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frequently asked questions

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Services & Programs

Where are your services held? How often are they?

Currently, due to COVID-19, all of our programs and services are hosted through Zoom. We look forward to returning to in person services as public health allows.

Our services are held at the First Unitarian Congregation near Richmond and Woodroffe (full address here). We regularly enjoy Shabbat morning together twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month. Services are followed by a vegetarian pot-luck. All are welcome! You can check out our calendar to find out about of our upcoming events.

Do I have to be Jewish to participate?

Absolutely not!  No matter your personal beliefs, you are invited to attend our services. We encourage non-Jews to participate in all aspects of our services with the exception of the Torah portion. Non-Jewish partners in member households are full voting members of our community. If you are interested in pursuing a connection to Judaism, we encourage you to come try us out!

What should I wear?

In terms of clothing, we have members that dress along the gamut from casual-formal to just plain casual. OrH does not have a dress code, and we are happy to welcome you as you are most comfortable. In terms of Jewish ritual garb, tallitot (prayer shawls) and kippot are regularly worn by members of all genders to services at OrH. We also provide ritual items for members and guest to try, if they so desire. 

What is the role of gender in your services?

At Or Haneshamah, we believe strongly in the right for equal participation of all genders. Whether you are male, female, or nonbinary, we encourage you to take part in our services however you are comfortable to do so! 

Does Or Haneshamah support the LGBTQ+ community?

Yes! Or Haneshamah is proud to support queer and LGBTQ+ community members, including our own rabbi! Rabbi Liz was the first openly gay rabbi to serve in the Ottawa area, and she continues to bring joy and mindful inclusivity to Or Haneshamah. OrH takes part in Capital Pride each year, and we work to make our community a safe place for members that are marginalized. 

How musical are services at OrH?

Music is central to our services! We enjoy singing much of the liturgy and often use a variety of tunes which we endeavor to teach to the community.

How much Hebrew is used at services?

At Or Haneshamah, our services are led in English, but we also enjoy singing and chanting in Hebrew. The service leader, either a member of Or Haneshamah or Rabbi Liz, will use English to explain the parts of the service, give page numbers, and facilitate a discussion about the week’s parsha (section of the Torah). Most of the praying is done in Hebrew, but the siddur (prayer book) that we use is “bilingual.” It includes transliterations of almost all the prayers, and it also includes interesting accompanying commentaries so that you can also have a full and meaningful service by reading in English only.

What if I'm unfamiliar with Jewish services? Will I still be able to follow along?

At Or Haneshamah, we work to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Our goal is that everyone, no matter their familiarity with Judaism, should feel that they have gained by attending. 

What makes Or Haneshamah unique?

The stories of our members’ relationship to, and history with, their own Judaism is diverse! We have members who grew up in Orthodox homes and others who have converted, some stumbled upon their hidden Jewish heritage, some explored other spiritual practices and traditions before returning to Judaism, and some simply found Reconstructionist Judaism speaking to them directly. Or Haneshamah offers a rich intellectual and spiritual path for deepening one’s relationship to Judaism in the context of an open-minded and caring community.

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Children & Youth Programming

Is my child considered to be Jewish?

Reconstructionist Jews, and members of Or Haneshamah consider a child Jewish if either parent is a Jew. We accept conversions done under all Jewish denominations. 

Do you offer children's Jewish education?

Machaneh Shabbat (Shabbat Camp) is our unique experiential learning program for young children on Saturday mornings. We offer two cohorts: Machaneh Aleph for pre-school children, and Machaneh Bet for primary school children. Machaneh Shabbat is a great way to learn about Jewish values and culture while also having fun!

What about B'nai Mitzvah opportunities?

Whether you are a parent of a child who will be 13 in a few years or an adult who never had their B'nai Mitzvah, we have an active program focused on creating a meaningful journey toward the day of celebration. The young people and at least one parent preparing for their B'nai Mitvah meet one Friday evening a month with our Rabbi Liz for a Shabbat meal and education session at members’ houses. Several members of the community are available to guide and support families throughout the two-year process.

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Beliefs & Reconstructionism

What is Reconstructionist Judaism anyway?

The central idea of Reconstructionism is that Judaism is more than a religion in the narrow sense but is a complete religious civilization, with its own art, music, literature, culture, and folk-ways - as well as religious rituals, ethics, and philosophical and theological discourse. Like all civilizations, Judaism is, and has always been, an evolving set of beliefs and practices.

