Happy 20th Hill Havurah

Gratitude for Community on the Hill

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Hill Havurah balances traditional Hebrew liturgy with innovative English supplemented in a joyous, musical environment . .

We were not yet the ten required for a minyan when we first gathered, more than 20 years ago, in a Hill dining room to discuss building a Jewish congregation where none had existed for some time. Saturday morning, November 4, the Hill Havurah’s regular worship space was filled to capacity with a thriving congregation, supported by non-Jewish neighbors. It’s Sunday morning now, and I am writing to express deep gratitude to the Hill community that came together yesterday in prayer and song and tears.

The earlier attempted disruption of a Baptist church in Louisville and the anti-refugee sentiments of the Pittsburgh shooter mean that many faith communities are in this together. Still, the neighborly support, one week to the moment after the violent attack on Jews in a similar sanctuary in Pittsburgh, meant a great deal to the Hill Havurah. We were joined by Rev. Michael Wilker, Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which currently hosts the havurah office and activities; Jenn Hosler, minister at Washington City Church of the Brethren, which formerly hosted havurah activities; and members and leaders of other faith communities on the Hill. Hill solidarity is real and important.

So are the efforts, often unsung, of leaders like Howard Crystal and the havurah board of directors, the many volunteers and regular contributors and participants who made the worship service on Saturday a possibility. Moreover, Hill Havurah would not have come into existence without the leadership and persistence of a small group of neighbors, including Sig and Susan Cohen, who were determined, back when they first returned from foreign service, to see a Jewish congregation form on the Hill. The presence of a vibrant Jewish congregation is an asset for the Hill as a whole. Hill diversity is real and important.

The Saturday morning Shabbat service and study was led with grace and strength and compassion, in the face of immense pressures and grief, by Rabbi Hannah Spiro. Rabbi Hannah has been on the Hill for a little over two years, teaching and leading worship and community activities within the havurah, all the while forging relationships with neighboring Christian and Muslim congregations for text study, anti-racism efforts, gun violence awareness and prevention, and general community building. Rabbi Hannah and the Hill seem made for each other. Hill spirit is real and important.

Among the powerful additions to yesterday’s service was a song written by Rabbi Menachem Creditor of New York for his daughter who was born just after 9/11. It has become a sort of resistance anthem in the Jewish world, and I can still feel the vibrations of Rabbi Hannah’s voice and guitar leading the community in signing, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh/Build on Love.” So many long-term efforts go into the creation of such momentary vibrations. I am grateful for every one of them, and believe they both reflect the best of Capitol Hill and nourish it: “Olam chesed yibaneh/We will build this world with love.”

Virginia Avniel Spatz, an early and returning member of Hill Havurah, was a regular reporter for Capital Community News for many years and now contributes infrequently. Her Jewish writing can be found at songeveryday.org.