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A ‘community of friends’ celebrate a milestone

“When translated from Hebrew into English, Kehilat Chaverim means ‘congregation of friends,’” explains West Hartford resident Joan Walden, one of the group’s founders. Members meet in each other’s homes, and, when larger space is needed, at the Mandell JCC, the West Hartford Public Library, or other community sites.

Last month, more than 100 members, former members and friends set sail on the Lady Katherine to enjoy a dinner cruise and celebrate 40 years as a congregation. One reason they chose the boat as a celebratory site is because they have no building of their own. “At the onset, we made the decision to avoid having a building to maintain,” she says. “This has enabled us to avoid the upkeep a structure demands while keeping our dues low and affordable.”

For several years the group maintained a thriving Sunday school for members’ children, but in recent years its focus has shifted to current members’ needs. “The kids grew up, and we grew a bit older, but we still attract younger members as we adapt to a changing landscape in terms of organized religion,” she explained.

The group has no rabbi, and is guided by a 13-person Steering Committee. All religious services are prepared and led by members. Initially held at the Unitarian Meeting House, for the past three decades High Holiday services have been held at the Mandell JCC, with hundreds of people in attendance, members and non-members alike.

In addition to religious observances, the members engage in activities that benefit community programs and local charities, like the Bridge and Foodshare, and they even carve out time for fun stuff — such as attending plays, ballgames and museums. Getting involved is a must: the group features several standing committees, in which at least one person from each member family is required to serve. “This fosters a greater personal involvement and everyone has a stake in our success,” says Walden.

CAP: Celebrating Kehilat CHaverim’s 40th anniversary on the Lady Katherine are couples (l to r) Kim and Dorrie Hunt (Bloomfield), Ellen and John Thomas (Hartford), and Karen and Leo Harrington (West Hartford)

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