Stumbling into a Synagogue, Finding Home
We were in Philadelphia to check out graduate schools for my partner. Rosh Hashana was just a few days away, and my parents didn’t belong to a synagogue. But a neighbor had told us about a Reconstructionist congregation called Mishkan Shalom — gathering in a Quaker meetinghouse in Newtown Square.
The community was diverse, the neighbor said. Services were creative and relevant. And no tickets or reservations were needed — not even for the High Holidays.
As we entered, someone handed us copies of “Kol Haneshamah: Prayerbook for the Days of Awe”; I paged through, startled and pleased to see the familiar liturgy (in Hebrew, gender-neutral English and transliteration) interspersed with reflections and poems by writers including Rumi, Marge Piercy and Mary Oliver.
During morning blessings, congregants and guests were invited to name things we were grateful for; when we recited the traditional litany of ways we’d “missed the mark” in the past year, the rabbi asked us to add our own regrets or failings.
And the synagogue’s newsletter noted a range of tikkun olam (repair of the world) activities: creating sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, fostering peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, advocating for marriage equality — this was 1992 — and challenging racism in Philadelphia.
At some point, my partner and I glanced at each other in silent accord: This is our place.
Twenty-five years later, we remain members of Mishkan Shalom. Mishkan’s rabbis have guided us through the birth of our daughter and the deaths of three parents. At Mishkan, I learned to read Hebrew, chant Torah and be an ally to immigrant families in Philadelphia.
The community has its own building now, a renovated former felt factory in Roxborough, and remains a magnet for a wildly diverse group of congregants and guests: interfaith and interracial families, LGBTQ folks, Jews by birth and Jews by choice, children and adults with special needs, families formed through adoption, singles and couples, teens, mid-lifers and octogenarians.
Mishkan’s values dovetail with other aspects of my life, including membership in Weavers Way (where I often run into fellow congregants), a resolve to live in the city and fierce advocacy for its public schools.
The 2016 election sharpened my hunger for community — people bound by their commitment to making a more just, compassionate and peaceful world. I continue to find that, every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, at Mishkan Shalom—along with dynamic, relevant liturgy, a broadly welcoming spirit and ticketless services. Some things haven’t changed.
For more information about Mishkan Shalom’s High Holiday services—welcoming, meaningful and ticketless — visit www.mishkan.org
Anndee Hochman is a Weavers Way and Mishkan Shalom member.