Family Shabbat Experience was a hit at Ohef Sholom

by | Feb 8, 2024 | Jewish Tidewater, Other News

I don’t “belong” to Ohef Sholom Temple, but on Saturday, Jan. 27, I felt as if I did.

My friend, Paul Terkeltaub, invited me to attend Ohef’s first “Family Shabbat Experience” and to bring my son, daughter-in-law, and their two sons (ages 8 and 5), promising a morning service unlike any other in the region. The shul on Stockley Gardens did not disappoint.

I have long admired the dynamic duo of Rabbi Roz Mandelberg and Cantor Jen Rueben. This day, Cantor Jen barely put down her guitar, bringing traditional melodies alive and introducing contemporary ones, like a number from the Prince of Egypt and another about freedom that celebrated Nachshon, a figure from Exodus who courageously stepped into the Red Sea, just before God parted it.

Rather than call eight people up to chant aliyot and a haftorah, the rabbi and cantor and two volunteers simply held up the scroll, allowing all of us to see the Song of the Sea and the way the Hebrew text seemed to resemble water and waves. “Us” included many young moms and dads and their offspring, some engaged in what emanated from the bimah, others in their parents’ arms, but not for very long.

With the proceedings shortened (based on Conservative standards) by eliminating a formal sermon and certain prayers like Musaf, we were done in about 60 minutes, rising after a communal mourners’ kaddish to walk from Sinai Chapel to Kaufman Hall for a tasty lunch featuring fried eggplant, pasta, sauce, salad, and cookies – a feast for all ages.

I told Cantor Jen (whose Cantorial School thesis was “Music and Jewish Identity Formation in Children”) and Rabbi Roz (plus Paul and wife, Marcy, who sponsored the day) that they had created an “experience” that was lively, spiritual, engaging, and ought to be replicated, here and elsewhere, if the goal is to appeal to our kids and grandkids. And although I do not mean to disparage any other synagogue’s Sabbath service, I would surely come to this one again. And so can you, because Ohef put the welcome mat out to the entire community. Other families besides mine were there from other temples or no temple at all.

A Reform synagogue, Friday evening is Ohef Sholom’s typical big weekly draw. Good for them, though, for recognizing that they can do Shabbat morning well, too. The next Family Sabbath Experience will be May 18. Please come.