Beit Tefilah Israeli

Beit Tefilah Israeli is a creative, innovative and inclusive Jewish-Israeli grassroots community and organization that offers meaningful Jewish ritual, study, activism and a sense of belonging to the Israeli public and all those who choose to join us.

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel , Israel
Year founded: 2004

Description

Beit Tefilah Israeli (BTI), founded in 2004, is a creative, vibrant and inclusive Jewish-Israeli grassroots community and organization offering meaningful Jewish-cultural ritual, study and community life to the general Israeli public.

Our mission is: to provide a variety of liberal and egalitarian Jewish-Israeli community gatherings and programming for Shabbat and holiday services, lifecycle events, and Jewish-Israeli identity exploration.
At the core of our activity are the questions: How can we glean meaning out of our Jewish tradition to help us face modern challenges, specifically in the modern Israeli context? How can modern Israeli thought, music and poetry inform our sense of identity and spirituality? 

Experiential Jewish-Israeli activities take place both in our permanent residence in Tel Aviv and in the public sphere, at locations such as the Tel Aviv Port, Tel Aviv’s old train station, on IDF bases, at schools, city parks,  and other non-traditional ritual settings. 

BTI targets secular and traditional Jewish-Israelis, seeking to connect with and explore their Jewish identity, Jewish-Israeli culture and build a spiritual community. BTI has remained unaffiliated, which has allowed us access to a wide range of communities, from secular to Orthodox.

For so many reasons, BTI has struck many chords in Tel Aviv – musical, spiritual, community, alternative and renewal chords. Much more than a passing fad, BTI is a growing life source that has trended upwards for eleven years.  Filling a void, BTI provides community; and individuals, families, young and old are finding refuge in its open tent.  BTI offers a sense of belonging, the continuity of a home, a strong foundation and point of context for marking the Jewish calendar year, for celebrating life cycle events, for expressing one’s essential Israeli connection to Jewish culture and ritual.

Open Tent Shabbat and Holidays: Israeli-Judaism in the Public Sphere

About

Funding is requested to enable Beit Tefilah Israeli
to conduct Shabbat and holiday services in the public sphere. The project will
impact 30,000 participants in a given year and will have a ripple effect on
pluralistic Jewish-Israeli identity.

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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

The mission of this program is to offer meaningful Jewish-Israeli experiences in the public sphere for holiday commemorations and celebrations. We reach people where they are, capture their interest and challenge them to explore Jewish identity with us. 

Beit Tefilah Israeli (BTI)  has developed a unique model of rituals and ceremonies based on the principles of innovation, deconstruction and the use of the arts. The intricate musical choreography and aesthetics of our ceremonies uses artifacts, emotion and process to penetrate deeply, in an effort of making a long-lasting impact on participants. The decade of trial and error in developing this model has led us to successful, yet dynamic, models of programming.

BTI targets secular and traditional Jewish-Israelis, seeking to connect with and explore their Jewish identity, Jewish-Israeli culture and build a spiritual community. BTI has remained unaffiliated, which has allowed us access to a wide range of communities, from secular to Orthodox.

For so many reasons, BTI has struck many chords in Tel Aviv – musical, spiritual, community, alternative and renewal chords. Much more than a passing fad, BTI is a growing life source that has trended upwards for eleven years.  Filling a void, BTI provides community; and individuals, families, young and old are finding refuge in its open tent.  BTI offers a sense of belonging, the continuity of a home, a strong foundation and point of context for marking the Jewish calendar year, for celebrating life cycle events, for expressing one’s essential Israeli connection to Jewish culture and ritual.

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Program Description

BTI established the Open
Tent Shabbat and Holidays: Israeli-Judaism in the Public Sphere
program in 2007.
We were the first community organization to step outside the synagogue and offer
free services in public spaces and we are proud to be a trend setter in
Israel.  Many other pluralistic
congregations in Israel have been inspired by BTI, and from time to time they
break down their walls and reach out through activates in the public sphere. Through
our activities we estimate that in 2014 we reached 30,000 people, and since our
founding in 2004, we estimate we have reached 200,000 – with numbers growing
each year. Our influence on social media widens our scope with over 121,000
views on Youtube, 11,000 likes on Facebook and over 5,000 subscribers to our
weekly e-bulletin. 

