Praying out of a suitcase

I gave this D’var Torah (sermon) at Windy City Minyan on April 21, 2017 — my last minyan as an official member of the steering committee. Read on for my thoughts on what this group has meant to me over the last six years.


If you’ve ever come to Windy City Minyan a little early, or stayed until the end to help clean up, you may have noticed a unique prop – a special suitcase. This suitcase contains everything we need to make our minyan possible, items like siddurim, kippot, a Kiddush cup, plates, napkins, signs, dry erase markers, painters tape, and doorstoppers. Wherever our minyan takes place, this suitcase comes with us; and in the weeks between minyans, it lives in the apartment of one of our generous committee members.

It’s sort of a like a community-in-a-box, a community on wheels. Instant minyan, just add singing.

This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, describes Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons and their burnt offering to God. We also learn about the laws of keeping kosher – verse after verse of which animals we can and cannot eat. But it was the Haftarah portion for Shemini that most reminded me of our little third Friday of the month gatherings.

The Haftarah portion comes from Second Samuel and describes David transporting the Ark from place to place. Chapter 6, verses 3-5: “They loaded the Ark of God onto a new cart and conveyed it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Abinadab’s sons, Uzza and Ahio, guided the new cart. They conveyed it from Abinadab’s house on the hill, Uzza walking alongside the Ark of God and Ahio walking in front of the Ark. Meanwhile, David and all the House of Israel danced before the Lord to the sound of all kinds of cypress wood instruments, with lyres, harps, timbrels, sistrums, and cymbals.”

Over the course of the Haftarah, the Ark is moved from place to place, and David hopes that it will soon have a permanent home in Jerusalem.

This Haftarah portion – and being a regular at Windy City Minyan – makes me think about the location of a community and if location even matters.

Many synagogues and other religious institutions are well-known for beautifully designed sanctuaries, lovingly named for the families who donated thousands of dollars to create such spaces. I work at one such synagogue, and prospective congregants marvel at the grandeur of the sanctuary and chapel. To me, a spiritual community is about so much more than a physical space. It’s about the people, the melodies, the food, the schmoozing, the networking. The smiles, the laughter, the friendships, and please oh please can some of you seriously start dating each other already?

This month, we celebrate the sixth “minyan-niversary” of Windy City Minyan. I am honored to have been there from the beginning as one of the minyan’s co-founders, and I am so proud to see it continue to be so successful today. I am sad to step down from my role as one of the minyan’s steering committee members, but I am so incredibly happy to know that this little girl in my tummy soon will be born into a world where Windy City Minyan exists.

In our Torah portion, in Leviticus chapter 11, after God describes the animals we can and cannot eat (for the record, some of the impure animals mentioned in the portion are moles, mice, great lizards of every variety, geckos, land crocodiles, and chameleons), God says: “For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.”

To me, this minyan has meant holiness.

It’s odd, because for those of us on the steering committee, the work that we put into this minyan doesn’t always feel very holy. We paid the room rental for tonight’s minyan. We made sure we had enough yards of tablecloth on our tablecloth roll. What’s the menu for tonight? Did we run out of garbage bags at last month’s minyan? Did someone find a host for next month’s service? Who can lead Kabbalat Shabbat? This minyan has taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about marketing, social media, room rental contracts, Shabbat worship melodies, other Jewish organizations, apartment layouts, acoustics, and logistics.

But at least for me, when I leave these gatherings on the third Friday of every month, I’m on such a high. My feet hurt, I usually have had only cookies for dinner, and I had to cut short my pre-Shabbat nap, but I could stay here with a smile on my face all night long (much to the chagrin of my husband, Adam).

Our group has brought together people from all walks of life, from all Jewish backgrounds, from all parts of the world, a range of ages. For a few hours on a Friday night, we transform a party room, or a living room, or even that one time we met in an art gallery, into a kehilah kedosha, a holy community. Our voices come together in song, we learn from one another in our Divrei Torah and Shabbat Nuggets, and we celebrate the magic of Shabbat together.

Next month, the suitcase will travel to a new location (and if you’re willing to let that location be your living room, please talk to one of the committee members!), just like David’s Ark moved from place to place in our Haftarah. Will Windy City Minyan ever have a permanent home, as David hopes the Ark will have in Jerusalem? Probably not a permanent physical home; but definitely a permanent spiritual home that lives within all of us in this room.

I’m sad my committee involvement is coming to an end, less time with all of you hanging up welcome signs, passing out siddurim, and creating Facebook events, but I’ll definitely come back to visit often with the youngest and cutest little davener coming along with me. Because I hope Windy City Minyan and other groups like ours will continue to flourish for her and for all future generations.

I would like to thank our many past and present Windy City Minyan steering committee members for making this minyan what it is today – Lani Schrank, Seth Schrank, Anne Robbin, David Schwartz, Adam Davis, Devorah Matkowsky, Benjamin Singer, Heidi Simons, Stefanie Groner, Rebecca Resnick, Talia Schlamowitz, Melanie Axelrod, Nathan Redisch, Ariel Katz, Marisa Briefman, Joey Becker, and Richard Brener.

L’hitraot – see you soon! – and Shabbat Shalom.


One thought on “Praying out of a suitcase

  1. Mazal tov on this d’rash! Though I wasn’t at the event, and haven’t been a super-regular at WCM, I still enjoy it every time I come, and maybe even moreso now that I have graduated from Northwestern and still want a spirit-filled, peer-led, Kabbalat Shabbat davenning from time-to-time.

    Would you still be attending as a community member anyway?

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