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Germantown Jewish Centre

Coordinates: 40°03′06″N 75°11′40″W / 40.05165°N 75.19436°W / 40.05165; -75.19436
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(Redirected from Dorshei Derekh)

Germantown Jewish Centre
AffiliationConservative Judaism
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusSynagogue and community centre
  • Rabbi Adam Zeff
  • Rabbi Leonard Gordon (Emeritus)
Location400 West Ellet Street, Mount Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
CountryUnited States
Germantown Jewish Centre is located in Philadelphia
Germantown Jewish Centre
Location in Philadelphia
AdministrationUnited Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Geographic coordinates40°03′06″N 75°11′40″W / 40.05165°N 75.19436°W / 40.05165; -75.19436
Date established1936

The Germantown Jewish Centre is a Conservative synagogue and community centre located in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Established in 1936,[1] the synagogue is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.[2]

The Centre is home to multiple, distinct prayer communities including Dorshei Derekh, a Reconstructionist minyan, transliterated from Hebrew as "Seekers of a Way". The Dorshei Derekh minyan is affiliated with Reconstructing Judaism. The Centre also houses The Charry Service, a traditional, egalitarian service with a focus on learning; Minyan Masorti, an egalitarian version of a traditional service; and Kol D’mamah, a meditation, chant and yoga form of practice.[2]

Dorshei Derekh


Early history


The genesis of Dorshei Derekh goes back to the Germantown Minyan, started in 1974 by Rachel Falkove, Michael Masch, and others. Shortly after its first meeting it moved to Germantown Jewish Centre. Dorshei Derekh's participatory, lay-led services, largely in Hebrew and including Torah discussions involving personal reflections, were part of a national trend of havurot and minyanim as alternatives to formal synagogue services.

The minyan grew and attracted new residents to Mount Airy. Within a few years, the minyan had up to 100 participants and divided into several minyanim, one of which was more traditional and one more flexible.[3][4]

After various changes and reorganizations, these two descendants of the Germantown Minyan formed minyanim that continue today.

The more traditional group, dubbed the “206 Minyan” after the room in which it davvened, changed rooms and renamed itself Minyan Masorti. The other group, more open to liturgical creativity, met biweekly. Some new members allied themselves with that minyan, and the combined group began meeting in the fall of 1986, settling on the name Dorshei Derekh. This choice was clearly influenced by the Jerusalem congregation Kehillat Mevakshei Derech,[5] a Reconstructionist-influenced community that was then independent, more recently affiliated with the Reform movement.[6]

The Minyan evolves


In the mid-1990s, a defining decision was made regarding the role of non-Jewish family members and guests at services. The minyan formally affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement.[7] This entailed defining minyan membership, establishing a formal decision-making process for controversial decisions, providing outside facilitators, and conducting discussions with the Germantown Jewish Centre. The minyan subsequently joined the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation in 1999.

From the 1970s or early 1980s there was a re-imagination of the Germantown Jewish Centre as a “multi-minyan” congregation. Dorshei Derekh is no longer viewed as “those other people” but as a key part of the congregation. Many Germantown Jewish Centre committee chairs, officers, and board members have come from Dorshei Derekh, including three recent congregational presidents, Helen Feinberg (2002–04), Rachel Falkove (2004-06), and Mitch Marcus (2012–14). In addition, minyan members are involved in education and social action projects with the wider congregation.

The minyan itself has constituted a caring community, providing meals and other support for members with illness and at times of loss or of births. This support is based on community connection, not only on who is a close personal friend. The minyan has always attempted to welcome newcomers, but the transient situations of many in the community have made that challenging. The minyan has encouraged people to acquire new liturgical and leadership skills.[8]

There have always been considerable numbers of people in the minyan with substantial Jewish knowledge, enriching the community. While many of these are Reconstructionist rabbis and rabbinical students, there are also very knowledgeable lay people. This has made it possible for many to take part in leading the group and in adding to the ideas in discussions.

Germantown Minyan members were part of a network of East Coast havurot that met several times a year from the early 1970s until 1981 at Weiss’ Farm in New Jersey and later at Fellowship Farm[9] near Philadelphia. These networks formed a basis for the National Havurah Committee,[10] and numerous Dorshei Derekh members have participated in NHC events and leadership. The minyan has organized its own in-town and out-of-town retreats a number of times, most recently in the fall of 2006.

