Like the surrounding city of Venice, California, Congregation Mishkon Tephilo has its own unique “flair,” as synagogue president Melissa Tarsky puts it. The synagogue is a spiritual home to its diverse congregation and welcomes newcomers. “Venice is an eclectic neighborhood,” Melissa says. “Many people who walk through our doors didn’t have a traditional Jewish upraising.”
In fact, Mishkon’s community is proud of its many ethnicities, Jews-by-choice and LGBT congregants. “The population inside the synagogue looks very much like the population out on the street,” she describes.
“We have always been bucking the trend,” adds Rabbi Daniel Shevitz. “Mishkon is on the edge of many things. We are on the edge of the continent, for one thing, and we are off the beaten path.” As one congregant puts it, the most fun thing about the synagogue is that it’s “Hawaiian shirts optional.”
Shabbat services with Rabbi Daniel Shevitz are very inclusive. The congregants are very involved and, since there is no cantor, much of the service is lay-led. The weekly Torah reading is interactive; there’s always a chance for the congregation to share their thoughts and experiences from the week. “I was impressed with the amount of volunteers and congregant participation,” says Kelley Courtney, who stepped in as the synagogue’s Executive Director in July. “Lay leaders really take control and invest in their projects; it’s very refreshing and surprising.”
With such a diverse population, it’s important to stay focused. The key is to create inclusive programs that ensure everyone understands the point of the program. For example, on a recent trip the religious school took to the genizah to bury old books, the class talked about what the activity means beforehand. “Rather than moving forward and doing the whole thing, we sat down with the rabbi and someone who worked at the cemetery to discuss why we bury books and what the point is,” Melissa explains.
The synagogue has enriching educational programs, including its religious school and vibrant preschool. One of the synagogue’s exciting learning programs is its aleph-bet class that teaches people to read basic Hebrew. The class has always been popular, and there’s been high demand in the year and a half since the class was last offered.
The synagogue also participates in the Menorah Lighting at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. This event brings the Mishkon community together as a family and embraces the celebration with the larger Jewish community. Read more in the Community Innovators column in this issue of Kehilla magazine!
Learn more about the Mishkon Tephilo community at the synagogue’s newly updated website: www.mishkon.org.