by David Holzel
As Sheara Krvaric recalls, it was great being a kid in her parents' chavurah at Adas Israel Congregation. "I looked forward to going. You could run around and you could play, and it was like having 40 parents taking care of you."
That was in the early 1980s and the chavurah - a lay-led prayer and study group at the Conservative synagogue in the District - was already a decade old. Last month, the chavurah celebrated its 40th anniversary.
"We celebrated by doing what we do best - we had a service and a luncheon," said Arnold Hammer, who joined the group a year into its existence. "It was a time for reflection," he said of the festivities, which 130 people attended.
A half-dozen families founded the chavurah - one of the first of its kind in the country - in 1972. "Around that time there was a lot of excitement about people doing things themselves," said Sander Mendelson, a founder. "I knew how to run services, but we'd never do that in the synagogue," because members didn't lead services at that time. "It was a radical idea at the time."
Mendelson and the other founders wanted an opportunity to pray and study in an informal environment, where their small children didn't have to be shushed or risk angry stares.
It seems that over the decades the synagogue has changed - the chavurah now has the full support of the congregation and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf - but the chavurah has stayed largely the same and continues to thrive. Mendelson said they have a winning formula. "It was just a good idea."
The group meets twice a month for a Shabbat service and study. They have their own Kiddush, which allows members to get to know each other better. "A lot of social relationships started that way," Mendelson says.
On the other weeks, members join the Adas Israel services. In this way the two communities are intertwined. "Every-other-week services meant we would be part of the congregation," Hammer explained. Changes at Adas Israel in recent years led the chavurah to start performing life-cycle events. There have been a number of aufrufs, where a couple about to be married is called to the Torah, and a handful of b'nai mitzvah.
For Krvaric, who grew up there, the chavurah "is my normal. The tunes they use, the fact that it's lay led. I couldn't think of taking my 2-year-old son anywhere else."
She already knows he'll be taken care of by about 40 parents.