New Deerfield synagogue aims for small-town feel
Cantor Nancy Diamond Landsman is leading the formation of Congregation Ahavat Olam, which meets at Christ United Methodist Church in Deerfield. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2012 10:49AM
DEERFIELD — A new Jewish congregation that aims to bring a small-town feel back to the worship experience will hold its first High Holy Day services this month in the Deerfield methodist church that it calls home.
Congregation Ahavat Olam is small enough and new enough that early participants are actively shaping its direction.
For one thing, the congregation plans to hold Shabbat worship services on one Friday each month rather than every Friday.
On the other Fridays, the group expects to meet in members’ homes and nurture other aspects of Jewish traditions and faith, or engage in social action.
“That is what is making our synagogue quite unique,” said Nancy Landsman, a cantor of 33 years who is spearheading the formation of Congregation Ahavat Olam. “Rather than just say, we will see you in a month, we’re saying, why don’t we celebrate Shabbat in an alternative way? We have come up with the idea of bringing the celebration of Shabbat back into people’s homes and celebrating … in an alternative way.
“We recognize that for many people, the model that is out there isn’t always working.”
Landsman has also heard a desire for succinct sermons that are meaningful — but short.
“Sometimes less is more,” said Landsman, who has begun rabbinical studies at the Hebrew Seminary for the Deaf in Skokie. “They want sermons to be meaningful and heartfelt, but not so drawn out.”
Landsman said music will be a large part of the worship experience. The congregation has a professional clarinetist, a flutist and a pianist.
“This is a really down-to-earth group of people and I feel so honored that they have asked me to be their spiritual leader,” said Landsman, who for the past 23 years served as cantor at Congregation Am Shalom in Glencoe.
“Many of these families are not just from Am Shalom, but from surrounding communities where they either have been unaffiliated or unhappily affiliated and were looking for something different,” she said.
Early members come from the North Shore suburbs from Evanston to Deerfield, Highland Park and Lake Bluff and as far west as the Vernon Hills and Buffalo Grove areas.
The group, which held its first two Shabbat services in August, meets in a living-room-like setting: The parlor at Christ United Methodist Church, 900 Deerfield Road in Deerfield. High Holy Day services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be held at the same venue Sept. 16 and Sept. 17, and Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, respectively.
The congregation is striving to be inclusive and embrace singles, couples and families at whatever stage they are in their lives.
“We are a reformed Jewish congregation that welcomes interfaith couples, singles and never-marrieds with or without children,” said Landsman.
Participants also are seeking a spiritual connectedness that is more affordable than participation in a synagogue with high costs and overhead, Landsman explained.
“I know this group has made it clear they do not feel they want a building of their own,” said Landsman. “That also keeps costs down, especially during these economic times. Most congregations ask members to pay into a building fund on top of annual dues.”
Information on the synagogue and High Holy Day services may be requested by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.