It seemed that everyone arrived planning to have a good time, and we did! Havurat Shalom of the 1960’s is not Havurat Shalom of the 2020’s. This turned out not to matter. The davenning was sublime: a meditative Kabbalat Shabbat led by Nehemia Polen, a discursive meandering lovely P’sukei d’Zimra on Shabbat morning by Leora Zeitlin, and a melodious Shacharit by Shalom Flank. There were numerous study opportunities including a talk by Havurah founder Art Green about what he’s up to now and 4 TED talks about very different topics.
I feel that I had a unique perspective on this reunion. I’ve been at the Havurah for 45 of its 55 years. I also, for the fourth time, was one of the organizers of the retreat, which has been occurring every 5 years. All of our other reunion retreats have taken place on Memorial Day Weekend, which allowed us all day Saturday and Sunday, as well as part of Friday and Monday for programming. Since Shavuot was on Memorial Day Weekend this year, the retreat occurred the previous weekend and ended Sunday at noon. It was a challenge to fit in as many study and teaching opportunities as possible, but we did it.
I spent a lot of time during the weekend making sure everything was running smoothly and gently nudging people to get from one activity to the next, especially meals. Here are the impressions that remain with me a month afterwards:
- There’s often some worry from the attendees about who’s going to come. Former members worry that their cohort won’t show up; current members hope that they don’t feel excluded by the “old-timers”. This definitely didn’t happen. Through prayer, study, eating together and sharing the little free time we had, it was apparent as it has been at other Havurah reunion retreats that being part of Havurat Shalom is a wonderful common denominator.
- I’ve known some of the original Havurah members since they were graduate students and young professors in their 20’s and 30’s and I was an undergraduate. Now, as they’re entering and motoring through their 80’s, they continue to be active and engaged in Jewish practice, Jewish thought and productivity. The ideas they had in the 60’s have been modified by time, but the core imperatives continue to shine through. In Art Green’s talk about what he’s working on and thinking about now, he was clear that he continues to address his goal of making it possible for all to connect with God through words, actions and ideas. In particular, he has been working lately to make these ideas accessible to people in Israel through teaching, speeches and the translation of his books into Hebrew.
- Given the fact that 55 years is a long time, the number of former members who are no longer in the world with us has grown. We spent Saturday late afternoon remembering them. Interestingly, during the part of that memorial where people had a chance to talk about their memories of those who had passed, most people chose instead to talk about the tremendous degree to which Havurat Shalom had influenced their lives and their thoughts.
- We may change, grow and “evolve” during the decades of our adulthood if we’re fortunate enough to have them. Despite this, to a large extent we are who we are. It’s a powerful experience to see someone after a 30, or more, year absence and feel immediately that even though they may not look exactly as they had back then, their essence is the same and the connection remains.