One of the casualties of the year of our diaspora was our Saturday night maariv and havdalah service. There was a lovely quality to gathering in the Shapiro chapel, 5:30 in the winter, 9:30 in the summer, or ten minutes after whenever Shabbat had ended. Whether we were a handful or a houseful, we would davven and then join in a circle for the ceremony of ending Shabbat's sacred time. Those who joined us know the sense of family and belonging which was generated; often, people would meet before their evening activities to join in the ceremonies, then head out for ice cream, a movie or a party.
That service also served a practical purpose for those who were in mourning or whose yahrzeit observance occurred Saturday night and Sunday. Even though we have minyan each Sunday morning at nine, full observance of mourning rituals includes recitation of kaddish each morning, noon and night. Post-Shabbat options are limited in Northern Virginia.
Now, some are hoping for a return of havdalah to the synagogue on a weekly basis. On that front, there is good news and not-yet news. Beginning in May (perhaps after you read this -- sorry!) the second Saturday of each month will end with mincha, maariv and havdalah. Between mincha and maariv, a brief lesson will be offered on a rotating basis by members of the congregation and light refreshments will be served. Hazzan Tasat and I have figured that the time needed for the three services and lesson is about ninety minutes. As such, the Second Shabbes program will begin on Saturday one-half hour earlier than candles were lighted the preceding night. For May 11, that means 7:20 p.m. For June 8 and July 13, the time is 7:45.
For the moment, maariv and havdalah will be conducted on other Saturday nights only if the office is notified at least ten days in advance of the desire of a congregant to have a minyan. The lead time allows us to arrange for the building to be open and to gather the requisite support. (Please do not ask the rabbi or hazzan on Shabbat morning to gather a minyan for that night.) It is our hope, once we get back into the rhythm of things, to reinstitute weekly havdalah services.
(By the way, if any group of friends wishes to "adopt" a week each month for havdalah, that rhythm will be reestablished sooner!)
I add this reminder of synagogue policy because of some confusion which has developed. Only Jews may participate in the established liturgy of the congregation, including all usual English readings such as "the prayer for our country." The language of our prayers reflects certain presuppositions about theology; the recitation of the set liturgy is on behalf of fellow Jews. We are delighted to find ways to include close family members who are not Jewish in appropriate ways, within the limitations of our practice. Please contact me directly before offering non-Jews any role in our services. Thanks.