San Francisco has its first Reconstructionist synagogue

After 15 years of independence, Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco has decided to officially become part of the Reconstructionist movement.

It is the first Reconstructionist synagogue in the city’s history.

The decision comes one year after the synagogue hired a new rabbi, Katie Mizrahi, an ordained Reconstructionist rabbi. Yet the decision to affiliate was a democratic one.

Congregants met six times over the course of several months to talk about what defined their community and if their values aligned with those of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.

Affiliation “gives a lot of support to the rabbi, and gives us a sense of belonging to a larger community,” said Zahavah Dahan, a board member.

The most visible change, she added, will be using the Reconstructionist siddur, though the switch to that prayer book hasn’t yet been made.

Or Shalom was founded by Renewal Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh. The synagogue never affiliated with the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and even after Mizrahi joined the congregation in August 2007, members were unsure if they wanted to become a Reconstructionist synagogue.

“But after we saw how Rabbi Katie is, how she brings people in, what she believes in, we said, ‘Let’s explore [affiliating] a little more,'” Dahan said.

So began a lengthy process of collective self-reflection. The synagogue began by crafting a mission statement and identifying the community’s core values.

Mizrahi taught congregants about the basic principles of Reconstructionist Judaism, and congregants were encouraged to examine essays, Web sites and books on the topic.

“One of main anxieties people had was that they didn’t want to change Or Shalom’s basic core character — what we discovered was that its core character shares the core values of the Reconstructionist movement,” Mizrahi said.

When members finally voted in June, 71 people were in support of affiliation, one person abstained and two voted no.

“In the history of all the Jews, that’s the most consensus anyone could ever hope for,” Mizrahi joked.

The Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1930 by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is based on the idea that Judaism evolves and embraces progressive, humanistic values.

Founded in 1989 as a religious school, Or Shalom doesn’t have its own building and has held services at Conservative Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco’s Sunset District for the past four years.

Or Shalom becomes the fourth Reconstructionist congregation in the greater Bay Area, joining Keddem Congregation in Palo Alto, Or Zarua Havurah in Berkeley and Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati.

Mizrahi hopes affiliation “attracts people to Or Shalom who’ve been looking for [Reconstructionism] all along but didn’t know where to find it,” she said. “I hope this helps us find a niche in San Francisco as the address for progressive, down-to-earth, joyful Judaism.”

Or Shalom Jewish Community will have its next Kabbalat Shabbat at 7 p.m. Sept. 19. For more information, visit www.orshalom.org, or e-mail Rabbi Katie Mizrahi at rabbi@orshalom.org.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.