Or Zarua is created and maintained by its membership. We don’t have any paid staff or clergy, so our prayer and activities are all led and organized by member volunteers. Our commitment to making our own spiritual community is one of our biggest values.
Music is another core value. We sing together every time we gather, and our membership includes singers, songleaders, and musicians.
Study brings us together. When we study – be it during a Shabbat service, a session in a retreat, at the beginning of a committee meeting, or a special study group – we don’t just broaden our personal understanding of Jewish theology and Reconstructionist teachings. Studying in community grants us insights about one other. As we get to know other members of the community better through what we share as we study, our community draws closer around our Jewish faith and Reconstructionist principles.
We also have a lot of fun. This is a community of people who love to spend time together. We always have great food at our potlucks. We bake, watch movies, play games, sit around and schmooze. We like to go hiking together on the second day of Rosh Hashana and during our spring camping retreat.
Our children have a great time, too. Or Zarua is an opportunity for them to connect with kids of other ages. At school and many other activities, children are divided up by grade level, but at Or Zarua they are all mixed together. The older ones naturally step up to lead the younger ones, who are thrilled to be included by the big kids. The community of children is especially evident at the camping retreat, when the kids have lots of time for unstructured outdoor play.
Our membership includes people from many different backgrounds, including Jews by choice and interfaith families. Many of us also belong to other area congregations as well.
The governance system of Or Zarua is simple: we have a few committees and a board of directors. Twice a year we gather for community meetings. This is the time when we discuss important issues that the board does not decide alone, such as the direction we want to grow in. We also use this time to study texts together, sing, and – of course! – share a meal.
Or Zarua is affiliated with the national Reconstructionist movement. Reconstructionist Judaism embraces the totality of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. It offers a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life. Reconstructionist Judaism has been at the forefront of the movement for full inclusion of women and gays and lesbians. The first known bat mitzvah, in 1922, was of Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionism. In 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College became the first major rabbinical seminary to admit women, and in 1984 it was the first to admit openly gay and lesbian students.
More about Reconstructionist Judaism, from "Reconstructionist Judaism on One Page" by Josh Wirtschafter:
Civilization of the Jewish People
“Belonging” to the Jewish People comes before “behaving” or “believing.”
We live in two civilizations: Jewish and American (or Western/multi-cultural.) We should bring to Judaism the best ideas of modern culture, such as democracy and equality of women.
We value diverse Jewish languages, arts, customs, etc.
We support the right of Israel to exist, value its contributions to Jewish life, and challenge those
policies which conflict with other sacred values.
Judaism does not require a belief in God as a supernatural person.
- God is a power which inhabits the universe and the human heart, the creativity, beingness, oneness of the universe, the source of human generosity, sensitivity and concern for the world around us. (Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan)
- Creativity, goodness, etc. are godly. We strive for godliness. (Rabbi Harold M. Shulweis)
- It is we who attach the word “God” to our search for meaning, to our desire to find a word for that which evokes our sense of awe and wonder, humbles and inspires us, and calls us to its service. (Rabbi Arthur Green)
Torah is a sacred record of the Jewish People’s quest for God. We turn to Torah in our own quest for God.
Jews in every generation have a right and a responsibility to build on the foundation of Jewish tradition and reconstruct Judaism in a way that makes it meaningful in the present.
The past has a vote, not a veto.
Traditions can change when communities study a tradition and the spiritual needs which that tradition has fulfilled and consider whether this tradition can still meet those needs, or if reinterpretation, or even a change, is necessary to fulfill contemporary spiritual needs.
Reconstructionism in One Sentence: Judaism is the Evolving Religious Civilization of the Jewish People