Vision Statement from Rabbi Mychal Copeland

5 Year Vision for Sha’ar Zahav-Rabbi Mychal Copeland

I am inspired by the core strengths and mission set out in your congregational statement.  Since a visioning plan is a process that unfolds as a partnership between lay and professional leadership and not a top-down process, I build off of the stated core strengths in order to ground this vision in the organic, unfolding process of this intentional community.  How does one sense upon walking through the door at Sha’ar Zahav the core values of the institution?  How are they felt as people are interacting?  The grounding for a vision at Sha’ar Zahav begins with B’tzelem Elohim, a striving to honor each individual in their uniqueness, and celebrating what emerges when those individuals come together as a community.  When each person is treated as a reflection of divinity, they will be able to most fully bring their whole selves in “shlemut,” wholeness, in order to continually transform Judaism.

In five years, Sha’ar Zahav has successfully navigated the transition to a new Rabbi, has grown in membership, is a bustling and innovative Jewish hub in San Francisco, and the congregation is known inside and outside of its walls as a key progressive voice in the Bay Area, especially regarding the intersection of LGBTQI identities with religion.  This vision is based in the following core strength areas:

Ruach Elohim: God imbued Betzalel with “Divine Spirit” in every kind of creative craft [Exodus 31:2]  

In five years, there is a resurgence of the creativity that led to the Siddur.  An ongoing innovation project focusing on the creation of new liturgy and ritual begins with designated times and spaces, borne out of the current need for spiritual sustenance and generativity amidst political turmoil.  As a community, we focus on the Jewish practice of gratitude through blessings (a multi-session class, “Developing a Gratitude Practice During Trying Times,” where participants write the prayer they most need to hear right now).  The community innovates around ritual as new moments and milestones emerge that beg to be marked (attending a rally, gathering strength before visiting extended family with differing viewpoints).  Saturday morning continues to be a time and space for innovation along a diversity of paths, and expands to include Jewish Yoga before services and community Torah study.

Kolot: Each person at Mount Sinai heard the “voices” of God differently [Midrash on Exodus 19:16]

What makes Sha’ar Zahav unique against the backdrop of the San Francisco Jewish community is the diversity of its members and potential members.  Straight Jews and their loved ones are attracted to SZ for its ability to embrace and celebrate diversity and innovation, unafraid to challenge tradition.  LGBTQI Jews and their loved ones flock to SZ knowing that there are other places to be LGBTQI and Jewish, but only one place where those identities are normative, celebrated, and guide the community.  Near the new tapestries at the front entrance featuring stories of community members is a bright display of t-shirts, rainbow Judaica including mezuzot, tallitot and kippot, queer ketubot and books written by members LGBTQI and straight, and others featuring LGBTQI Jewish themes, demonstrating that this is the Jewish, queer normative space in the Bay Area where a diverse rainbow of people join together to create one, vibrant community.

N’div Lev: Every person will bring a gift from the heart [Exodus 25:2]

Sha’ar Zahav is a place where people make commitments toward the community.  For the most committed and engaged members of Sha’ar Zahav, some of the initial energy focuses on bringing the community through this leadership transition.  Pastoral counseling is key as relationships are formed and solidified, a new leader is trusted, and staff feel unified in their vision and held emotionally.  Just as any good ritual carries us from one stage of life, through a period of liminality, and then onto a new stage in the safety of community, there is great spiritual intentionality during this transition.

The Beit Sefer creates a consistency of vision and expands to include a forum for teens to both emerge as leaders and to be nurtured.  Shabbat services continue to benefit from the commitment of lay leaders while the overall quality becomes more consistent.  For those seeking a greater depth in their Jewish learning, a Bet Midrash weeknight features a host of different classes taught by staff and lay leaders, creating an energy in the building on a night other than Shabbat.  Over lunch on Shabbat afternoon, a lively, intellectual and relevant Torah study brings people to Sha’ar Zahav who don’t connect with prayer.  Classes focus on social action in connection with the Tikkun Olam efforts of the community, from exploring the roots of social justice in Judaism to learning about Islam.  Sha’ar Zahav partners with other religious communities, and comes together for political phone calling over pizza to fight feelings of isolation and despair.

Ohel patuach: Abraham and Sarah’s “open tent” represents radical hospitality [Genesis 18]

In becoming a truly welcoming community, we constantly ask, “How would you know that welcoming is a core value when you walk in the door for the first time?”  A targeted marketing campaign brings in new members from around the greater Bay Area, focusing on LGBTQI outlets, parents of school age children who are unaffiliated and seeking late entry into the Bnei Mitzvah process, interfaith couples looking for non-judgmental spaces (only 11% of LGBTQI Jews choose a Jewish partner, and 70% of the general non-Orthodox Jewish population is inter-partnering), and older, unaffiliated adults who left the Jewish community many years ago.  Sha’ar Zahav hosts LGBTQI interfaith couples meet ups around the Bay, just one way to be “beyond the walls,” finding people where they are rather than hoping they enter the building.  At the shul, we truly listen to partners from other backgrounds and integrate them into the life of the community by honoring their unique perspectives.  There is a rise in membership amongst those in interracial partnerships and non-white Jews who previously struggled to find places I the Bay that honor their diversity.  Sha’ar Zahav is known not merely as a place for Jews, but rather as a community where a relevant, joyful Judaism thrives for anyone seeking it.

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