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What is a Kehilla?

Defined most simply, a kehilla is a community, a group of people who have come together with shared purpose and in fellowship.

Kehilla is the singular, kehillot the plural.

Following Jewish tradition, we are going one step farther. As we use the word, a kehilla is a sacred community, a group formed by Jews who have joined with each other to seek God, to explore and live out their understanding of Jewishness, to offer and to get support, to share joy and sorrow, to learn and grow together, to explore the meaning of their lives and the wisdom of their ancestors.

We are using the term kehilla because we have outgrown the words with which we feel so very comfortable. We used to call our sacred communities temples, which sounded grand and helped our immigrant grandparents and great grandparents fit into the culture that surrounded them. We have called them shuls, a cozy-sounding word that recalls our eastern European past, perhaps more rosily than accurately; we have called them synagogues, sounding official and vaguely foreign. We have called them congregations, which is true but bland. Now we are returning to our sacred language, Hebrew, to call them kehillot.

We also use the term kehilla to go beyond the traditional understanding of a synagogue. A sacred community can be an institution where people go to pray and mark lifecycle events. It also can be a school, a summer camp, or an informal lay-led minyan or chavurah – small prayer groups. It can be whatever like-minded community-seeking Jews form when they come together to search for God and meaning in their lives.

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