Austinite Brings Wandering Minyan from Boston to Central Texas
Wandering Minyan participants gather before a Wandering Minyan service in November. Credit: Sherry Blum.
By Tonyia Cone
Rina Sadun fell in love with the Boston area’s Jewish community while earning her master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Upon returning to her native Austin, she brought a piece of New England Jewish life home to share with other Central Texans, through Wandering Minyan.
Sadun’s family joined Congregation Kol Halev in its early years, and Sadun became bat mitzvah there and participated in the congregation until she went to California for college.
“The thing that attracted my family and others was the idea that Kol Halev is do-it-your-own-way Judaism. There’s a sense of being empowered to think through how you want to craft your own religious experience, with active participation and agency within that,” she said.
While in Boston, she liked the large Jewish community and institutions she had not experienced while growing up in Austin, including a thriving independent minyanim scene and the group Wandering Minyan.
Once each month around 50 people would show up at someone’s home for Wandering Minyan, a lay-led, egalitarian Friday night Shabbat service, a potluck dinner, and talking and singing until the wee hours of the morning.
“I just really loved the spirit of it. It was super warm, and everyone was so excited to be there. The singing was fantastic. It really encapsulated everything I love about Shabbat,” Sadun said.
Sadun spent the summer after finishing school in New York City, which also has very active independent minyanim, and when she returned to Austin in fall 2016, thought it would be nice to have something similar here. While talking with her parents’ friends over Rosh Hashanah lunch, she told them what she had experienced in Boston and that it would great to start doing the same thing in Austin.
Others agreed, and the group, also called Wandering Minyan, held its first meetings in November 2016 and January 2017. Since then, the group has met for Friday night services and dinner the first Friday of every month.
Wandering Minyan has a core group of about a dozen people with backgrounds from all denominations. Sadun explained that Wandering Minyan appeals to some people because they have modified their initial Jewish background and have staked out their own way of practicing Judaism.
“Wandering Minyan fits really well with that,” she said.
Similar to a Conservative-style service, using a siddur adapted from Boston group Havurah on the Hill, a Wandering Minyan service typically consists of Kabbalat Shabbat, Torah or Mishna study or discussion of a d’var Torah, Ma'ariv, Kiddush and HaMotzi.
Even those not familiar with a more traditional, fully Hebrew liturgy should be able to follow Wandering Minyan’s service, Sadun explained.
“It’s a great space to sit and listen and feel the music. I initially started connecting by listening and starting to internalize it,” she said, adding that Wandering Minyan tries to be a place for learning, where people are not expected to know everything, where they can learn new prayers and melodies and be a part of service whether they know all the words or not.
Dinner follows, usually a vegetarian potluck in order to meet most participants’ kashrut concerns. Sometimes the group hangs out at the host’s home for singing after dinner.
“We are small. We take our time, hang out and just talk. It gives a chance for connections to develop, to share with one another, and to build a sense of community,” Sadun said.
She added that the smaller group also gives more people an opportunity to write a d’var Torah and to participate as leaders in the service.
“It’s a really great learning opportunity,” said Sadun. “Anyone is welcome to lead services. You’ll be leading on a couch with a dozen other people in the room who won’t complain if you get something wrong, and there are people who will meet for coffee and teach you how to do this if you haven’t done it before. It’s safe to ask for help, to offer help, and try it even if you’re not going to get it perfect.”
While Wandering Minyan is not a Congregation Kol Halev program, a lot of people involved with Wandering Minyan have historically been involved with the congregation, which also holds monthly Friday night services. Because of the crossover in membership, Kol Halev shares their Torah and siddurim with Wandering Minyan, and the two cross-advertise events, coordinate scheduling and partner to hold about three Saturday morning services each year.
Sherry Blum, Congregation Kol Halev president, said, “Kol Halev is a very eclectic group with people of all interests and a variety of Jewish tradition. For those of us who enjoy a more Conservative yet casual service from time to time, Wandering Minyan works perfectly. It’s on a day when Kol Halev doesn’t meet, and it fits with Kol Halev’s tradition of doing things casually and in a small group.”
Sadun said she would like to see Wandering Minyan grow a bit so it will be sustainable when people move away, so the group is not intimidating for newcomers, and to keep new ideas and energy coming into the group.
“I think we have a good thing going and I’d really just like to see it continue,” she said. ■
For more information, visit Wandering Minyan Austin on Facebook.