Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Guide for the Perplexed / FAQ

A Guide to Zoo Minyan for the Perplexed

a.k.a. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

(blatantly and lovingly plagiarized from Tikkun Leil Shabbat)

  • Who comes to Zoo Minyan?

We are Jews from birth, Jews by choice, people committed to both traditional and non-traditional Jewish practice, non-Jews, and people exploring Judaism; LGBT and straight; people of color, Sefardi, Mizrachi and Ashkenazi; Virginians, Marylanders, DC residents, and people from other places; Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal, secular, and Jewish without labels; people with no formal Jewish education, Jewish educators, and people with all other types of Jewish backgrounds. 

  • Where does the name "Zoo Minyan" come from?

The p'shat (literal) answer: because we meet in people's homes in the neighborhoods surrounding DC's National Zoo.  
No, we don't meet in the Zoo, though we've met there for lunch-and-learn picnics (how often do you get shul announcements that say, “turn right at the monkeys...”?)

Some drash (expansive) answers:

  1. “Zoo” is a transliteration from the Hebrew phrase “gam zoo l'tov” -- this too is for the good.
  2. We're a good minyan for all those people whose Yiddish-inflected parents or grandparents accused you of being “vilde chayas” (wild animals)
  3. We're striving to reach the level of those other Chayot (beings), the Chayot ha-Kodesh (angels)
  4. You never know what kind of wild things might be happening here
  • What style of services are these?

All of the services are fully egalitarian and full davenning. And when we succeed, also full of kavannah (intention) and pretty haimische (warm / folksy / friendly).  

On shabbos mornings, starting at 10am, we do a complete psukei d'zimrah (verses and songs – and we actually sing many of the songs!) and shacharit, with additional kavanot (intention-infusions), creative rituals, and lots of nigunim (wordless melodies). We leyn the full Torah reading, with “micro-davars” to help bless each aliyah. We leave time for individual musaf and/or meditation, before concluding with kiddush by 1pm.

On Erev Shabbat, we do a full Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv with lots of nigunim.  Both evening and daytime, we follow davenning with meals, shmoozing, introductions and community announcements, often some learning or singing, and general shabbos revelry.

We use “nusach shivyoni” -- egalitarian language for the prayers.

Since we meet in people's living rooms, we sit randomly but comfortably on couches, chairs, pillows, laps, backjacks, etc. Davenning is a shomer-shabbos space (no instruments, cell phones, writing, etc), though we have a very wide spectrum of shabbos observance / non-observance amongst us.

  • Will I be yotzei / yotzeit?

Totally, you're good. And if you don't know what that means, then you're also good.

  • What siddur (prayerbook) do you use?

We use the nusach shivyoni (egalitarian language) siddur, Birkat Shalom, developed by the Siddur Project  over the last 25 years at Havurat Shalom in Somerville, MA.  Everyone is welcome to bring their own siddur as well – people daven out of Artscroll, Rinat Yisrael, Bokser, Eidut ha-Mizrach, transliterated siddurim, without a printed text at all, and every other variation you can think of.  We also usually leave interesting magazines and/or children's books lying around, just in case.

  • Can I come just for services and then leave? Can I show up just for eating and shmoozing?

Yes, and yes. Friday nights, we generally start dinner approximately 1.5 hours after the posted start time. Shabbat morning, lunch is usually around 1pm.

  • What are “the famous Zoo Minyan veggies”?

By the end of davenning, some people really want to eat already (you know who you are).  And some people want to build community by doing long introductions and community announcements (you know who you are).  So we do both at the same time – pass around heaping platters of veggies plus dip, while we get to know each other a little and find out what's going on in the community.

  • What should I wear to the Zoo?

Anything you want. You'll see people wearing nice clothes for shabbos, jeans, and flowing funky garments, with sandals and with dress shoes (or no shoes at all), with covered and uncovered heads.

  • What kind of food should I bring?

For shabbat lunch, please bring a vegetarian / dairy contribution (or sign up to bring the famous Zoo Minyan veggies). Main dishes are always especially appreciated. Don't worry about whether your kitchen is kosher (or “kosher enough”), everyone gets to contribute. But please be prepared to explain what's in your dish, to help people avoid allergy or kashrut issues.

For shabbat dinner, the community provides some kind of hearty entree. You can either

  1. Contribute to the kitty to help pay for the entree, or
  2. Bring a salad, side dish, drink, or desert as a pot-luck contribution.

  • I keep kosher in a particular way. Will I be able to eat at Zoo Minyan?

There is always a critical mass of pot-luck contributions with a heksher or cooked in someone's heksher-only kitchen. There are always hekshered challot and grape juice. On Friday nights, the entree is hekshered, and (for the l'mehadrin) heated while double-wrapped. And you'll get to know people as you ask who brought which dish.  

  • I'm not Jewish. Can I come?


  • I am Jewish, but I'm probably not "Jewish enough" to come to something like this. Can I come?

