Nothing about Rabbi Wayne Dosick or his La Costa-based congregation, the Elijah Minyan, could really be called commonplace. Not Rabbi Dosick’s abdication of his very traditional rabbinical career, in which he had served as a classically trained Conservative pulpit rabbi in a handful of congregations (including La Jolla’s Congregation Beth El), then founded and served as rabbi at Carmel Valley’s Congregation Beth Am. Not his embarkation on a completely new path of Judaism, one that combines a bit of new age with ancient Jewish practice. Not his redefinition in his new home-based, smallish shul (of about 100 people, mostly middle-aged and older) of a relationship with God, and how to do that, and that all of this has a name: Renewal Judaism.
“There is great, great spirit in this place on a Shabbos morning,” says Rabbi Dosick. “We are giving people that safe and sacred place to be in an individual connection with God. I find it very hard to have an intimate conversation with God in a large communal setting.”
The Elijah Minyan, which Rabbi Dosick founded 20 years ago, was the answer to what he felt had become empty, spiritless worship in the suburban synagogues of America.
“What goes on from the pulpits of many suburban synagogues doesn’t touch Jews’ hearts and souls,” Rabbi Dosick explains. “It’s perfunctory. We’re very good at creating community and doing mitzvot, collecting canned goods, saving Soviet Jewry and supporting Israel, but we aren’t good at what we’re supposed to do best, which is helping each person create this deep, personal, intimate, loving relationship with God. Thank God, there were a few people who said to me, ‘We have to make worship and learning God-centered and spirited.’ That was the beginning of the Elijah Minyan.”
In the Renewal movement (which began as a by-product of the counter-cultural trends of the ‘60s and ‘70s), the goal is to reinvigorate today’s Judaism with powerful spirituality and a deep closeness to God, using Chasidic and kaballistic theory and mystical and meditative practices in a non-Orthodox framework. It also incorporates New Age elements from Far Eastern religions, as well as a typically Christian sense that God is loving rather than wrathful.
At first, Rabbi Dosick admits, he didn’t even know that what he was practicing at the minyan was actually Renewal Judaism. But when Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi contacted him, the minyan embraced its newfound identity. Today, the Elijah Minyan is a member of Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Many of the bi-monthly morning Shabbat services, meditation chavurah meetings, meditative kabbalistic chanting evenings and adult education classes take place in the La Costa home Rabbi Dosick shares with his wife, Ellen Kaufman Dosick, a psycho-spiritual therapist. Other times, congregants open up their own homes, and for bigger events, like the High Holy Days, they rent out spaces around town. (It’s why they call themselves “a synagogue without walls.”) Congregants also sometimes unite with lay-led sister Renewal group Shir Ha-Yam, based out of Scripps Ranch.
“There are some people who take the New Age and sprinkle it with Judaism. I take Judaism and sprinkle it a little bit with New Age,” explains the rabbi, who, in addition to being ‘New-Agey,’ also considers himself a neo-kabbalist because he comes to God with great spiritual intent, a neo-Chassid because he comes to God with great joy, and in both cases an egalitarian. “All I do is I create sacred, safe, holy space for people to come into that intimate relationship with God.”
The minyan, with its mixed salad of philosophies, attracts people from across the spectrum of Judaism as well.
“We have people who have grown up in every kind of denominational setting, and we have people who have been seekers and were nowhere or left Judaism and have found a place here,” he explains.
As for his own identity, the rabbi considers himself, if not yet totally post-denominational, then at least trans-denominational.
“I’m equally comfortable and equally uncomfortable in any modern denomination,” he says, adding that when it comes to lifecycle events, he functions strictly as a Conservative rabbi.
During services at the Elijah Minyan, it’s less about covering as much material possible as it is about exploring the most spiritually impactful, soul-moving nuggets of information in depth, paying attention to key prayers and melody.
“This is how we get in touch with God,” the rabbi says. “That’s the key. … When we come to the end of the community saying a prayer together, then my line always is, ‘Now it is time for each of us to talk to God in his or her own way. ’You can use the prayers in the prayer book or speak the prayers of your heart. Talk to God and then listen as God talks to you.’ That’s a meditation, that’s a prayer, that’s an invitation to come to God.”
When they close their eyes to say Shema Yisrael, they’re really meditating, which, Rabbi Dosick says, is actually a very Jewish concept.
“[What we do at the Elijah Minyan is] serious and it’s sweet and it’s holy and it’s good,” the rabbi says. “And it really touches people’s souls. That’s the bottom line.”
The Elijan Minyan
Based in La Costa