Services & Participation

Services & Participation

Since its founding in 2009, Grassroots Jews has sought to be an inclusive and welcoming space for all Jews. We wanted to create something that was new and different. We wanted a prayer service and a High Holiday experience that had meaning, colour and depth. We wanted to engage with the liturgy but we wanted a prayer experience where we could be ourselves. A High Holiday service that was fresh and exciting yet anchored in the tradition. Every year those who want to shape the experience come together to chart a path between tradition and innovation, between comfort and challenge.

GRJ services this year are halachic and co-led by women and men on a partnership model, and there are opportunities for separate and mixed seating. We are delighted to welcome Orthodox, Masorti, Reform Liberal, confused, amused and wandering Jews to our beautiful prayer tent.

One of our 2013 co-ordinators Debbie Danon spoke of GRJ in a recent talk as raising expectations and lowering barriers: allowing people to expect more from Jewish spiritual experiences, and to access them more easily.

We strive for participation and inclusiveness in a number of ways…

Sharing Space – There is one service, which houses Jews of all journeys and denominations. The tiny twinges of discomfort we feel when experiencing a different practice or approach are a reminder of the value we place on making small sacrifices so that we can all pray and grow together.

Co-led Services – In 2012, we tried out a new model of service leadership in the vein of other communities striving for Halachic observance and egalitarianism: a co-led service, led by a man and a woman in counterpoint. Some parts of the service you will hear led by a man and some parts by a woman. We hope that this will begin to answer two different needs on the part of the community: our desire to honour and encourage all genders to come forward in leadership; and to ensure that everyone, whatever their attitude towards gender and prayer, will find themselves fulfilled, including those who are committed to respecting Halacha. This is a dialogue that carries on throughout the year. Get involved in conversations about your experience at GRJ, we’d love to hear what you think…

Leyning – One of the unique features of the Grassroots community is that each year we create an entire community together. Nowhere is this more true than with regards to the Torah readings. For many communities, it’s considered the preserve of the professional torah reader. At Grassroots, the torah reading is a part of the service that belongs to everyone. Each year, about half the leyners are reading the Torah for the first time. Men and women volunteer equally and many say it constitutes the highlight of their High Holiday experience.

The Trichitzah – Choose your seat in your preferred section of our beautiful three-way mechitzah, or “Trichitzah”, designed by our Arts Collective to inspire and delight. There are sections for women, men, and both to sit together.

Kavanot – As the services progress, community members new and old have the chance to share short meditative readings to guide our intentions in prayer. Each one of these is called a “kavanah” or intention. To volunteer to give a Kavanah, email Rachel Rose Reid at with the subject line “Kavanot.”

Enrichment Sessions & Meditation – While the traditional service continues in the GRJ Tent, a plethora of Jewish educators volunteer to run discussions, sharing groups, chevruta (pair-learning of Jewish and non-Jewish texts) and meditation sessions. On Yom Kippur we are proud to host a round-the-clock meditation space for contemplation and spiritual enrichment. To volunteer to host a session,  email Joel at with the subject line “Sessions,” or to lead a meditation session, email Roland at the same address with the subject line “Meditation.”

NEW: Childrens’ Services – This year GRJ parents will be hosting special services for little ones. For more information, email Russell at with the subject line “Grassroots Kids.” There will also be babysitting volunteers to help parents enjoy the service knowing their kids are in good hands.

Breaking bread (and honey) – Grassroots potluck lunches are the stuff of legend, an exercise in epic co-ordination, mutual hosting and deliciousness. We’ll ask you to bring a delicious dish for four to share, watch this space for details…

Encouraging Volunteerism – From kitchen-helpers to space-tidiers, from door-greeters to babysitters, almost all Grassroots Jews give of their time to help create a special family atmosphere during the Festivals. If you’d like to volunteer to help out, email Shana at with the subject line “Volunteer.” Or we may ask you to pitch in on the day…

The power of Hello! – We get lots of new faces at GRJ every year, so don’t assume that everyone knows each other. We invite you to use the “H” word with someone new. You never know where it may lead…

Have we missed something? If you can think of a way to make what we do more inclusive – why not come aboard and make it happen?


Struggling with the text: Vayikra 18:22

The High Holiday liturgy brings us up close to the challenging texts of our tradition.

In the Torah Service for Mincha on Yom Kippur, we encounter a passage that is particularly difficult. There are of course many difficult passages in the Torah which challenge our moral sense. However, many feel that Vayikra 18:22 is different, for at least three reasons.

Firstly, it is part of the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, which means it’s a text that’s hard to avoid. Secondly, it seems to prejudice a particular group of people, many of whom have voiced their difficulty in being present in the service due to this text. And finally, it has often been used as a proof text to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or practice.

As a community committed to inclusivity and to traditional forms of prayer, Leviticus 18:22 poses a yearly dilemma. In previous years, we’ve accompanied the text with written and oral alternatives and explanations. These efforts go some way but do not provide resolution. Rather, they highlight it and may, if we’re lucky, provide the potential for openness and thoughtful reflection.

In 2012, we chose to read the text but to use the creativity of our community to confront head-on the jarring experience of alienation and otherness it can bring into Yom Kippur afternoon. Our guiding principle was that no one should be able to attend Grassroots and be left with the impression that we as a community accept a reading that is hurtful to some of us and damaging to us all.

In responding to the challenge of the text, we’ve been inspired by other places in Jewish observance where the meaning of a text is subverted or changed through silent ritual or performative acts. We ask you to come to this with nothing more than a willingness to experiment and an open mind.

Like everything at Grassroots, it’s a conversation that will continue to challenge us and hopefully we will find new ways in coming years to ensure that our community is a place where everyone feels at home, and where everyone is challenged.

One thought on “Services & Participation

  1. In re Leviticus 18:22, “inspired by other places in Jewish observance where the meaning of a text is subverted or changed through silent ritual or performative acts,” that’s an interesting concept. I assume you’ve already thought this through and have a plan, but just reading this now is suggesting possibilities to me, such as reading the verse in an undertone like the Tochacha, or stopping for a moment after the verse for everyone opposed to it to shake their head, or…

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