Open Tent Shabbat and Holidays: Israeli-Judaism in the Public
Sphere

The
project aims to reinterpret Jewish holidays and move ritual from the home or
synagogue into the public sphere. With ten years of experience, BTI has
developed unique programs for the Jewish calendar that grapple with newfound
meaning of the holidays, for the Jewish nation in the land and the State of
Israel. Our program is guided by finding the balance between commemorating the
ancient and finding a new uniquely Israel expression of our historic roots. By moving
Jewish ritual into the public sphere were are stating: This heritage belongs to
all and is open to all.

Our
holiday calendar of events in the public sphere includes:

- 
Summer Shabbat
services at TLV Port:
During the months of July and
August, our community moves services to the deck of the Tel Aviv Port and we
open services to the wide public. We estimate up to 1000 people participate in
our Kabbalat Shabbat services every week during summer months.

- 
Rosh Hashana:
Tashlich ceremony at TLV Port for 1000 people and at Herzelia Marina for 400
people.

- 
Yom Kippur: services at a public theater in Tel
Aviv or another large location (Examples: ZOA House, Lassalle Hall) for 500
people.

- 
Sukkot: in
2014 BTI built the World’s Largest Sukkah at the Tel Aviv Port: Activities for
families over the eight days of Sukkot took place from 10am-10pm every day,
including: daily musical egalitarian prayers, lectures and lessons, musical
performances of Piutim and Israeli music, thematic evening programs – on topics
such as: Kohelet, klezmer music, Israeli Tefilah, poetry, etc., and open-space
egalitarian Simchat Torah celebrations.

- 
Hanukah: Candle
lighting at “Festigal” (Israel’s annual children’s festival) in front of 7000
participants.

- 
Purim: celebrations
at the old Tel Aviv Train Station “Hatahana” with lively megilah reading for
500 people.

- 
Pesach: Freedom
Seder with African refugees and asylum seekers in Park Levinsky in South Tel
Aviv for 400 people.

- 
Yom
Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut Havdala:
BTI developed a unique
service that marks the sharp change in emotion from mourning to elation, based
on traditional Jewish sources, Israeli music and poetry and creative
innovations. This takes place at ZOA House or Lasalle House for 400 people.

- 
Shavuot: “Tikkun”
all night learning, in cooperation with Alma. In the late night hours of
Shavuot (from 9pm – sunrise) we hosted over 20 study sessions with academic and
spiritual Jewish studies experts, for 800 participants.

- 
Tisha Be'av: ceremony and megilah reading at the Beit Ariela central
municipal library in Tel Aviv


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Demonstrated Need

Many Israeli-Jews identify with pluralistic Judaism, but they are not inclined to join a synagogue or take an active role in traditional Jewish settings.  Likewise, many Israelis are thirsty to find a communal way to explore their identity and find inspiration in sharing Jewish celebrations, outside of their homes.  BTI presents a wide array of celebrations that answer these needs. If presented in an accessible, family-friendly and unconventional way, Israelis will find themselves attracted to BTI’s Shabbat and holiday celebrations. They will relate to and find meaning in the content, messages and values – finally finding a way to express and explore their Jewish-Israeli identity.

Israelis
who identify as “secular” are increasingly looking to find ways to explore their
Jewish identity in unconventional frameworks. Unlike any other Jewish pluralism
organization in Israel, BTI is positioned to meet the spiritual and personal
needs of those seeking, and through the course of positive experiences in our
community, change their own stereotypes and assumptions about Judaism. 

BTI
aims to target unaffiliated, secular and traditional Israelis looking for a way
to celebrate and commemorate the Jewish calendar in a creative way, in a
community space. In a given year, we reach over 30,000 individuals through our
Shabbat and holiday activities in Tel Aviv and the vicinity.  The individuals we reach include: men and
women (sharing equal parts in all activities), young and old, people with
disabilities, Jews from Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage, people who frequent services
often, and those for whom BTI is their first positive encounter with Judaism.

