Reconstructionist Jews Keep Faith Current

Article excerpt

Byline: Janet Hallman

A fourth movement in American Judaism is making small but noticeable inroads into the suburbs.

Reconstructionism, with 83 synagogues now in North America, has a new base in the North and Northwest suburbs with Shir Hadash Synagogue in Northbrook. Its members come from suburbs that include Buffalo Grove, Wheeling, Lincolnshire and Deerfield.

The synagogue was started last year by a handful of families who were interested in the idea of Reconstructionism, which sees Judaism as an evolving religious civilization.

The three other wings of American Judaism are the more well-known Reform, Orthodox and Conservative.

Reconstructionism was founded by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan in the 1930s, according to Rabbi Eitan Weiner-Kaplow of Shir Hadash. It looks to God not necessarily as a supernatural being, but as a presence and a force in the universe that works through people, he said.

"Reconstructionism sees God as a spirit within people that guides them to good deeds and to act in an ethical way and to do social action," said Susan E. Cohen, president of the synagogue. "It's sort of a different concept of God."

The movement's name was coined by Kaplan, who taught that it is the obligation of Jews to "reconstruct" Judaism in every generation, Weiner-Kaplow said.

Reconstructionism also has been progressive, in that it was the first wing of Judaism to have women as rabbis, Cohen said. Kaplan is credited with inventing the bat mitzvah, the rite of passage ceremony for girls, she added.

Although there are Reconstructionist synagogues in Evanston, Naperville and Skokie, Cohen said she saw a need for another one that would reach people in the North and Northwest suburbs.

She and Weiner-Kaplow met in the spring of 1995 with several others who had the same interest, and the group first began meeting in the Northbrook Park District leisure center, Cohen said.

Today, Shir Hadash draws about 50 to 70 people to its services, which are held two Friday nights a month at St. Peter United Church of Christ, 2700 Willow Road, Northbrook.

Along with its progressive social views, Cohen said, the synagogue offers "non-boring services" that include music, poetry, drama and philosophy from Judaism and secular sources. …