said.
Rabbi Cohen receives no com-
These innovations are a further-
ing of those begun by Rabbi
Cohen when he served as rabbi
of Young Israel of Oak Woods
before it merged in 1997 with
Young Israel of Greenfield to form
Young Israel of Oak Park. When
Rabbi Cohen lost his position in
the merger, he and a group of like-
minded congregants decided to
strike out on their own, first join-
ing a Huntington Woods minyan
and then conducting their own
services in homes before landing
at MJI this past spring.
"We were trying to form a min-
yan for thinking people recalled
Michael Dworkin, a Southfield
resident who attends Or Chadash
on Sundays and who serves as
the shul's treasurer. Instead of just
following customs, he said, he and
others were attracted to Rabbi
Cohen's approach, which "strenu-
ously avoids doing things just
because other people do, espe-
cially if there is no halachic basis
for doing so."
This past July, for instance,
Dworkin said, Rabbi Cohen
refused to recite Psalms between
Minchah and Maariv services
on the fast day of the 17th of
Tammuz in response to the war
in Israel, a widespread custom.
Instead, Rabbi Cohen reminded
congregants that there is a time
during the Amidah prayer to
insert one's own supplications,
and that to do so at another time
suggests God isn't listening to
you during Amidah."
Rabbi Cohen believes that
social pressure in the Orthodox
community has kept some people
away from the minyan. Others
say that the lack of members,
particularly young children, is a
drawback because larger shuls
in the vicinity offer extensive tot
programming so adults can pray
while their children are super-
Nevertheless, Or Chadash
maintains relations with the area's
other Orthodox synagogues. Alice
Subia, for example, has reserved a
sanctuary at Young Israel of Oak
Park for her son's forthcoming bar
mitzvah because it accommodates
a larger crowd, and says Rabbi
Cohen will preside there over her
son's rite of passage.
But YIOP officers have request-
ed that no woman do galilah that
day, she said, "and Rabbi Cohen is
OK with that."
Rabbi Cohen hopes that 10
years from now, members won't
have to compromise and the
larger community will realize "it
needs a 'light' like ours, as our
name implies, where a group
of thinking people can come
together to share the good and
bad in life, and take care of each