Congregation Hakafa

Gazette Article by: Rabbi Robert J. Marx
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2000

Hakafa—the name means circle. The Hakafa community thinks of itself in this way– as a circle in which members support and help one another in acts of worship and study, service and love.

In 1983, several families approached me about creating a new kind of congregation– one that would emphasize study and worship in a unique way. There would be no building. Hakafa would be a place in the mind, a congregation that would be ecologically sensitive, that would use spaces already constructed.

Today Hakafa uses a variety of locations for its many programs. Religious school meets at the Glencoe Community Center, services are held at the Winnetka Community House, and on the High Holidays the congregation worships at The Skokie School in Winnetka.

Hakafa asked Gerald Friedman, a founding member and former mayor of Northbrook, to become its first president, and Harriet Rosenthal, a Deerfield Village Board member, succeeded him. The commitment of these two leaders to congregation and community served as a model for subsequent Hakafa leaders.

The task was to build a community of faith, one that could significantly touch the lives of its members. To be avoided were the mechanical questions: When will you build a building? How many members do you have? Instead, there were pressing religious questions: Do our children see their parents treating Judaism as a serious challenge in their lives? How are the voices of the prophets guiding us as we serve people in nursing homes, soup kitchens, or shelters for abused women.

Above all, how can we be holy–kadosh? Each month the congregation takes the idea of holiness and applies it to a different theme– nature, the synagogue, justice, the family. And family is important to Hakafa. Children and adults begin our Sunday mornings as a community united in prayer and in song. Religious school meets regularly except for the last Sunday of the month. That is a family day and Hakafa members are urged to use the day to strengthen family bonds. In addition to religious school on Sundays, the congregation offers a Tuesday afternoon Hebrew program for children in the third through seventh grades.

Bar and bat mitzvahs are goals of the Hebrew program, but not an end. With their families, these children create their own Shabbat service, learn how to lead the congregation in worship and participate in some project of service. Confirmation, a program in the eleventh grade, culminates the religious school experience.

For many years, Anne Lanski, a well-regarded authority on Israeli life, served as education director. Renowned musician Bibi Marcel Patt now occupies that position.

Hakafa has no board of trustees. Every six weeks those who wish to participate in the administrative decisions of the congregation gather together. All may help to decide what orbit the “circle” will follow.

As founding rabbi of Hakafa, I have been blessed by wonderful young rabbis who have joined our staff, including Rabbi Rachel Mikva and Rabbi Bruce EIder. Rabbi Elder teaches many of our adult classes, works with our religious school and brings his considerable talents to the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

Music has always been an important part of the Hakafa tradition. Leonard Elliot has been music director of the congregation since its inception. Andrea Swan of the Lyric Opera leads music on the High Holidays and special occasions. Often five or six guitars lend spirit to a Shabbat or a Sunday morning service, sometimes even our newly organized klezmer band.

As an idea, not a place, Hakafa is alive and growing. Its vision of what may yet be done is as undeniable as it is exciting.

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