Havurah -- a community of friends
The Vashon Havurah started in the summer of 1986 when Islander Bob Berley ran a small newspaper advertisement seeking Island Jews for social get-togethers and to create a Mishpachah (extended family). Several people responded and the Havurah was born, first called the Jewish Study Group. That group included Sid Shapiro, Terry Startz, Dick and Pamela Schubert, Steve Schlossman, Barbara Denard, Bob Berley, and Deborah Holcombe. Most meetings centered on the question of who we were as a small Jewish community.
Meetings and holiday services were held in Sid Shapiro’s living room with up to 12 people attending. By 1988, the group grew larger and a Seder was held at Steve Schlossman and Barbara Denard’s studio, lead by Seattle Rabbi Jim Mirel. The group planted a beautiful willow tree (Babalonia) at Dockton Park to celebrate Tu B’Shevat. They have met there every August since, to share a summer picnic and enjoy “their” tree.
The group named themselves Vashon Havurah (meaning a “group of friends”). Over the years, meetings and holiday events were held in several Island churches. Eventually, monthly services were held at the Land Trust Building, and the Grange Hall became the favorite place for well-attended Passover Seders and Hanukah parties. Sometimes services were lay lead (mostly by Emma Amiad) and sometimes by visiting rabbis or cantors. Wendy Marcus led the group for a year, followed by cantor Ira Fein for two years. In later years, Sha’ari Garfinkel and Tammy Lianu took an active role in presenting services. The group was officially incorporated in 1995 and received status as a non-profit religious organization (501(c)(3) in 1996. All contributions and membership dues are fully tax deductible.
Since the building purchase in May 2003, the Havurah has grown and changed. Havurat Ee Shalom (literally “group of friends on an island of peace” in Hebrew) has become the center for Jewish life on the Island, as well as offering a beautiful space to other Island groups. A number of groups conduct classes in dance, yoga, drama and other creative activities, and the building has hosted many concerts and events by non-profit groups.
Havurat Ee Shalom re-wrote the by-laws and elected a board of directors in the summer of 2003. Many fund raising events and generous donations from Havurah members and their families have helped to pay for the building. In 2016 the Havurah paid of the building debt, thanks in part forgiving of some debt be key members, and we have been slowly making necessary repairs.
Havurat Ee Shalom published a monthly newsletter since 1993. More recently we’ve added a web site and a regular email newsletter. A printed quarterly newsletter is planned. The Torah study group regularly meets at 9:30 on Shabbat mornings. Besides Jewish holiday services and events, the Havurah has recently featured cultural events and discussions, many with Jewish themes.
In 2007 Rabbi Fern Feldman began leading High Holiday services, as well as a variety of life cycle events, including b’nei mitzvah, weddings and conversions. Though Rabbi Fern made her home in the Bay area of California, she visited Vashon periodically to lead weekend workshops and services.
In 2016 Wendy Marcus returned to the Havurah for the High Holidays. Wendy currently conducts a music-filled Kabbalat Shabbat service on the third Friday of every month.
In May of 2015, the Havurah Board of Directors unanimously approved a space-sharing agreement with The Puget Sound Zen Center.
The Havurah’s lovely building was built in 1926 by members of the Golgatha Norwegian Lutheran Church. Most of its members lived in the Colvos area and walked to services, picnics, and potluck socials. When the congregation dwindled, they gave the building to the Bethel Evangelical Free Church.
Many younger Lutheran members helped to found the new group. According to neighbors, Bethel used the building for services, religious education, occasional revivals, memorable socials and spirited singing.
Bethel grew and focused activities at a new, larger church on the hill as well as a Christian school. They turned the building over to a Christian youth organization named Young Life. That group used it weekly until they decided to meet in other places. Subsequently, the larger Bethel Church suffered a terrible fire and they realized that selling the building (now surplus to them) could help pay for the needed repairs. So they put the future Havuarah building up for sale in 2001.
Havurat Ee Shalom building, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Tom Bean.
There were many offers for the building, all above the asking price. The first offer, made the hour it came on the market, was from the Vashon Havurah. Emma Amiad argued that (unlike other potential buyers) the Havurah would retain the building as a house of worship, not remodel it into a house. Approached on the common ground of faith and fellowship, the church elders agreed to accept.
With the help of real estate agent (and Bethel member) Bill Chunn, a deal was struck. This simple structure will remain a place for worship, fellowship, and caring community. As Bill drove by a few days after the Havurah had painted the exterior and affixed the Star of David over the door, he remarked that “It seemed like it had always been there, looking just as it does today.”
In May of 2015 Havurat Ee Shalom entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to Rent/Share our building with The Puget Sound Zen Center. Learn more about the agreement in our President’s letter to the membership.
Milestones Through the Years
Monthly potlucks at members’ homes have continued from the first meeting to the present. For a time, there was a Sunday morning study group meeting in the home of Dan and Mary Rose Asher, to study Torah and discuss Judaism. One year, a women’s book group emerged to discuss books by Jewish women and on Jewish subjects.
In cooperation with the Vashon United Methodist Church, the Havurah began doing an interfaith holocaust memorial service, which was offered to the entire community for many years. In 1989, Emma Amiad created an interfaith memorial service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The celebration of Dr. KIng’s life and work is now is hosted in various venues in the community.
The Havurah continues to be involved in social action and interfaith activities, providing help with Island charities such as the Vashon Interfaith Council on Homelessness, the Families in Need Wednesday night dinners, and the Vashon Food Bank.
Another milestone was founding the religious school. With Louise Olsen as the main instructor and help from parents, Vashon’s Jewish children began a religious education. Many classes took place in the large studio of Chai and Joy Mann.
Although small and without a rabbi, the Havurah assisted many young people to reach Bar or Bat Mitzvah, that blessed day when a child becomes an adult in the eyes of their Jewish community.
The first of many was Zoe Mann in January of 1994. She and her family were able to borrow a Torah from Temple de Hirsch in Seattle for her studies. That tradition of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs continues today, with many taking place in our own building.
A Torah must be housed in an ark, so Zoe’s parents asked their friend John Olsen to build one for Zoe. It turned out to be a lovely work of art and it now resides in our ownbuilding.
More recently in the last 16 years the Havurah acquired our current building, paid off the mortgage and entered into a rental agreement with the Puget Sound Zen Center.