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Tent connects Jews

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2006-12-17

Members of Tent

Members of Tent

“Young Jewish adults want some connection with Jewish life, no matter how secular they are,” says Student Rabbi Anna Gerrard, Liberal Judaism’s Young Adults Worker for the London area.

Liberal Judaism (LJ) strives to provide ways for the lost 18 to 35 generation - less likely than their parents to belong to synagogues or chose Jewish partners -  to reconnect with Judaism.  Twice a month in London, LJ organizes ‘tent’ - a Friday night service involving guitar music and group discussion, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant.

“Tent services offer a religious experience for young adults who don’t find what they are looking for in conventional shul services,” Anna reflects. The evening is also a prime social opportunity. "It gives people the chance to unwind at the end of the week, and we have lots of fun”.

LJ is clearly determined to do as much for this age bracket as possible, as it has extended its tent activities to include residential weekends and special events linked to Jewish festivals. Three weekends away take place a year, plus tent-organized knees-ups to mark Pesach, Shavuot and Chanukah.

In October this year, 26 young adults went on holiday together for the weekend to Lee Valley, led by Anna and LJ’s Young Adults Worker for the regions, Avivit Katzil. “The weekend away went beyond our expectations, I was amazed how much people bonded. I’m Israeli and I always expect English people to find it hard to break the ice with each other, but almost from the start people let their hair down,” Avivit observed.

“We designed a program that included plenty of activities to suit a group of people who didn't all know each other. For example, after the Shabbat service we sang and played games that had everyone giggling,” adds Anna.

Both of them spent time working as camp leaders in America, and they used the skills gained from this to put together a timetable that ranged from the serious to the entertainingly frivolous.

“On Saturday we included a session reading Jewish texts in pairs, but then ended the day with an ‘80s costume disco,” Anna chuckles, prompting Avivit to comment again on how reserved behaviour disappeared out the window:  “Everyone went really wild and dancing from 8pm until 1am. People felt comfortable enough to properly enjoy themselves.”

What emerges is a picture of young Jewish adults who view Judaism as a channel for having fun, but don’t mind thinking deeply and looking at the religion’s ethics and traditions.

As you’d imagine, some people came on the weekend purely to make friends or hunt out potential partners suitable to bring to their parents’ Friday night dinner table. But even they got  swept along with the religious elements: “There was one girl who told me ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t do services’ but I persuaded her to give the Saturday morning Torah service a  chance, and she ended up getting into it,” Anna said. After she revealed that this service involved guitar and drum playing, plus singing and poetry  reading, you can see how a London ‘Girl about Town’ might like it more than the formal service at her local shul.

Anna and Avivit don’t run tent events to lure people back to Judaism, or with the hope of eventually directing them on to a Liberal synagogue. It is simply a response to a need that Liberal Judaism has picked up on; that 18 to 35-year-olds may be happy to work all week in a city firm, but deep down Jewish faith and culture still has a profound hold over them. More
importantly, having a Jewish element to their lives is a source of pleasure.

“Through tent people are experiencing new facets of Judaism. People who come are positively encouraged to bring non-Jewish partners and friends, and all our events are designed to be accessible to people with no Jewish knowledge,” Anna said.

Tent provides busy professionals with nights out they are willing to schedule alongside of gym sessions and bar crawls, because they combine the buzz of modern life with the comfort of keeping in touch with your Jewish roots.

To find out more about tent events, contact Liberal Judaism on 020 7631
9826, or email Avivit at a.katzil@liberaljudaism.org.