Synagogue without Walls

For many Jews who attend a synagogue there is an internal conflict that takes place while sitting in a service.  Going to services is often fragmented, and one question permeates the mind of many: “How is this [the service] relevant to me?”  Many Jews also struggle with the complexity of the service, especially those who have difficulty navigating the Hebrew.  All of this in turn leads to what Orange County knows intimately – a large population of unaffiliated Jews.

For Rabbi and Cantor Osnat Margalith, this is one of the reasons she chose the path that led her to ordination as a cantor and a rabbi.  Said Rabbi Margalith, “I am practicing Keruv – outreach – and drawing in those who do not believe they have a place in the community.  Her method of outreach is Shira Hadasha – a synagogue without spiritual or physical walls.

Currently meeting in private homes, Shira Hadasha grew out of a cohesive group of friends that provides a spiritual, contemporary, welcoming, and inclusive Jewish environment for those looking for ways to connect with Judaism.  Shira Hadasha also seeks to determine what part Judaism can play in our lives.  An idea and dream in the beginning, the result was dozens of adults, many of whom had grown children themselves, attending and becoming part of an inspiring and meaningful community.

Rabbi Margalith, raised in an Orthodox Israeli family, which includes a brother in Israel who is ordained through the Rabbinate of Israel, loves the liturgy and often mixes contemporary with traditional davening, but she understands that people attending synagogue are not coming from the same point as she is.  “It gets lost in translation,” said Rabbi Margalith.

“It is a matter of making a connection,” she added.  “Making a connection that can be lost when the message of Jewish tradition seems too hard to reach.”  Rabbi Margalith continued, “As a rabbi and a cantor with an Israeli background I look to provide people with a transformative moment through liturgy and music.”

Education and social action are also integral parts of the Shira Hadasha community.  Most of the individuals who attend Shira Hadasha are successful members of the Jewish community, and this is another avenue to provide further involvement and enrichment through prayer, music, social justice, and study.  Friends, including Rabbi Margalith’s husband, Dr. Avi Margalith, have provided advice on the board and committees.  Rabbi Margalith’s husband has also worked tirelessly to establish Shira Hadasha as a non-profit and find venues for services.

Nancy Salzman, who spent years “shul shopping” and participating in many different events throughout Orange and Los Angeles Counties said, “As the [community] leader, she brings together families from a variety of backgrounds and creates a warm, welcoming environment in which learning is the key.”  Salzman went on to say, “[After Rosh Hashanah services in 2009] we left services feeling enriched and inspired and looking forward to many more experiences with Shira Hadasha.”

For Joy Frayda Friedberg, “Last year may have been the most unique wonderful High Holy Days of my life… We came together like a small family of close friends. For me this is what Judaism is all about.”

In the end, what Shira Hadasha is looking for is people who want to have a place where they can be exposed to a comfortable community that provides prayer through Israeli, contemporary, and traditional cantorial music.  Shira Hadasha provides a place for community prayer but also the silent and personal prayers of the individual.  “During the High Holy Days of 2009, our family had the most joyous experience we’d had in very many years. We had been overwhelmed during several previous years by attending very large, hugely crowded and impersonal holiday services,”  said Mindy Miller.  “When Rabbi-Cantor Margalith invited us to [services]…  we were delighted with the concept. The services, discussions, and music were intimate and beautiful, and held great personal meaning for everyone…”

According to people involved with Shira Hadasha, it is the diversity and broad spectrum of Jewish backgrounds that is one of the key elements of the community.  “From the beginning,” said Rabbi Margalith, “people have wanted to meet again and get together for Shabbat and other services.”   Rabbi Margalith went on to compare understanding the services as getting to the core of a ball, “The core is always present; there are just different ways of getting there!”  Therein it can be said that Judaism is open to different ways to learn.  Rabbi Margalith,  added, “We [at Shira Hadasha] are Jewish – you do not have to fit into the square.”

Shira Hadasha of Orange County, led by Rabbi Margalith, will hold services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year.  Go to www.shiraoc.org or call (949) 735-4237 for time and location details.  In addition, Margalith remains true to the tradition of being a rabbi and teaches weekly Talmud classes with rabbis from Orange County – something that has been a longtime desire.  Coming from the tradition that women do not study Talmud, Rabbi Margalith said, “I always felt I was missing out.  Now I am teaching!”

Rabbi Margalith is a member of the Cantors Assembly – the Conservative Cantors’ Association and holds two ordinations as both a cantor and rabbi by the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR-CA).  She is a Chaplain for OC Jewish Family Service, and as a result of her interfaith outreach in Orange County, was recently asked to act as an advisor for Orange County Interfaith Coalition for the Environment (OCICE).

Rabbi Margalith provides education for those seeking conversion to Judaism and sits on the Sandra Caplan Community Beit Din of Southern California.  She also prepares individuals for Bar and Bat Mitzvah, provides counseling and spiritual advice for life cycles, and teaches the Intro to Judaism course, all of which serve as a source of empowerment to the Jewish community.  In the early Fall Rabbi Margalith will be providing a course with the Community Scholar Program entitled, “Jesus in the Talmud.”

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