Customs and practice


Some practices inherited from the Germantown Minyan, or created in the early years, have influenced the minyan over two decades. Other minhagim grew over the decades. A few that are noteworthy include:

  • Rotating leadership.: The minyan coordinator rotates every six months and with the past coordinator and coordinator-elect forms a three-person mazkirut for decisions that cannot wait. In general, the minyan coordinator position is filled alternately by women and men.
  • Participatory decision-making is maintained through quarterly minyan meetings, though attendance is not usually large.

Shabbat morning and festival services involve a number of key minhagim. The minyan arranges its space in a circle or semicircle, which emphasizes community rather than a leader.

Services include a good deal of Hebrew, with English readings or interpretations sometimes added by a leader. Pesukei dezimra with much singing are often emphasized. The Amidah includes the matriarchs, and some participants phrase blessings in alternative or feminine Hebrew. At its December 2, 2012 minyan meeting, Dorshei Derekh passed a proposal that allows service leaders to include Bilhah and Zilpah in the listing of the matriarchs, during the communal recitation of the Amidah.

The Torah reading is done on a triennial cycle, typically with three (rather than seven) aliyot. A key part of the Torah service is the mi sheberakh blessings, as people volunteer for aliyot to mark events in their lives and receive recognition from the community: birthdays, new jobs, new academic ventures, arriving and departing for Israel, departing for college, a yahrzeit, a new apartment or home. These combined Hebrew and English individual prayers are a way the minyan shares news and support.

While officially retaining it as an option, Dorshei Derekh generally omits the haftarah (prophetic reading) except for a few times a year, with the exception of the monthly women’s haftarah project during the 1990s.[11] Its omission allows for a longer Torah discussion, which follows a d’var Torah. The minyan avoids centralized leadership in these discussions by having each speaker call on the next person. For 20 years, speakers alternated between men and women to assure gender equality, until this practice was suspended as an experiment in the summer of 2006. If there were more women present than men, a step originated to advance women’s participation might actually limit it.

The Musaf service at Dorshei Derekh is an additional reading, poem, or story rather than another service. The service concludes with introductions, announcements, and a member-provided kiddush. Occasionally a longer lunch and discussion follow services.

The minyan originally used the Conservative Silverman siddur with unwritten modifications, but after the Reconstructionist siddur Kol Haneshamah[12] that was edited by a minyan member, David Teutsch, was published in 1994, it was adopted by the minyan "as an experiment." That "experiment" continues today.

Dorshei Derekh celebrated its 25th anniversary on December 9–10, 2011

See also



  1. ^ "Germantown Jewish Centre". The Jewish Exponent. November 6, 1936. p. 8.
  2. ^ a b Jacobs, Paula (January 20, 2022). "Beyond Conservative and Reform: The Rise of the Unaffiliated Synagogue". Tablet.
  3. ^ Weissler, Chava (2001). "Making Davvening Meaningful: Worship in the Havurah Movement". In Goldberg, Harvey E. (ed.). The Life of Judaism. University of California Press.
  4. ^ Schwarz, Sidney H. (2003). "Changing Styles of Synagogue Life". In Friedman, Murray (ed.). Philadelphia Jewish Life: 1940-1985 (Second ed.). Temple University Press.
  5. ^ "Kehillat Mevakshei Derech". KBY Congregations Together, Inc. 2006. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  6. ^ Petsonk, Judy (1996). Taking Judaism Personally: Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life. The Free Press.
  7. ^ Nathan-Kazis, Josh (February 16, 2011). "USCJ Wants To Bring 'Indie Minyans' Into the Fold. But Will They Join?". The Forward.
  8. ^ Teutsch, David A. (2005). Spiritual Community: The Power to Resource Hope, Commitment, and Joy. JewishLights Publishing.
  9. ^ http://www.fellowship-farm.org/
  10. ^ http://www.havurah.org
  11. ^ Lefkowitz, Lori (1997). "Hidden Voices:Women's Haftarot". Kerem (5).
  12. ^ "Shabbat Vehagim". Reconstructionist Press Bookstore. 2012. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2023.