“The Little Minyan That Could” – more than three decades of The Rose Family Alternative High Holiday Services

Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose

Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose

Introduction: this blog post was written by the lovely and talented poet and teacher, Carol Rose. My family and I have been privileged to be part of the community she describes below for the past ten years or so. If you are local and looking for a wonderful place to celebrate the High Holy Days, this is definitely one to consider.

As many of you already know, Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose’s Alternative High Holiday services has been meeting for more than 35 yrs.

Although there are many tales about how the minyan began, our best recollection is that Rosh HaShannah came quite early one year, and several friends, who are extremely devoted Winnipeg Beach and Gimli cottage owners, thought that it would be wonderful to hold services at the little synagogue at the beach instead of returning to the city for the last lazy days of summer.

In response to their desire, the first Rose Alternative High Holiday services were born. Rabbi Neal designed the format and led the services, and son, Carnie Rose, was the Cantor/ Ba’al T’fillah/Chazzan. Over the years, each of the Rose kids have held that position, as have some of their spouses, as well.

Often Carol would deliver the sermons (the d’vrei Torah) or she’d design study guides and/or spiritually provoking questions to deepen the sense of participation in both study and prayer. Services were condensed in order to highlight specific features of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, while contemporary readings and liturgy were introduced in place of traditional Piyutim (medieval Jewish poetry).

Our first service catered to 50 individuals and, as is generally true of beach culture, a close community spirit developed.

The uniqueness of those services at the beach also included “Selichot under the Stars” (at our cottage) – which was a study session and preparation for the coming weeks.

The tiny community at the beach shared holiday meals (kosher pot luck, at various cottages) and an unforgettable Tashlich (casting of bread crumbs – or, as is our custom, the sprinkling of rose petals) into the water, as a powerful symbol of casting off of undesirable character traits and habits.

Although these services have continued, for more than three decades, and have had a following of anywhere from 180 – 200 people each year, many still think of them as just another “ downstairs” or “extra service” without realizing how unique and well crafted they actually are.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of this Alternative Minyan is that in just three days, people from all walks of life, (doctors, lawyers, poets, teachers, students, social workers, actors, therapists, artists, professors, business & technical folks, etc) become transformed into a real community.

Perhaps that’s due to our small and intimate setting (maximum of 200 people sitting in a semi-circle.)

Perhaps it happens because services include the use of modern poetry, original stories and contemporary song.

Perhaps it’s due to the various opportunities that individuals (and families) have to become full participants in the service.

One could say that it’s because people contract to pray together – to take seriously the opportunity to work together in prayer and in social action … and to think about real change (t’shuvah) in their own lives, in their community and, ultimately, in the world.

Certainly it has much to do with the warmth of the community, and with their willingness to work together. Folks like Gordon Steindel and Kathy Cobor, long standing gabbai and general all around helping hands, Prof. Chuck Axelrod, our delightful cantorial presence, prayer leaders Patti Cohen and Dr. Arthur Blank, Dr. Hadass Eviatar and Dr. David Hoult, as well as Torah and Haftorah readers Dr.Wil Fleischer, Steven Moscovitz, Chanah Thau and Dr. Hadass Eviatar.

The incredible talents of many members of the alternative minyan have also enriched the experience for everyone. Actors Terry Cherniack, John Bluethner, Harry Nelkin, Susanah Portnoy and Daniel Thau-Ellef, as well as beloved writer and storyteller, Sheldon Oberman, z”l have helped capture the pathos, the depth and the spirit of the High Holidays.

Friends from the Shalom Residence bring their simplicity and earnest prayer to every service as they open and close the ark, singing with great gusto.

Timna Ben Ari (and before her, Connie Gittlin) may well have been the first female shofar blowers in Winnipeg. Many in our alternative community have been inspired to buy and use shofrot of their own as a result of their modelling. Our humble environment has been enhanced by the beautiful Parochet cover made by Mary Ann Rosenbloom, and the runner by Karen Luks. Sheldon and Rita Margolis added to the comfort of the room, as did Sherri Wolfe’s student projects, and Trudy Flynn’s lovely floral contributions, while formal and informal singing by David Hoult, Sherri Wolfe, Kim Bailey and Hadass Eviatar have brought angelic harmony into our little space.

The teachings of Michael Knopf and Adira Rose were also welcome additions, as is the music of several of our former and current musicians.

A sense of communal responsibility is encouraged at a monetary level, as well. Since Rabbi Rose was a professor at the University of Manitoba, he always insisted that a few free seats were to be designated for students (or others who could not quite commit for the three full days). One of the individuals who benefited directly from those seats was our dear friend, Sheldon Oberman – Obie. Therefore, a SHELDON OBERMAN CHAIR was established in his memory a few years ago. The idea is that individuals can make a contribution to Etz Chayim specifically in memory of Obie, and that money raised will be used to secure a seat at the Rose Alternative Minyan for any student (or member of our community) who would like to come to services. The cost of a seat has been between $ 180- 200, however any contribution is happily accepted. It is our dream to have an entire row available for those who might otherwise not come to services. These seats differ from the “low” or “no” income seats already provided by Jewish Child & Family services. They are specifically available for those who want a creative High Holy Day alternative. Even recipients are encouraged to make a small donation so that they feel that they too, are contributing to the community.

We are delighted to celebrate this “little minyan that could”, and we invite all seekers of spiritual meaning and intensity to add their voices to our prayers and to join with ongoing members in a unique High Holy Day experience.

With blessings ,
Rabbi Neal & Carol Rose

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