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New Jewish congregation meets at Aurora University

At A Glance

Services for Rosh Hashana at Aurora Jewish Renewal Congregation will start at sundown Sunday and Monday at the Wackerlin Center at Aurora University. Monday afternoon’s service will be followed by a potluck lunch at Jericho Lake. Yom Kippur begins at sundown Sept. 25. Contact Karen Christiansen at

Updated: September 13, 2012 5:19PM

Jewish families from around Aurora are celebrating the new year in a new home.

The Aurora Jewish Renewal Congregation formed from families of several temples and synagogues throughout the Fox Valley, many of whom were looking for a more modern and inclusive approach to Jewish worship.

“We’re not necessarily in competition with existing congregations,” said Karen Christiansen, one of the congregation’s founders. “Rather it’s an alternative to what exists in the area.”

Unlike more traditional synagogues and temples, the Aurora Jewish Renewal Congregation uses a relaxed structure that focuses on faith education and applying those lessons to community action. Members attend Sabbath services in a circle, taking turns reading from the Torah and leading discussions. They concentrate on making readings and prayer accessible.

“If you were to come to services, whether high holidays or Sabbath, everyone in the group is participating in discussion,” Christiansen said. “We send out information to everyone before services with themes, and people who want to bring their own experiences, stories and readings are fully engaged. It’s totally communal; it’s totally lay led.”

Women are included in all facets of worship. The Torah is read in its original Hebrew, but translated to English immediately after, both for those who grew up Jewish but may have lost some of their religious education over the years, and for non-Jewish friends and family members.

“Our belief from our own experience is that there are many, many people in this area who have some connection to Judaism,” Christiansen said. “We’re hoping to reach people who may have stopped thinking they’re connected. Maybe their extended family has moved away, maybe they had a bad experience with their Hebrew education as kids, maybe they’re part of an interfaith relationship and don’t think they’re non-Jewish partner will be welcome. There are a whole lot of reasons someone may have lost their connection.”

But the congregation hopes not only to reconnect with their faith but to make a connection with the larger community as well.

The congregation is founded on a three-legged stool of values: tzedakah, which means charity; hesed, meaning loving kindness; and tikkun olam, or healing the world.

Service, particularly involving and inspiring young people in their projects, was a natural progression for the group, which includes mostly middle-aged or retired members.

“We sat down as elders and said, ‘What can we do to make a contribution to our own community so we are living our values?’” Christiansen said. “So we don’t talk just about problems within society, but what are the talents and energy we can bring to get involved in social justice. These are values important to us as individuals, and as a community, and how do we express these values in the place where we live.”

To that end, the congregation meets at the Wacklerin Center for Faith in Action at Aurora University, where members hope the campus connection will help them mentor young people interested in faith-based service.

“We’re looking for a way to pass our wisdom down to young people, and when you’re in college, you’re in a stage in life when you have almost no responsibilities — you’re on a personal path to discovery,” Christiansen said. “We’re hoping to connect with students interested in Judaism or the notion of living your personal values, particularly as they relate to social action.”

Meanwhile, the congregation is awaiting the delivery of a Torah from Poland, which members are hoping will arrive in time for the High Holidays.

Services are open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Jewish faith or in faith-based social justice projects and will be at the Wackerlin Center at Aurora University.

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