What We Do When We Pray

Fringes is a non-rabbinic havurah. While our services loosely follow the structural elements of the shabbat morning service, our liturgy is created afresh each month, built mainly using contemporary poetry and song. Our services function as ritual – using poetry and music, listening and reading together, our liturgy creates emotional spaces we move through together as a community. Services are themed, usually in connection to the seasons of the natural world but also in response to unfolding social and political events.

find some of our special services through the years

We always intended for Fringes to be a liturgy lab – as a smaller, more flexible community, we knew we could try out new ideas and get good feedback on what works. Out of this practice we’ve developed new liturgy and new rituals – some have become monthly practices, some are used occasionally and some dropped after they just never came together. We’re always experimenting, including borrowing ideas from other communities and sending our ideas out into the world to share. Co-leader Elliott used her MFA in poetry to study what makes poems work as liturgy, and out of that has both created her own new liturgical works and amassed a database of more than 1,000 poems used in our services over the years.

All Hebrew prayers and songs have transliteration, so you can join in even if your Hebrew reading skills are limited.

Music and singing are essential to our prayer lives, as challenging as that has been since moving to online services in 2020. From the beginning we believed that songs should pray and prayers should sing – music was never filler for us, but at the core of the emotional power we create by praying together. As our musical leader, Karen Escovitz/Otter, was trained in Reform songleader tradition, those tunes and songways remain strong – more of our music in based in U.S. folk tradition than in the minor-key waltzes of Ashkenazi tradition. We also have original music by Otter and songs from the many great new sources in our communities, including Let My People Sing and Hadar: Rising Song. We use guitar and drums and are entirely pleased with both.

We pray to no kings, nor do we ever invoke the antiquated theology of “do what god-king says or bad things will happen to you / if bad things happen to you it’s your own fault.” We are a havurah of interconnectedness, of a divine that is indwelling if it exists at all, of honoring joy and grief and anger, and of collective responsibility for the future.

Our “torah study” is a time for learning and reflection, based in text or our member’s stories and interests. When Pete Seeger died, we re-enacted his testimony before HUAC. When Black Lives Matter issued their collective statement, we read and discussed it. Just before COVID vaccines were available, a member who is a pharmaceutical safety researcher taught about us about how the vaccines were built and how they work. We’ve learned about the Indian Boarding School system and its horrors, about what our society could look like if we abolish the police, about how Ukrainian history informs the war happening there, and yes, even sometimes about Torah and Talmud. No matter the topic, we learn from each other in our spirited discussions.