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Jozi Minyan expands Jewish life in Egoli

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Johannesburg Jewish life is multifaceted and diverse, but there’s always room to grow, especially when it comes to including women. This is why a group of Joburg Jews decided to create the Jozi Partnership Minyan (JPM), which abides by halacha while adding new dimensions to Shabbat, chaggim, and community.

“We are a community-led minyan committed to soulful singing and meaningful prayer; thoughtful Torah learning, engagement and dialogue; and the building of an inclusive, welcoming and diverse community,” says local educator Adina Roth, one of the initiative’s founders. “We don’t see ourselves as a replacement of the many wonderful shuls in Joburg. Rather we see our community as a shul that people can visit in addition to their own shul.”

The initiative came about when “in 2016, a group of 10 families got together with the idea of creating a community and a shul that reflected the warmth and beauty of a large, communal Shabbat”, says Roth. “For 10 weeks, they met once a week and dreamed, sang, made music, and spoke about starting a shul that would be warm, inclusive, and a place for spiritual aliveness and community growth.”

The families eventually decided on the model of a “partnership minyan”, taking their inspiration from communities in London, New York, Melbourne, and Jerusalem. They decided to follow the practices and halachic norms of the Orthodox community Shira Chadashah, a partnership minyan in Jerusalem which has become popular and vibrant.

“Partnership minyanim are called that because they seek to create a partnership in building community between men and women while still observing halacha or Jewish law,” says Roth. “Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Sperber has written a book titled Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, which talks about partnership minyanim, explaining how it’s possible for women to assume greater leadership roles in a shul service while still adhering to Jewish law.

“All partnership minyanim by definition have a mechitzah, and 10 men are counted in the minyan. But, women are able to lead certain parts of the service such as Kabbalat Shabbat and other parts of the service which don’t require a minyan. Women can also have aliyot and lein from the Torah.

“Many people might love the shul they go to, but they might also want something that offers more participation for women, or they might enjoy the grassroots style of a partnership minyan,” she says. “Partnership minyanim have become popular in the Anglo-Jewish world. Many members of the JPM go to other shuls and enjoy coming to the JPM for our monthly Shabbat services or for the special offerings that we create throughout the year.”

“As a practicing Orthodox Jew, I feel comfortable at the JPM,” says Ilanit Furman. “It offers members an Orthodox prayer setting with halachically sound practices such as separate seating, but with a distinctive male and female voice both in the leading of the service (according to halachic parameters) and in the sharing of Dvar Torah.

“At a JPM Friday night minyan, I can experience the joy of welcoming in the Shabbos with my family. I smile at my husband and sons across the mechitza as I join the voice of the female leader who leads the davening for Kabbalat Shabbat and then hands over to a male leader for Ma’ariv.

“The peace of Shabbos is brought in with the guided meditation that’s led by a member of the community. I then sit back and gain learning of the parsha of the week as it’s shared in a Dvar Torah given by either a male or female member of the community. This culminates in a communal Friday night Kiddush and dinner, where I sit with people from all walks of Jewish practice: young and old, singles, couples and families, and with diverse stories and choices. And while we eat and talk, we learn from each other.”

“The JPM began with a monthly Friday night gathering in the Norwood area, allowing people to walk and come from different parts of Johannesburg,” Roth says. “Often, after the service, people would stay for a milchik potluck dinner. People came from as far as Sandton or Troyeville and from Houghton, Killarney, Norwood, Oaklands, and Glenhazel.

“In addition to Shabbat, the JPM then organised a halachic reading of the Megillah where men and women chanted the Megillah for the community. This became a highlight of the year. We also organise Ma’ariv services for Rosh Hashanah; a very meaningful Kol Nidrei night; Chanukah lighting and party; Tu B’Shvat in the park; a musical jam for Chol Ha’Moed Succoth; and a dinner and Tikkun Leil for Shavuot.

“Music and spirituality are important to the community,” she says. “We spend a long time choosing our tunes for the Friday night minyan, and we love to sing. We also have a short time in the service, before L’cha Dodi, where we meditate before beginning to welcome Shabbat.

“The JPM is organised and run by its members,” Roth says. “Different members of the community give the D’var Torah, and the Friday nights are hosted at different homes. We welcome people from across the communal spectrum, different types of families including LGBTQ+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender], and different ages. All are welcome, and it’s been wonderful to see people from Chabad to non-affiliated attend our services.”

Another of the minyan’s founders, Nadia Levy, says 50 or more people attend their regular Friday night minyans. On chaggim, there are often 100 participants or more. They get part of their funding from HaKhel, an incubator for grassroots Jewish communities worldwide. HaKhel works in partnership with Israel’s ministry of diaspora affairs. JPM also asks members to pay an annual membership fee if they are able to do so.

Participant Marc Friedman, who also attends an Orthodox shul, says he finds the JPM’s gatherings inspiring. “It’s not a replacement for anybody’s regular services, but gives us a chance to connect in a meaningful way, through music and gathering with diverse people.”

Another participant, Leanne Zabow, says, “What’s most meaningful is the sincere commitment to involving women within the bounds of halacha and the ideas around participation. As someone who loves to lein and loves the liturgy and Hebrew language, it’s an opportunity to participate more rather than feel like a spectator.”

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