“Accepted by the Adat Shalom Community following extensive communal input, May 2016.”
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation strives to be a progressive, participatory, diverse and inclusive synagogue community. As American Jews living in multiple civilizations, we revere Torah and our evolving Jewish tradition, while embracing meaningful innovation in all aspects of communal life. Guided by Reconstructionist principles, we heed our spiritual tradition’s call to care for creation, pursue justice and peace, and nurture and support deep relationships with Israel. We are committed to educating and engaging our youth, fostering lifelong Jewish learning, and cultivating close interpersonal connections. We welcome all to follow this Jewish path with us.
We have adopted a set of principles, a living document, that the congregation reappraises periodically and revises or replaces as necessary.
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation is dedicated to the moral and spiritual fulfillment of its members and to K’lal Yisrael (the Jewish People). We are active participants in the Reconstructionist movement as members of the Chesapeake Region of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. We affirm the idea that Judaism is the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people. Members of our community explore, enjoy, and evaluate Judaism in all of its aspects. We are determined to make the process of revitalizing and reconstructing Jewish civilization a responsible, participatory, democratic undertaking.
We believe that Judaism encompasses the entire cultural legacy of the Jewish people. Religion is central; Jewish spiritual insights and religious teachings give meaning and purpose to our lives. However, our creativity—as expressed through art, music, dance, drama, languages, and literature—and our relationship with the land of Israel itself, are also integral parts of our Jewish spirituality and culture. Drawing on the richness of historical Judaism, we seek meaningful ways to express our Jewishness and to enrich our lives. In this search, people take precedence over doctrine, and communities over institutions.
We affirm that we live in two civilizations—one secular, one religious— requiring a strong commitment to both our Jewish and our American identities, as we emphasize social justice and personal ethics from both realms. We are engaged in the ongoing task of building a relationship to our Judaism that is faithful to our past and relevant to the present. Just as Jewish civilization has adapted to new circumstances throughout Jewish history, so must it adapt to 21st-century North American society. We embrace a maximalist, progressive, and egalitarian Judaism in which study, worship, and action pervade both our religious and our secular lives. And we do this within a participatory, voluntary context, knowing that a strong communal life is central to realizing all of the goals and values contained herein.
We strive to be a community that welcomes diversity. Thus, we encourage members with a wide range of prior experiences and understandings of Judaism to freely express themselves. Freedom of expression encompasses respectful differences of religious opinion. We seek a more reliable basis for Jewish unity and the future of Judaism than mere uniformity of doctrine and practice. We are Jews in search of contemporary, reasoned, and still-evolving ways of thinking about our Judaism, in short, ba’alei she’elah: Jews with questions.
We strongly affirm the principle of inclusivity in all areas of Jewish life by welcoming all Jews, regardless of their sexual orientation, as full participants in the religious practices of our congregation. We also welcome as members interfaith families, families with adopted children, people with disabilities, and individuals of all ages. While we affirm the importance of the family in Jewish culture, we also strive to fully integrate singles, single parents, and childless couples into Jewish life and to make them full, active participants in our community. We understand Jewish spirituality as a shared journey from which no one should be excluded.
Removing attitudinal barriers is as important as removing architectural or procedural barriers. Moreover, Torah—which we emphasize as ethical instruction—is for everyone, regardless of disability, economic status, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual orientation. Although the American Jewish community’s legacy of homogeneity has created barriers for adults and children of non-European ancestry, we explicitly welcome, not only Jews of Sephardic and Mizrachi backgrounds, but also Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and African-American Jews, as well as interracial families. We encourage our non-Jewish members to participate actively within our community’s religious, social, educational, and organizational life, including alternative practices in cases where tradition limits non-Jews’ involvement in religious rituals.
The study of Torah, for ourselves and our children, is the cornerstone of our community. We understand Torah study broadly to include both the original text and the cumulative varied experiences and traditions of the Jewish people through the ages. Lifelong learning at Adat Shalom encompasses Jewish civilization in all of its aspects, with a focus on developing skills such as Hebrew proficiency, as well as the process of “wrestling with tradition” as a means of making it our own. Our goal is to enable every member to share his or her knowledge and questions with others in the Adat Shalom community.
Our ties to our Jewish past and our sense of the secular present often pull us in opposite directions. We seek to find ways to merge those two sensibilities while remaining true to both. Thus, while respecting tradition, we are willing to bring changes to the law and practice of religion. We respect Halakha (Jewish law) as a guide and as a sign of past convictions and value judgments, and affirm the importance of studying and understanding the tradition even as we reconstruct it. In the realm of ritual practice, we recognize the value and beauty of tradition, but we reject the notion that it represents Divinely ordained commands. We accord tradition “a vote but not a veto”, especially in matters of personal status. We are prepared to have the law changed by Jews themselves, with rabbis and lay people acting in responsible concert.
We strive to create a covenantal community, in which individuals faithfully support one another. We are sensitive to the tension between the needs of community and the autonomy of each member. We embrace economic diversity in our membership by establishing fair-share giving guidelines and dues flexibility for those with limited resources. We are a participatory community that emphasizes lay leadership and volunteerism, because we believe that we can create and sustain a vibrant religious community only if each of us assumes direct, personal responsibility for some facet of our congregational life. True Avodah must come from the heart of each and every person—a notion our community strives to engender in its members.
This principle is exemplified by the committment which led us to fund our building at Persimmon Tree Lane through the individual contributions of our members, rather than reliance on a few large donations, and to design it with great community input. As a result of these endeavors, our spiritual community is now housed in a beautiful and uplifting structure. The effort and involvement of the community in bringing this to pass is testimony to the fact that Adat Shalom is much more than a building.
