By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – In 1978, a group of Jews from around greater Hartford established Kehilat Chaverim, a member-run congregation with a do-it-yourself approach to Jewish practice. With no rabbi or building, the group worships, studies, and celebrates in members’ homes and at locations throughout the community, drawing from established traditions and creating its own. Kehilat Chaverim currently comprises some 70 member households, with High Holiday services and Sunday school classes housed at the Mandell JCC in West Hartford, and Shabbat services held at the Quaker Meeting House in Hartford.
Now, the “cooperative Jewish community” is in the midst of its 35th anniversary year, with a series of family-centered events open to the community, culminating with a fall celebration.
“We realized that it’s amazing that we’re as old as we are,” says Walden, a founding member. “We are a self-led, self-generated, self-invented group and when we came up with the idea 35 years ago, I don’t think we thought this far into the future; we just thought, ‘Let’s do it for now, let’s do it for us and any likeminded people.’ But now we see that this is a substantial amount of time to be in existence.”
Walden and a fellow founding member decided to focus on the next 35 years by reaching out both to founding and early members, and to now-inactive adult children of members, to brainstorm about a future plan.
“We all agree that we don’t know what we would do if Kehilat Chaverim didn’t exist, and that we don’t want it to go away,” she says.
“We wouldn’t necessarily run to join other area congregations. We are, on some level, renegades, kind of independent souls who think outside the box while carrying Jewish traditions with us.”
Kehilat Chaverim members represent the spectrum of Jewish upbringing and practice, from Orthodox to intermarried families. Congregants range in age from late 20s to 70s and 80s, with a wide span of interests and expertise. The group has long been involved in
local tikkun olam projects, supplying food to and volunteer food services to soup kitchens and shelters, and providing gift bags to girls
from at-risk homes seeking safe haven at The Bridge youth shelters throughout Greater Hartford. Before Thanksgiving, 50 congregants raised money for the local Foodshare food bank, as part of the international grassroots Empty Bowls Project effort.
This year, between April and June, the congregation will celebrate six b’nai mitzvah, products of a Sunday school with a high level of parental engagement.
With no permanent physical address, Kehilat Chaverim is an ideal model for the virtual world of the 21st century, Walden says, an expensive, portable, flexible Jewish community that can make adjustments easily and as needed.
What does Walden envision for Kehilat Chaverim’s next 35 years? “I think the next 10 years will be our effort to cultivate as many
younger people as we can to take over the reins,” she says. “They’ll have to tell you what the next 25 years after that will look like.”
SUNDAY, MARCH 3, 2 p.m., West Hartford Public Library: “Digging for Truth: Modern Archeology and the Bible” with Dr. Richard
Freund, director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at University of Hartford
FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 7 p.m., Quaker Meeting House, 144 South Quaker Lane, Hartford: Youth Shabbat service and second annual
“Purim Rock Opera,” a reading of the Purim story by Queen Esther, with parts of the story sung to Beatles melodies and live music
For more info: www.kehilatchaverim.org
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