Rabbi Ezra Ende is so committed to religious pluralism in Jerusalem that he’s working to develop a new congregation to preserve it.
The former associate rabbi at Temple Sinai, is revisiting Pittsburgh next week to talk up his congregation — he prefers the word “community” — in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood of the capital city.
He hopes to build “partnerships” that could benefit both communities.
The community, currently known as Kiryat HaYovel Chavura, is a response to the growing number of Jerusalem neighborhoods that have become haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Ende emphasizes his intent is not to “fight the Orthodox,” but he and members of the chavura do want to preserve religious pluralism in the city.
In 2008, according to the daily newspaper Haaretz, secular Jews protested the city’s plan to set up prefab nursery schools for haredi children in an open field in the neighborhood.
Ende prefers not to be confrontational.
“We came in order to create a haven for pluralist Judaism — a place where secular Jews can also connect to their Judaism and connect to tradition — an open gate to spirituality through Judaism, and that’s what we’re doing over there.”
Ende described the neighborhood as a diverse place with both religious and secular residents — rich and poor — who were both born in Israel or made aliya.
Kiryat HaYovel Chavura is a satellite of a larger Reform congregation in the German Colony, Kehiat Kol HaNeShama, where Ende is associate rabbi. However, he expects the satellite congregation, in time, to evolve into an independent entity as do the leaders of the Kol HaNeshama.
“Kiryat Yovel represents a real challenge as more and more neighborhoods become dominated by the ultra-Orthodox,” Kol HaNeShama Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman said in a statement to the Chronicle. “We are committed to strengthening a pluralist and open Jerusalem. A strong Reform presence in the neighborhood has made a huge impact in this struggle. Rabbi Ende’s pioneering work in Kiryat Yovel is a real model for everyone who cares about the future of Jerusalem.”
Ende is coming to Pittsburgh at the invitation of Temple Sinai Rabbi James Gibson.
Founded as a minyan before Ende came to Kol HaNeshama, he said the community, which is housed in a neighborhood school, is growing fast.
“Our community is comprised of young families with children,” Ende said. “Every service, we have activities for kids. During the High Holidays, we have very big crowds because people are seeing we are a place they can come to, feel comfortable and relate to children as well.”
Its members also cultivate a community garden where activities are held as well as food grown.
“It’s a very big part of our identity,” Ende said.
Kiryat HaYovel was established in 1952 to house thousands of Jews from Arab countries who fled their homes when the State of Israel was declared. It was renamed Kiryat HaYovel (Jubilee Town) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Jewish National Fund.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)