Let’s Start Davening! Special Kabbalat Shabbat with Beth Am, California

Let’s Start Davening! (LSD!) is an independent community that practices, advances and revives Jewish spirituality through davening and “togethering.” We hold each month a Friday night celebration with music, wine and vegetarian food. It was started by rabbinical students and friends in Berlin, but it has been developing into a loose network of similar communities, with events popping up through the US and soon also in Hungary.

In May we had the honor of hosting special guests from the Beth Am congregation in Los Altos, California, joined by their rabbi Janet Marder, the first woman elected as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Marder also served as the rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim, a Los Angeles synagogue with special outreach to lesbian and gay Jews. While there, she founded Nechama, an AIDS education program for the Jewish community. Their group was on a trip to Germany and Israel. For Kabbalat Shabbat, they joined the LSD! Berlin community, and a group of German students led by Professor Baader.

With all the groups joined together we easily filled the room with people (we were close to IMG_0319a hundred!) and of course with songs and even dance! Rabbi Marder gave a short drasha on parshat Kedoshim, where she drew the audience’s attention to the mitzvot of not hating our brothers in our heart, not taking revenge and not holding a grudge. She related those to the “Erinnerungskultur” (culture of remembrance) in Germany that her congregation had freshly encountered on its trip. In order to let go of the grudge, it is often necessary to express our feelings externally, and it certainly helps if the other party shows contrition and takes action to establish the relationship again.


After davening, kiddush and our usual veggie potluck (which was supported by a catered meal with the help of WZO) there was still time for a question and answer session with the LSD team. Beth Am members were especially curious about the revival of Jewish life, and growing up Jewish in Germany. Several people gave testimonies in response. One of them shared his experiences growing up in a family with an immigrant background from the former Soviet Union. His experience was that inter-generational conflicts in his own community were more substantial than those of with the German majority.

Another series of questions dealt with the topic of Jewish experience within more established institutions and independent communities like ours. One guest felt it was important to bring the LSD style of service (inspirational and participatory) and community into shul. He also wondered how LSD practice will change once the current members settle down and start having children. Ariel, our resident rabbi-in-training tried to answer these complicated questions. He discussed local synagogues that have similar special services from time to time, for example the “Frankelbach” Shabbat with hasidic melodies in Frankelufer, Bejachad in Oranienburger Straße and Rosh Chodesh services in Rykestraße. Most shuls also offer child-friendly services and programming for young families. But many of our community still don’t feel comfortable in more established Jewish institutions for varied reasons, including lack of Jewish literacy, orientation, halachic status or world view. LSD! aims to empower and help these people to build a grassroots community by and for themselves.

We were also asked about interfaith activities. We took the opportunity to talk about our involvement in Mitzvah Day, when we had a fun day together with refugee families living in the shelter in Reinickendorf.

By the request of our guests, many of whom were still processing the memorial they had visited during their week in Germany, we closed the event by saying Kaddish Yatom together, remembering their loved ones and those for whom there is no one left to recite.

We are very glad to have been able to celebrate Shabbat with Beth Am. It was great to see how these very diverse groups immediately found a common place in the melodies and how they mingled and exchanged their experiences afterwards (with a bit of help by the delicious food and wine from the potluck). Let’s hope this is the beginning of a series of mutual visits and cooperation!IMG_0326

We would like to thank our wonderful team members and volunteers for their help to make sure everything goes smoothly, just as the continuous support from WZO and Hillel Berlin.

Questions about Let’s Start Davening? Email berlin@lets-start-davening.com.

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