Temples unite for Shabbat service


Six Reform congregations are teaming up for a community-wide Shabbat service during Passover in hopes of bringing a renewed focus on Shabbat morning services.

Reform Jews from the Greater St Louis area are invited for the service, at 9 a.m. April 11 at B’nai El Congregation. The 90-minute service will be lay-led, informal and highly participatory, said Ron Cytron, organizer and committee member of Shabbat St. Louis. He hopes families and people of all ages participate.

“It’s a camp-style kind of service,” said Cytron, “with songs that we think everybody knows. The idea is to get everybody involved and singing.”

Inspiration for the service began with Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s 2007 Biennial sermon, in which he challenged Reform Jews to reconsider the role of Shabbat morning for worship. Rabbi Yoffie suggested that such discussions take place at all levels, and invited a community-wide response.

Cytron approached Shaare Emeth’s Rabbi Jim Bennett with the idea for a community-wide Saturday morning service. With Rabbi Bennett’s blessing, Cytron began contacting other congregations and was pleased that every Reform temple in St. Louis County was eager to get involved. A committee was developed from the area’s congregations, with the advice and support of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Reform Rabbis of St. Louis.

The Shabbat during Passover was chosen for the service because it is the one Shabbat during the entire year when no congregation has a bar or bat mitzvah scheduled. A Torah service is planned with a short d’var Torah, assembled with readers from all over the community. “People from every [Reform] congregation are contributing in some way,” said Cytron.

Music will be accompanied by HaShemesh, and a Kosher-for-Passover Kiddush reception will follow.

The opportunities and benefits of planning such a community-wide event are plentiful, said Cytron. “This has gone way beyond what I expected,” he said. “It’s been such a great experience to meet people from other congregations, to learn about their observances and their traditions.”

Committee member, Carol Wolf Solomon, of Congregation Kol Am, agreed. “It’s a chance for people to worship together, perhaps experience some new melodies, some new customs,” she said.

Solomon also said that given the current economic climate and the struggles that individual congregations are currently experiencing, this is an opportunity for the community to come together, collaborate and conserve resources.

B’nai El’s Rabbi Daniel Plotkin (a Jewish Light Board member) said that providing the Shabbat service not only strengthens the community bonds between St. Louis County Reform congregations, but furthers the Union for Reform Judaism’s agenda, which calls to increase Shabbat morning participation among the Reform movement. Plotkin is also eager to show people who rarely participate in a Shabbat morning services without a bar/bat mitzvah that the experience can be just as moving and spiritual as Friday night services.

“It’s also a rare opportunity for us as Rabbis to go to a service and sit in the pews with our families,” he said. “We don’t get that opportunity very often, so I think it will be appealing for Rabbis to come to a service where they won’t have to worry about what song comes after which prayer, announce page numbers, or remember to tell people to stand and sit at the right time,” he laughed.

B’nai El, Kol Am, Shaare Emeth, Temple Emanuel, Temple Israel, and United Hebrew participated in planning Shabbat St. Louis.