Yes, you are, and yes, please come!

  • I'm not in my twenties or thirties / I've never davenned in nusach shivyoni (and I don't even know what that means) / I'm not straight / I'm not queer / I don't live within walking distance / I don't know anyone there. Can I come?

Yes! We gain strength from each person who joins us.

  • Has Zoo Minyan taken any steps to "green" these gatherings?

We've taken a variety of steps to reduce the environmental impact of our gatherings:

  1. Our meeting locations are usually metro accessible (Red line or Green line) and for many attendees, also walkable and bikeable. 
  2. By gathering for vegetarian meals, we significantly reduce the environmental impact of our Shabbat meals together. (Eating lower on the food chain, even once a week, is a very powerful way to reduce the energy use and carbon emissions associated with our food consumption -- and it's yummy!).
  3. We try to minimize waste from disposables, by washing and re-using serving utensils, plates, cups, and tableware. (We also have never-used plates etc for kashrut purposes, which makes up for the lost / broken ones in a steady-state process.)
  4. We recycle glass, plastic and aluminum containers after meals, diverting some garbage from the waste stream and conserving resources.
  5. Some of the homes where we meet have offset their electricity usage with wind or other green power.
  6. We encourage everyone to emulate Fred Scherlinder Dobb -- bring food in reusable containers that you'll take home to minimize the trash we generate, choose local and organic foods for your potluck offering whenever you can, and walk or bike (inside the eruv) if you can.
  7. "Greening" our community's practices is an ongoing process, and your suggestions for further improvements are welcome: green at zoominyan dot org.

  • Who organizes Zoo Minyan?

Who said we're organized?  

Whatever we do, it's as a lay-led havurah entirely organized by volunteers.
Participants in the Zoo Minyan community bring potluck dishes to share (or the famous Zoo Minyan veggies), lead davenning, leyn, add readings, poems, and kavanot, create new rituals, share songs, give micro-davars and teach over lunch, schlep a sefer torah / siddurim / food, wash dishes, and find all sorts of lovely and creative ways to enrich our community.

  • Can I help? I'd like to get involved.

Yes! If you're interested in helping schlep, lead, leyn, drash, or help in some other way, email: info at ZooMinyan dot org.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mar Cheshvan

The month of Mar Cheshvan ends today. We add the Hebrew word “Mar” -- bitter – to the Babylonian name of the month because there is no holiday whatsoever during the entire month. Not even a Zoo Minyan!

But even in the gathering darkness of winter, once Kislev starts tonight, we can look forward to new opportunities to rejoice. For example:
  • The next Zoo Minyan on December 13th.
  • The very first Friday night Zoo Minyan on December 19th!
  • The new Zoo Minyan website
  • Updated siddurim (we hope...)
  • Ok, and Chanukah, and a new season of hope, and maybe someone has a new kitten too.

Details will come to your mailbox, as always. You can also check the new website / blog:

And we have dates through Shavuos! Check out the new Zoo Minyan Calendar (then add it to your own):

We'll be having two business-type meetings, which everyone is welcome to join. First, some more decisions on what we want Friday night davenning to look like. We'll do a weeknight gathering in the next week or two that people can either attend in person, or join on the phone. If you haven't already put your hand up, email back to:

Second, we're going to update the siddurim, probably next Sunday afternoon, December 7th. At least a corrected version of the Amidah, maybe more if we have the energy. If your Hebrew is good, that's great. If your photocopying and hole-punching skills are good, that's great too. For some things, we'll need you there on the 7th ; for others (e.g., editing the translation), you can stick to the comforts of your own home, you don't have to show up on Sunday. Write back to if you can help.

Tikkun Leil Shabbat, next Friday night

Next Tikkun Leil Shabbat:

Friday 12/5 @ 16th & Harvard Sts NW 

Friday, December 5 - East facing, a cappella
6:45 pm services
approx 8:15 pm veggie potluck
All Souls 1500 Harvard St. NW 
Click here for directions

dvar tikkun: Our Place DC

(Yay, Gwen!)

Please bring a vegetarian dish to share, and, if you can, an unwrapped new toy for children of incarcerated mothers. Wish list here.

What are we doing right?

Study: Attending services cuts women’s death risk

November 25, 2008 

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death for women by 20 percent, according to a new study.

The study by researchers at Yeshiva University and its Albert Einstein College of Medicine was published Nov. 17 in the Psychology and Health journal.

The researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 women aged 50 to 79 participating in the Women's Health Initiative, a national, long-term study aimed at addressing women’s health issues and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Those who said they attended religious services at least once a week showed a 20 percent mortality risk reduction compared with those not attending services at all. The study did not attempt to measure spirituality; its authors stress that it examined self-reported measures of religiosity.

The study adjusted for the women's participation in organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness.

“Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Eliezer Schnall, the lead author of the study. “There is something here that we don’t quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results.”