On Fellowship

By Lila Corwin Berman

Published August 15, 2007, issue of August 17, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I had to apologize to my younger self when I agreed to teach a course at the National Havurah Summer Institute a few years ago. My parents were part of a Havurah — a Jewish fellowship group with roots in the hippie era — and although we never attended the institute, my brothers and I spent countless Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and even some summer vacations with my parents’ Havurah friends. Ours was a childhood shaped by their peculiar dances, melodies and culinary habits.

We were standing off to the side with the Rosenberg kids, and we were watching our parents. They were on the beach, and they were huddled together into a tight circle — what we’d come to know as a group hug. They were swaying and humming, and it was a sea of Birkenstocks and long skirts. We kids had been asked to join the circle and had each shrugged off the clasp of the grownups’ arms around our narrow shoulders. And now we were watching, and we were certain, as certain as we had ever felt about anything, that they were freaks.

They meditated and sang songs about love being the only power, and chanted melodies full of soaring “lalalas.” So we stood with our feet dipping into the ocean, too cold to go back in for another swim, and we laughed. We were 10 and 12 and 7. The littlest ones repeated what the oldest ones said, although only the oldest really knew how to feel true mortification. The littlest might have wondered why Mommy and Daddy were hugging so many people; the oldest believed that everyone else on the beach was staring (they were — this was Martha’s Vineyard) not at the weirdo parents but at the kids, branded as “strange” by the antics of the parents.

We weren’t always at the beach. Our first vacations together were in the Catskills at a campground perched above North Lake. Eventually, the Havurah gave up the Catskills for Martha’s Vineyard or New Hampshire, the ultimate move away from the Jewishness of their parents’ generation. Comfortably middle-class Havurah Jews could vacation anywhere — not just Grossinger’s or the Concord — and they could act out their own brand of Jewishness anywhere, too.

No matter where we were — a beach house, a wood-framed condo in the White Mountains, a leaky tent near North Lake — we kids were a solid unit. We ate when the food came out, avoiding the grayish casseroles made of soy products and bulgur and protein supplements in favor of the cheesy ziti. And then we would rush off again.

But sometimes we were told we had to stay, and — squirm as we might — we sat in a little row near our parents and listened to them. We still would roll our eyes at one another, just in case anyone thought for a second that we were into this. But then, when Sabbath fell and it was time to light the candles, first one of us and then the others would walk up to the aluminum foil tray, strike a match and light a single candle, melted into a small foil base. We did it because we loved fire, because we were told we had to and because we then got to say something and really, truly be listened to. Often it was just a quick mumble of “Gut Shabbes.” Other times, one of us would say that we were happy to be having Sabbath with our friends, or that it had been a nice week, or that we liked lighting the candles with everyone. And the adults would smile and make a little throaty “mmm.” The other kids would smirk a bit, but also wish they had thought to say something more, and maybe next time they would.

I still hear the laughter, and I see us kids in a huddle. No, our arms are not interlaced. And we have Keds and Converse on our feet. But our heads are close together, and although we think we’re sitting on the edge of the adults, we have our own center that we come back to often. After candle lighting and challah, with our plates full, we sit in our little group and we talk and tease, and send the littlest ones to get more dessert. The laughter is our embarrassment, our anxiety, but it’s also our joy. We’re always smiling when we’re together; we have our own kind of fellowship, although we would never call it that. And we would never meditate.

Lila Corwin Berman is an assistant professor of history and religious studies and the Mal and Lea Bank Early Career Professor in Jewish Studies at Penn State. This coming academic year, she will be a fellow at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.