We called our first “Village Gathering” earlier this month to start a conversation about what "community" means to each of us, what we look for in community, and what makes a community great. Our goal was to do some foundational community-building and start collectively visioning what Asiyah could become.
Asiyah vision and mission
We started off with some words from Rabbi David about the vision for Asiyah. He talked about the deep need that we all have for belonging, for being seen in the totality of who we are, and for finding and making meaning. Asiyah’s mission, then, is to meet those needs, through three pillars of response:
Immersing in the rhythm of the sacred Jewish calendar—through Shabbat and holidays, with an eye toward the calendar’s connection with the earth
Engaging with wisdom teachings—Torah, in the most expansive sense, which in practicality includes group learning and its rabbinic corollary of (social) action in the world
- Attuning to our sacred selves—through prayer, meditation, chant and song, spiritual direction, etc.
Amberly spoke about her and Rabbi David’s vision of opening a cafe that would be the home for the Asiyah community, as well as a space for the broader community. The cafe will be built on those three pillars: a place for the community to hold Shabbat and holiday services; a place to learn, study, and organize; and a place to participate in meditation, chant, and other avenues for nurturing our spiritual selves.
The heart of our gathering: a World Cafe conversation
The World Cafe model is based on the idea that when a group of people are gathered and engaged around an issue that they really care about in an authentic, open-hearted way, collective wisdom emerges. The conversation takes place among groups of four or five people seated at separate cafe tables over a series of rounds, during which everyone has the opportunity both to speak and to be an active listener by taking notes and sketching or doodling ideas on the paper table covers. At the end of each round, the conversation groups mix things up by switching tables—creating rich cross-pollination of ideas, insights, and deeper questions.
Our three 15-minute rounds addressed these three connected questions:
Think about a community (any kind) that you've been a part of where you felt connected and fulfilled. What was it like?
What are the characteristics of a fulfilling and engaging community?
How could you imagine those characteristics playing out in the Asiyah community?
We weren’t seeking set outcomes or solutions; rather, our goal was to build community, learn together, and create actionable knowledge that might inform future steps. Plus, we got to play with markers and eat snacks.
Once we finished the third round, we taped the table covers to the wall and toured our gallery, looking for common themes and ideas and jotting them down on sticky notes. When we came together at the end for a final conversation as a group, it was amazing to see all the points of connection and intersection that emerged. Perhaps the best part was that by the end of this process, everyone referring to ourselves as “we”—a community was born!
What we learned
It’s hard to summarize such a rich series of conversations, but here’s the recap:
A place to call home. Over and over, we heard words like intimacy, comfort, ease, familiarity, and trust. An important part of that homey familiarity is a sense of consistency and reliability—things like a regular schedule, set location, and some basic expectations about programming. We acknowledged the role that time plays, that it takes time to really get to know people and to build a home-like atmosphere, and that individual commitment is crucial. Another key aspect is having a culture that’s warm and welcoming to newcomers. At the same time, regulars want to feel supported, connected, and part of a group; a common sentiment was, “I want to daven/pray with people I like to hang out with.” Thus, a question that kept coming up was, How do we make our community welcoming and inviting to all? Or as one person said, How do we make it “sticky, not cliquey”?
Guided by values. Having common goals and a shared sense of values emerged as key building block for the community. Value areas that came up a lot included nature/earth-consciousness, food and farming, and social justice, and we contemplated collaborating with community organizations around these kinds of issues. We talked about “showing our values through our actions,” which can manifest in big ways through programming and community partnerships and in smaller ways through things like using compostables at our events. Our conversations around values underscored a culture of compassion and nurture, which includes “showing up” for community members.
With a strong core. Perhaps the biggest buzzword was “core”—we could actually hear the word popcorning around the tables, unprompted. It came up frequently around the topic of leadership—that the community needs a “strong backbone” of leadership, with a group of core members that grows over time. This raised deeper questions about the role of the leaders and how a community can balance core leadership with collectivity. The word “core” also came up in the context of mission and values. Very much present, as described above, was the idea that community is strengthened by uniting around core values; this also opened up questions: How do we define our core values? Who gets to decide?
And a variety of access points. Our conversations around the first question drew out a diversity of past experiences—choral group, hiking club, community gardening, yoga, authentic movement, university co-ops, farming—which continued to pop up in later conversations and pointed to potential programming and activities. We recognized that for some, attending a prayer service isn’t their primary interest, and that (as Rabbi David’s “three pillars” approach suggests) we could best serve our growing community with different avenues of connection. Folks underscored, though, that underlying diverse programming would be “consistent, regular Jewish stuff we do.”
We were thrilled by the depth of participation in this first Village Gathering, and this is just the beginning! What will we do with this actionable knowledge? Our first step is to continue the conversation in the Asiyah Village Square Facebook group; we’ll be seeding follow-up questions to the group in the coming days and weeks. We’ll also be holding more Village Gatherings using the World Cafe conversation model, starting this fall, if not sooner. In the meantime, if questions or ideas come up for you, please post them in the Facebook group; you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A heartfelt thanks to all the folks who brought their bodies, minds, and hearts to our first Village Gathering, and special kudos to our co-hosts Hannah Anderson-Baranger, Marti Epstein, and Mia Lefkowitz, for creating a beautiful cafe space and making sure we were well fed!