Reconstructionism was founded by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), with a view to revitalizing Judaism in the modern world. Each generation of Jews is charged with the responsibility for envisioning the Judaism of its own time, and fashioning it anew out of inherited traditions and the record of its own experience. Reconstructionist Judaism strongly emphasizes the humanistic and naturalistic values in historical Judaism, and it places them in a context that reflects contemporary social conscience, philosophy, science, and the quest for spirituality.

Do I have to believe in God?

Whether members believe in God or not is a personal choice. Our members come from many different backgrounds and can be found in various places along the continuum of belief. We come together as community of like-minded people in our embrace of a Reconstructionist engagement with Judaism. 

What is "Reconstructing Judaism"?

Reconstructing Judaism is our international congregational affiliate organization. All Reconstructionist congregations are members of this movement. The website is a marvelous resource with an abundance of information on Reconstructionism and Judaism. We highly encourage you to check them out!

Do Reconstructionist services differ from other Jewish services?

It depends what you are used to! Our members join our Rabbi in leading services, including chanting the Torah. During regular services we usually have only 3 'aliyot' and except for the HHDs we do not chant Haftorah. Our dvar Torah is usually a short 'sermon' with a lengthy discussion among congregants.

In our congregation we encourage themed group aliyot (chanting of the Torah blessings.) Our Torah blessing has been adapted to eliminate the concept of chosenness of the Jewish people. As we are a welcoming and diverse community all Jewish members may participate equally in our services. Members who are not conversant with traditions may ask for coaching. Non-Jewish family members are welcome to join us for services but participation in the Torah service is limited to Jewish members. However they may wish to participate in the service with readings before or after the Torah service, and of course, they may join in our parsha discussion.

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Celebrations & Life Cycle Events

Which festivals do you celebrate as a community?

Or Haneshamah's festival celebrations include a community Passover Seder, a candle-lighting party for Hannukah, a Sukkot celebration, Simchat Torah, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Shavuot and, of course, a full series of events for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). We continue to encourage our members to take initiative and organize events and celebrations for the festival. In each and every case, though, no matter the form or structure, each festival celebration with Or Haneshamah is sure to have music, a convivial spirit, and, of course, great food.

Do you celebrate weddings?

During our 25 year history as a congregation several weddings have been celebrated. If you are interested in celebrating a wedding with our community, please contact Rabbi Liz directly with questions.

Do you conduct conversions?

Yes! We would love to guide you into joining the Jewish people. Please contact Rabbi Liz directly if you are interested in this process. We also accept as Jewish members conversions completed through other denominations.

Do you provide pastoral counselling?

Yes. For pastoral needs, we ask that you reach out directly to Rabbi Liz. If you are in need of assistance due to illness or bereavement, we also have a G'milut Hassadim Committee. The Hesed Committee is a network of volunteers that help OrH members in need of social support and transportation. 

Do you offer Jewish funeral services?

Or Haneshamah provides access to the Jewish Community Cemetery in Osgoode through an agreement with Temple Israel. Upon request Shiva services for members may be arranged.

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Community & More

How is the community governed?

Or Haneshamah is governed by a volunteer board of directors. Roles include chair, treasurer, secretary, membership coordinator, communications, learning coordinator, rituals coordinator and members at large. Members are elected for two-year terms and may sit on the board for a maximum of six years and be president for no more than four years. Board meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month.

How do I join the board? Do I have to be Jewish?

In order to join the board, you must be a member of Or Haneshamah. We do not require you to be Jewish, with the exception of the roles of president and ritual coordinator. The yearly board slate is elected at the Annual General Meeting at the end of May, however we do accept interim members. If you are a member and are interested in joining the board, please contact our Nominations Committee.

What are the volunteer oppurtunities and expectations?

Or Haneshamah has come a long way in the 25+ years we have been around but we are still a primarily volunteer-run organization. As such, we ask that our members donate some amount of their time and effort to help our services and programs run smoothly. We have a variety of teams and tasks for you to choose from. As we all know, Many Hands make light work!

Can I check out Or Haneshamah before joining?

Yes! Many of us “shopped around” to find a Jewish community that was right for us. We welcome, and even encourage, you to do the same. We look forward to spending some time with you as you explore options within the larger Ottawa Jewish community.

How do I learn more?

The best way to get to know us is to spend some time with us! Come visit us on a Shabbat morning or celebrate a festival with our community. We love to welcome guests and new faces. If you would like to talk first, feel free to reach out via email; we would be happy to answer any of your questions!

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Thu, 2 December 2021