A 2009 Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) poll[1], evaluating religious trends in Israel found overwhelming commitment to Jewish life among Jewish-Israelis. Critical findings include: 

  • Observance of festival customs: A vast majority of Israeli Jews (85%) said that it is important to celebrate Jewish festivals in the traditional manner, but they do so selectively. An overwhelming majority (90%) think this about the Passover Seder; many (82%) say that they light Hanukkah candles. A smaller percentage refrain from eating hametz on Passover (67%), fast on Yom Kippur (68%), listen to the public reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim (36%), or take part in an all-night study session on Shavuot (20%). 
  • At the same time, most Israeli Jews also want to preserve individual freedom of choice and are in favor of permitting weekday activities on the Sabbath in the public space. While ritual is important to the majority, Israelis also express their support for cultural activities on Shabbat and holidays, outside of the home or synagogue. - More than 60% support allowing cultural events and sports activities to take place on the Sabbath; 58% support public transportation on the Sabbath and permitting shopping centers to do business as usual. 
  • According to the IDI poll, there is growing awareness and acceptance of non-Orthodox options for Judaism; most Israeli Jews (61%) believe that non-Orthodox movements should have equal status with the Orthodox.
Further, a Hiddush poll in 2013 found that the majority of Israelis oppose the current status of religion in Israel. Only 33% believe that the Chief Rabbinate and rabbinic courts should continue their monopoly on Judaism in Israel and 70% oppose the continued existence of Chief Rabbinate in its current form.[2] 

BTI, while essentially a response to individual and community need for authentic, nonsectarian religious space, is also a significant symbol of the battle for religious freedom, not in court but on the ground. The traditional religious-secular divide bas been broken in today’s Israel: BTI responds to the most relevant spiritual and cultural needs of the unaffiliated and those seeking more meaningful engagement. The challenge of building a “synagogue without walls,” a real open tent for all, has been taken literally by BTI through our free and accessible activities conducted in public spaces. Israelis who identify as “secular” are increasingly looking to find ways to explore their Jewish identity in unconventional frameworks. Unlike any other Jewish pluralism organization in Israel, BTI is positioned to meet the spiritual and personal needs of those seeking, and through the course of positive experiences in our community, change their own stereotypes and assumptions about Judaism. 

[1] http://en.idi.org.il/analysis/idi-press/publications/english-books/a-portrait-of-israeli-jews-beliefs-observance-and-values-of-israeli-jews-2009/ [2] http://hiddush.org/article-2567-0-2013_Religion_and_State_Index.aspx


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Program Accomplishments

The
successes of BTI are apparent in our substantial growth over these past 11
years.  From just an idea, BTI has become
a mainstay in the Jewish pluralism movement in Israel. Many of our challenges
relate to the rapid growth of our organization and our efforts to find the fine balance between cultivating
the core community and our public sphere activities. BTI’s core community of members
is committed to using the public sphere to celebrate and to advancing the “big
tent” mission of reaching a wide audience.  We struggle, however, with balancing the needs
of the more intimate needs of the community with the goal of making a larger
impact on Israeli society. Fundamentally, we believe the core community is what
makes BTI thrive – this is not a parade or carnival the municipality is putting
on, rather, it is a meaningful religious/cultural service a community has built
for itself and which the community successfully shares with the public.


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How do you measure the success of your program?

We measure success through measuring outputs and outcomes that make a change. We want to evaluate not only how many people we reach but the level of commitment they demonstrate, by moving them up on the engagement scale. We believe this program has been extremely successful, as the numbers grow annually.

Outputs:

•  Reach
10,000 individuals annually at Kabbalot Shabbat, 15,000 at the Sukkah and 5,000 annually through the holiday programs.

•  Conduct 10 Kabbalot
Shabbat ceremonies at the Tel Aviv Port

•  As a result of attending
public sphere Shabbat events, 70% of participants will testify to an increase
in participation in BTI events or other Shabbat celebrations.

•  Host over 50 unique events in the Sukkah

•  Increase the number of communities using our Yom Ha’zikaron/ Yom Ha’aztzmaut Havdalah ceremony (currently at 20)

•  Media coverage in key media outlets of activities

•  As a result of attending our Sukkah, sign up 200 new people to our newsletter, add 500 new likes on Facebook and bring in 50 new member units

Outcomes:

•  Engage Israelis with pluralistic Judaism through positive experiences

•  Offer meaningful Jewish-Israeli experiences that explore personal identity and communal purpose

•  Change the discourse around Judaism and offer a meaningful pluralistic alternative 

•  Reach new individuals
and communities and inspire others to follow our model

•  Change the discourse
around Judaism and offer a meaningful pluralistic alternative

•  Set a model for Tel Aviv
and other cities for pluralistic public Israeli-Judaism  

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