Yom huledet sameach!
Congregation Kol HaNeshamah in West Seattle celebrates its 10th anniversary on June 21. Founding rabbi Michael Adam Latz will be in attendance, along with former interim rabbi Anson Laytner and current rabbi Zari Weiss.
The celebration includes a potluck dinner, kabbalat Shabbat service, a video presentation, and speeches, as well as “a song presentation given by our ensemble, plus various toasts including a rabbis’ toast and founders’ toast, a song of celebration and a cake-cutting ceremony,” said executive director Sheila Abrahams.
On June 23, Kol HaNeshamah will continue its anniversary celebration with its Torah Restoration Project event. Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, a sofer (scribe), has been working since mid-May to repair their almost 100-year-old Torah, which was used by the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. The community received a match challenge for donations toward the restoration project from local Jewish philanthropists Marleen and Ken Alhadeff.
Kol HaNeshamah started in June 2003 and quickly became known by word of mouth.
“Kol HaNeshamah was the brainchild of a dozen founders who all got together at an Asian restaurant in West Seattle, Buddha Ruksa, and brainstormed ideas for founding the congregation,” Abrahams said. “We’ll have dishes from that restaurant to remember the founding of Kol HaNeshamah.”
Clearly, they were meeting a need.
“We photocopied prayer books and had enough for 40 people, but 90 showed up,” said Latz. “We didn’t have a plan to grow — we just grew.”
Originally called West Seattle’s Progressive Synagogue Community, the name Kol HaNeshamah was born at a retreat near Mount Rainier during a morning meditation session. The community is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, and meets on the first and third Friday and Saturday of the month at the Alki United Church of Christ.
“Part of the essence of the synagogue is our commitment to radical inclusivity,” said Weiss. “That was part of the founding and continues to this day. It’s a place where many people who maybe didn’t feel at home in other communities can feel at home in Kol HaNeshamah.”
She added that every single person becomes an integral part of the community.
“A lot of congregations have a commitment to welcome LGBT people,” she said. “But here at KHN it’s part of who we are, and it informs so much of our ethics.”
The congregation now has 130 household units, Abrahams said. It provides Hebrew school and educational programs for children and adults. Adult classes include a “progressive Yeshiva,” Weiss said, where participants study contemporary issues by looking at Jewish and contemporary texts and then applying progressive values to those issues.
Weiss is trained as a spiritual director, a newer position in the Jewish community, she said. She works with congregants to help deepen and explore their relationship with God.
“It’s become much more rooted as a community,” said Weiss. “These are people who have been though the different cycles of life with each other.”
Members are encouraged to help provide for the needs of the congregation, such as giving services during the High Holidays and cooking meals for each other, Latz said. Because the synagogue highly regards inclusivity, members do not need to buy tickets for the high holidays, or other things that might keep people out.
Adult B’nai Mitzvahs are also common. This year, eight members who never had the opportunity for the rite of passage as young adults signed up for B’nai Mitzvah.
Latz said he is looking forward to coming back for the weekend.
“I’m so proud to see what the new rabbi is doing, and have continued to be very proud,” said Latz.
“The people at Kol HaNeshamah are an incredible, loving, talented, smart and dedicated group of folks,” he said. “They’re bringing life into Judaism and care about each other.”
Latz noted the congregation was influenced by the book “Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue,” by Rabbi Sidney Schwarz.
“We strive to understand what it means to be Jews and a Jewish community in the 21st century,” Weiss said. “As the world changes dramatically, we look at how Judaism needs to change with it.”