Our Lineage and Values
Ner Shalom is affiliated as a Reconstructionist synagogue. The Reconstructionist Movement was founded in 1955 by philosopher and theologian, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. Reconstructionism is marked by a view of Judaism as an unfolding civilization, an insistence on non-anthropomorphic God language, a rejection of "chosenness", and a deep engagement in social justice and equality. (The first bat mitzvah in America was that of Kaplan's own daughter.)
Our ritual practice at Ner Shalom draws heavily from the insights and style of the Jewish Renewal Movement, with roots back to the 1960s, spearheaded and centralized by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in the 1990s. The Jewish Renewal Movement brings the spiritual practices and experiences of Kabbalah and Chasidism into the ritual engagement of modern, progressive Jews. At Ner Shalom, you will notice the use of niggunim (wordless melodies), Hebrew chants, meditation, visualization, joyous dance and other modalities for direct experience of the Divine during ritual. These are all the contributions of the Jewish Renewal Movement.
Ner Shalom is a welcoming community that sees itself as "radically inclusive". Our membership includes interfaith families, LGBTQI members, people with disabilities and their families. We insist on a scent-free policy so that Ner Shalomers with environmental illness can have unfettered access to our rituals and activities. We support families who have children with special needs and maintain a community value of non-shushing. We are open to individuals who do not come from Jewish backgrounds if our style of worship and community is meaningful to them. Many of our members are returning to Judaism after spiritual searches in other traditions, so we work to keep our rituals engaging and accessible, and not requiring previous detailed knowledge of Jewish texts or Hebrew language. Our spiritual direction is set in large part by the work of our Kavanah, or "Ritual Life" Committee, headed up by Reb Irwin.
Under the leadership of our Spiritual Leader, Reb Irwin Keller, Ner Shalom seeks to respond to the evolving spiritual needs of our growing community. We welcome Shabbat together on the first and third Fridays of each month with joy, music and learning; supported by Chantleader Atzilah Solot and the talented Good Shabbos Band. On those nights we enjoy Reb Irwin's inspiring drashot (teachings) on Torah and transformation, which can also be listened to here. On the second Friday of the month we hold our Messengers of Peace Chant Evening, under the leadership of Chantleader Atzilah. And on roughly the last Saturday of the month, we hold a Shabbat morning service with Torah leyening and learning.
We gather as a community to mark important moments in the rhythm of the Jewish year. We joyously celebrate Chanukah, Simchat Torah and Purim. We hold an annual creative Passover Seder. We mark Tisha B'Av and join in the countywide commemoration of Yom Hashoah. And we celebrate the High Holy Days in very deep, creative and transformative ways every year. Many members of Ner Shalom are musicians, poets and artists who bring their gifts to bear in our varied rituals.
On High Holy Days (and other times) we read Torah using a method called Storahtelling, that involves live translation, theatrical elements and group engagement, in which new midrash, or creative insight, is developed. Storahtelling was developed by Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie in the early 2000s.
Politics and Spirit
Because of the rapidly evolving political landscape, Ner Shalom has stepped up to support our community’s changing spiritual needs. We hold a weekly short livestream called the Ner Shalom Oasis to provide a calm center to each week’s struggles and activism. We also, in 2017, launched the Ner Shalom Social Justice Café, tapping into our deep Jewish roots of social action. Ner Shalom continues to be in active leadership in Of One Soul, the initiative of the Interfaith Coalition of Sonoma County that works to protect the safety and dignity of the Muslim community, which Reb Irwin co-chairs. Seeing local, national and international events through the lens of our spiritual vision is a key Ner Shalom outlook.
Ner Shalom works to build community inside and outside of our historic building. For instance, our Shabbastopol Chavurah, provides West County Ner Shalom members an opportunity to gather for Shabbat dinner in private homes. Our Sapling Chavurah hosts Shabbat morning nature walks for families with young children. Our Caring Community (Chesed Team) addresses the needs of Ner Shalom members who are ill, isolated, in crisis or who have chronic needs. Our Non-Gendered Shvesterhood comes together to meet some of the backstage needs that synagogue life has, and births surprising new friendships in the process. And our Fun Club offers some new social programming, just for fun, such as multi-generational bowling parties.
The Ner Shalom community is proud to welcome young people into the community as b'nei mitzvah, and to help older members reconnect and recommit to their Jewish spiritual life as adult b'nei mitzvah. We hold weddings and baby namings at Ner Shalom as the happy need arises.
We also provide support in the case of the death of a member or a close loved one. Our spiritual leadership team is available to officiate funerals and minyanim in a shivah house. Ner Shalom is currently in the process of developing its own cemetery section in Sebastopol – a Jewish cemetery reflecting our living community's principles of inclusion.
Ner Shalom continues to be a hub of activity in our community. Susie Miller’s “Unfold Your Creative Spirit” art studio, located in the building, keeps a busy schedule of art journaling classes. The New School at Commonweal holds on-stage conversations, hosted by Reb Irwin, with artists and thinkers in the community, including poets Alison Luterman and Larry Robinson, authors Sumbul Ali-Karamali and Lily Brett, Radical Faerie organizer Chas Nol, and musician and activist Holly Near. Ner Shalom also leans into the history of the building as the Cotati Cabaret by producing concerts meant both to help fund Ner Shalom and to create larger community to give life to our building and to support our programs. Ner Shalom "Big Night Out" performers have included Naomi Newman, Linda Hirschhorn, Mostly Kosher, The Kinsey Sicks, Zoe Lewis, and Holly Near.