Secular Kibbutzim are Rediscovering Jewish Prayer

“Hear our voice, Hashem, our God, spare us and have compassion on us; and accept – with compassion and favor – our prayers. Bring us back to You, Hashem, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.” (From the selichos - prayers for forgiveness)


Dear Friends,


I have attached excerpts from an article about a new development on secular kibbutzim, and these excerpts will be followed by my comments:



Synagogues Flourish in Secular Kibbutzim

Elul 6, 5769, 26 August 09 08:00

by Hillel Fendel

( A few years ago, a member of Kibbutz Deganiah predicted, “There has been no synagogue here in 100 years, and there won’t be one in the next 100 years.” She was wrong.

Not only is there a synagogue in Deganiah, founded in 1910 as Israel's first Kibbutz ever, but similar houses of worship (popularly known as “shuls”) are open and active in other secular kibbutzim in the north such as Ein Harod and Maoz Chaim, as well as in other secular communities in the region such as Tomrat.

Another example of a long shul-less kibbutz is Givat HaShloshah, founded by a long-time member who suddenly realized that she wanted to commemorate her one “Jewish” day of the year – Yom Kippur – at home. The woman waged a one-person campaign to gather together a Torah scroll, prayer books, a building – and now, a scant few years later, some 15-20 people take part in weekly Sabbath prayers.

Just ten weeks ago, at a joyous Torah scroll installation ceremony in the famously-secular Kibbutz Ein Harod, the son of one of the more active shul “members” came and asked him, “What do you need a synagogue for, anyway?” The father answered, “We went far away – too far.” The reference was to the escape from Torah Judaism by many of the early Zionist pioneers – a vacuum that is now once again being filled with spirituality.

The above story is told by Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, head of the Ayelet HaShachar (Morning Star) association that - among its many other activities - accompanies secular communities that wish to build a synagogue or otherwise enhance their connection to Judaism. Two years ago, for instance, more than 500 northern farmers took part in a “telephone chavruta (study partner)” program organized by Ayelet HaShachar on matters concerning the Shemittah (Sabbatical) year.

Though many kibbutzim were predicated on the idea that no synagogue would ever be built there, “today there are those who feel that there is a communal need for a synagogue,” Raanan told B’Sheva’s Ofrah Lax.

"First Time I Have Felt Jewish"
The founding of the synagogue in Kibbutz Maoz Chaim, a bastion of secularity since its founding in 1937 just east of Beit She’an, did not happen without some rancor. Only after two votes of the entire membership was a building approved for designation as a synagogue – and even then, only by the narrow margin of two votes. Friday night services are held regularly, and the members hope to expand to Sabbath morning services as well.

The shul’s founder told this story: “One long-time resident, a 78-year-old who immigrated from Argentina 40 years ago, told me after his first visit to the synagogue, ‘I’ve been in Israel all these years, and this was the first time I felt Jewish. I plan to come every week, and I want you to teach me the prayers.’ I told him that the whole thing was worth it just for that.”

"Just today," Rabbi Raanan told Israel National News on Tuesday, "an eye surgeon asked us for help in starting a synagogue in Barkan, near Ariel. And we are already at work on Yom Kippur prayers in kibbutzim such as HaHotrim, Hof HaCarmel, and others that have never had synagogues."

…Another story told by Raanan: “A few years ago, I was in Deganiah [Israel’s first kibbutz], and I asked where the synagogue was. The secretary told me, ‘For 100 years we haven’t had one, and we won't have one in the next 100 years either.’ Two years ago, I was again in Deganiah, on Simchat Torah [the holiday commemorating the joy of Torah], and I pointed to the newly-opened synagogue and said, ‘This is our true Torah joy.’”

“The name of the game,” says Raanan, in between organizing Torah classes and other programs for those who have never enjoyed them before, “is patience and tolerance. Each place according to its own pace and requests.”


Last year, I shared with you excerpts from an article by Yonoson Rosenblum in the summer issue of the Jewish Observer, the magazine of Agudath Israel of America. The article cited examples of successful Torah outreach in Israel, and one of the examples is a Chareidi organization named, Ayelet HaShachar (Morning Star), which is mentioned in the above article. In addition to helping the kibbutzim to establish synagogues, Ayelet HaShachar has been placing Torah-committed couples on more than 60 kibbutzim and smaller settlements around the country. Among the kibbutzim which have benefited from the warm and dedicated outreach of these couples is Kibbutz Geva, which experienced its first Yom Kippur service two years ago. A member of the kibbutz wrote a thank you letter to the director of Ayelet HaShachar expressing appreciation “for having created for us a Mikdash Me’at (Miniature Sanctuary) in the midst of our everyday lives and secular existence, and for having made it possible for us to touch the holiness, the elevation, of this unique day – Yom Hakippurim.” The kibbutz member adds:


“The emotions during the prayers broke down all barriers, and enabled us to touch every link in the chain of our common tradition, reaching back to the roots of our common existence.”


Over two years ago, I met a group of students who had recently graduated secular Israeli high schools. They had come to my Chareidi neighborhood, Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, in order to experience the holiness and harmony of a traditional Shabbos. I first noticed them at the Friday night service of the congregation where I was praying that night, and these visiting students joined with great enthusiasm in the singing of the joyous psalms and prayers welcoming the arrival of the Shabbos Queen. I noticed one student in this group who was singing and swaying like a chassid, and his light-filled face expressed great yearning as he sung with great fervor the ancient Hebrew words of these psalms and prayers.


As I watched him and the other students, there emerged feelings of hope in my heart. Their presence in our Jerusalem neighborhood reminded me of the prophetic promises that our people are destined to be reunited through a return to our spiritual roots. We experienced a taste of this unity that Shabbos evening, especially when we all joined together in a circle-dance, as we sang the concluding stanzas of the “Lecho Dodi” hymn which refer to the end of our humiliation in exile, the renewal of Zion, and the rejoicing of God with our people.


After the services were over, the students received warm Shabbos blessings from the members of the congregation. The students then began to walk to the homes of their hosts for the Friday night meal. I and the student that I noticed earlier were walking in the same direction, and I asked him where he was from. He told me that he was from a HaShomer Hatza’ir kibbutz in the north and that he was very inspired by our services. (HaShomer Hatza’ir is a leftist kibbutz movement.) He asked me about my background, so I mentioned that I am from the spiritually-searching generation of the 60’s. He told me that he was interested in this searching generation, and he began to tell me more about his own spiritual searching within Judaism; however, our conversation was interrupted when he needed to enter the home of his hosts.


 When I arrived home that evening, I asked Hashem to continue to guide this student and all the other students on their homecoming journey. And I hoped that I would have the privilege of meeting them again.


The above information reminds us that beneath the surface of a turbulent Israeli society are currents of spiritual renewal. These currents are a reminder of the following Divine promise to Israel regarding the dawn of the messianic age of spiritual enlightenment:


“Never again will your sun set, and your moon will not be withdrawn; for Hashem will be unto you an eternal light, and the days of your mourning will be ended. Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the land forever; a shoot of My planting, My handiwork in which to glory.” (Isaiah 60:20, 21)


The above passage is from the “haftorah” – portion from the Prophets – which we chanted on this past Shabbos. It is one of the haftorahs of comfort which are chanted during the period between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana.


May Hashem redeem us and comfort us.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


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