Worship in our congregation is based on the traditional Jewish liturgy, modified by contemporary and evolving Jewish values and culture. Through intimate, participatory services, we seek to discover ways to sense and manifest the divine presence in our lives. Despite our diverse religious views, we commit ourselves to collective and individual “God-wrestling” [ ‘Yisra-el’]—grappling ceaselessly with the central questions of theology, the infinite, and the divine. As Reconstructionists, our diverse views of God converge in an emphasis on godliness. We value what Mordecai Kaplan called “the Life, Love, and Intelligence of the Universe”, which infuses all of creation with a sense of transcendence and impels us to improve the world and ourselves.
Shabbat has been described as a day of creative rest, a day of soul-calm and tranquility, a sanctuary in time that helps us rise above the pressures of daily existence and realize what makes life worthwhile. While we honor these visions, we acknowledge the dilemma that traditional ritual observance, in the form of many proscribed behaviors, presents for modern-day Jews. We believe that the value of Shabbat may be realized in a number of ways, both traditional and creative. Therefore we encourage each member to develop an ongoing appreciation for the blessings of Shabbat by reconstructing traditional customs and experimenting with creative and new forms of Shabbat observance. In this way, we hope to develop a meaningful, evolving relationship with Shabbat so that this day may continue to offer our community its potent influence in sanctifying and beautifying Jewish life.
Belonging to a community is central to Reconstructionist ideology. Thus, we gather on Shabbat to enjoy one another’s company as well as to pray and study. A hallmark of our Shabbat celebration is the weekly potluck dairy Oneg lunch, which is prepared and hosted by all members in rotation. Gathering to share this most basic human activity—eating—encourages people to build the interpersonal connections that make Adat Shalom a community.
We feel connected to Jews everywhere, across time and space, by our religious beliefs, our traditions, and our common history. We view being part of the Jewish people as a source of pride and inspiration and as a great privilege; we also acknowledge the attendant responsibilities and obligations of that sense of peoplehood. We believe that all Jews have the right to emigrate to Eretz Israel, and that all Jews, everywhere, are entitled to basic freedoms, including that of religious expression, which we consider to be an inalienable right for all human beings.
We strongly support the State of Israel and recognize its central importance to Jewish cultural and spiritual survival. We encourage the strengthening of our ties with the land and people of Israel through visits, idea-sharing, communication, tzedakah, and advocacy. We support efforts to strengthen progressive Western values within Israel and to build a vital liberal religious movement there. Even as we affirm our Zionist values, we assert the responsibility of diaspora Jews to offer critiques of Israeli society and policies of the Israeli state.
Our tradition bids us to align our values and beliefs with the ways we conduct our daily lives. Central to Judaism’s codes of ethical conduct is the notion of Redifat Tzedek, pursuing justice in every aspect of our lives and our communities. Jewish ethics that help to create a more just world can be divided into three traditional areas: Tzedakah, in its narrow sense of supporting good in the world through financial contributions; Gemilut Chesed, performing acts of lovingkindness for others; and Tikkun Olam, repairing the world through social action.
We fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah through Ma’aser (tithing), the traditional obligation to withhold part of our income for the advancement of righteousness and justice. With so many demands on our financial resources, we take to heart the high priority Jewish tradition places on supporting those causes and individuals closest to us—including the support and maintenance of our own spiritual community. We also take seriously our responsibility to give financial support to the larger Jewish community here and abroad as well as to organizations working for social justice in our communities and around the world.
We fulfill the Mitzvah of Gemilut Chesed by welcoming visitors to our services (Hachnasat Orchim); visiting the sick and assisting them and their families (Bikkur Cholim); and comforting bereaved congregants through practical assistance and consolation (Nichum Avelim). We resist the tendency to leave the performance of these Mitzvot to professionals. Members are challenged continually to expand the ways in which they fulfill this Mitzvah.
The Mitzvah of Tikkun Olam obliges us to work toward the prevention of hunger, homelessness, disease, ignorance, abuse, and political oppression among all people as well as to work toward preserving the health of the global ecosystem upon which all life depends. We recognize that while charitable acts have great value, Tikkun Olam may be best achieved by empowering those who are disenfranchised. We seek to reach out to, and work in partnership with, others with whom we share a common vision.
Ultimately, the true measure of our commitment to the advancement of righteousness and justice in the world is our actions, not our words or prayers. We emphasize that acts supporting social justice, alongside prayer and study, are an essential part of our spiritual practice.
We affirm our commitment to perpetuate our Jewish heritage by providing programs that enrich Jewish family life. Educating our youth requires the collaboration of family, school, and community. Our Torah School is a supplemental school—it supplements, but cannot supplant, the home as the primary forum for Jewish learning. We support our families in instilling in our children an identification with, pride in, and commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people; an appetite for life-long Jewish learning; a commitment to live by core Jewish values; and a sense of joy and fulfillment from Jewish observances.
Adat Shalom is also committed to facilitating the formal and informal Jewish educational needs of post-B’nai Mitzvah youth and encouraging their participation in the life of the synagogue. We recognize the need to reach out to those who are not formally affiliated with a youth group and to college-age youth living away from home. Our goal is to ensure that the children of our members mature into adulthood with a positive connection to synagogue life and Jewish civilization.
Active participation is an essential part of membership in the Adat Shalom community, and the extent of that participation is limited only by one’s energy, initiative, and imagination. We strive to nurture one another’s spiritual growth within a climate of mutual caring and responsibility among members of all ages, and we call on our members to make the ongoing commitment we have to one another the bedrock of our entire community.
We stand by these Principles, but also know that learning and growing spiritually are ongoing processes, requiring continual exploration and refinement. Therefore, we encourage the congregation to develop additional guidelines, that expand upon, and operationalize, these Principles. Join us as we continue working to put these principles into practice.