A Canadian at OHALAH 2013


A few years ago, as I tentatively began my studies with ALEPH, I was asked, “Are you going to אוהלה Ohalah?”

At the time, an ohalah (tent) did not seem a very substantial place for study and meeting, and I did not go. I now understand what an OHALAH is, Renewal style: every year, the ALEPH talmidim / students and ordained klei kodesh / sacred vessels gather in Boulder, Colorado. It is participation in a true pilgrimage; a convergence to meet and learn, pray and share, eat and hug in four dimensions. This is how I imagined the pilgrimage holidays of our ancestors; assiyah doing, yetsirah feeling, beri‘ah knowing, and atzilut being.

In reality, the gathering had a rhythm, and here is a synopsis of Ohalah 2013: Shabbat: students arrive and lead the services. Two Canadian students were shlichot tzibur / prayer leaders: Susan Shamash co-led Kabbalat Shabbat, and I co-led at the Torah service, with Reb Daniel and Hanna Tiferet as Shaharit mentors. After Shabbat, students gathered for an impromptu open ‘mic’ and a preview of the cabaret night that was coming on Tuesday. On Sunday, the ceremonies began: in the morning the new talmidim, including myself as a new Rabbinic Pastor student, were officially introduced and Reb Zalman gave us all a special teaching session. In the afternoon, family and friends arrived for the Smicha ceremony, and six new musmachim were ordained: Rabbis Hanalei Ableman Laner and Elyse Seidner-Joseph; Rabbinic Pastors Patrice Spitz, Larissa Blechman, and Sandra Wortzel; and Cantor Shulamit Wise Fairman. Afterward, there was a musical reception with a dance band led by Hazzan Jack Kessler.

The Ohalah Conference officially opened on Sunday night; the theme this year was, “MiKol M’Lamdai Hiskalti: From All My Teachers I have Learned”. A special session was held, honouring Reb Leah Novick for her Jewish Renewal leadership and her profound work on Shekhinah and the Divine Feminine.

On Monday, davvenen, study sessions, meals, and presentations began in earnest, and continued through lunch on Wednesday. There was a shuk, co-ordinated by Charlotte Sutker of Victoria, offering Judaica, books and music for purchase, and I bought some CDs and a kippah from one of my teachers, Rabbi Shulamit Thiede (see photo).

Kippah by Rabbi S. Thiede notyourbrotherskippah

Kippah by Rabbi S. Thiede notyourbrotherskippah

Rather than list of all the many workshops and programs, I’ll take you through Ohalah with a sample of what I did: For Shacharit I chose the contemplative service with Rabbis Nadya Gross and Shohama Wiener; and I understand that the Torah Service in another room, with Hazzan Shoshana Brown was richly gospel-laden.

After breakfast, the Keynote Address was by Rabbi Rachel Adler, “What is Tradition, and How Do We Learn From It?” I took a break afterward and went outdoors in the below freezing weather for a swim, and I learned Jewish gospel tunes while soaking in the hot tub with a few expert hazzanim. Where else but Ohalah/Colorado could one do this! My hair froze into an icy bouffant, but it was worth it!

Minchah: I attended a musical healing service of affirmations and chants, led by Rabbinic Pastors Shulamit Fagan and Stephanie Tivona Reith. There was a ‘Clergy Internet Toolkit’ session in the afternoon, invaluable to Renewal teachers. I chose to attend a T’hillim session where we learned to sing t’hillim / Psalms in a new way, a haunting call and answer of music and words in an ancient format, led by Cantor Jalda Rebling. Afterward, I had dinner and retreated into my room. Did I mention that the food was amazing? And every food need was well met, from regular meals, to gluten free and raw and vegan options.

Monday and Tuesday were similar in format. The highlight of Tuesday was the “Plenary Panel on Halachah: Honoring the Past, Finding Our Way”. This panel presentation and its breakout discussion groups focused on the halachah of food, eating, and how our home communities are making ethical and halachic decisions. The panelists included ALEPH Canada’s Reb Daniel Siegel and Reb Laura Duhan Kaplan.

And, finally, there was a general meeting of OHALAH members, the annual gathering under the tent to discuss where we are and where we are going. Before closing on Wednesday, Reb Zalman gave a final teaching, “Divine Sparks From Our Zaide”. Reb Zalman was present for much of OHALAH and gave us many spontaneous teachings, as well as affirming our work. His main message: we all need to keep the God connection close, with so much technology we are all drifting and even the environment is starting to respond with wake up calls.

I am glad I finally went to OHALAH, it was not only an educational retreat, it was truly a gathering of the four corners of a great tallit into a shelter of shalom, a place where we could be in person together, in four dimensions…Susan J. Katz images

*article courtesy of ALEPH Canada: