Congregation Ahavas Israel
Congregation Ahavas Israel

Congregation Ahavas Israel has evolved from an Orthodox to an inclusive, egalitarian Conservative congregation.

Grand Rapids’ Congregation Ahavas Israel is a welcoming community to all who seek a spiritual path using traditional Jewish practice in a modern, egalitarian Conservative Jewish setting. Ahavas Israel offers a warm Shabbat experience, as well as diverse activities for families and adults, including Torah study, Junior Congregation, art workshops and a community garden. 

Ahavas, made up of about 90 household units, has a fascinating history and has changed over the years from Orthodox to an egalitarian, inclusive, Conservative congregation.

In 1892, 15 families joined together to form Temple Beth Israel, the first Orthodox congregation in Grand Rapids. It grew quickly over the next two decades, but in 1911, a dispute over the presence of girls on the bimah singing in the choir caused a small group to form the second Orthodox synagogue in Grand Rapids, Ahavas Achim. Over the next 27 years, both congregations continued to grow and were virtually the same size when they merged in 1937, forming Congregation Ahavas Israel.

The sanctuary
The sanctuary

Following WWII in 1947, Ahavas Israel, like many other congregations, formally joined the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. While then the ritual of the congregation was Orthodox, such things as mixed seating, women’s voices in the choir and an emerging bat mitzvah ritual made for a natural transition to Conservative Judaism. 

Ahavas Israel moved to Lafayette Street in 1953 and into its current building in 1971, which features a large and small sanctuary, religious school classrooms, a library, meeting room, two kosher kitchens and a social hall. It also houses the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids.

Ahavas’ Religious Life Committee creates a wide variety of religious programming that involves the congregation in active participation. Programming includes a “Schmooze ‘‘n Schmear” breakfast on Shabbat morning, services with a monthly speaker series and a Torah study group after Kiddush.

The activities committee plans movie nights, trips out of town and other social get-togethers for adults, families and youth.

Ahavas makes up one half of the United Jewish School (UJS), a combined religious Sunday school also serving the Reform congregation of Grand Rapids, Temple Emanuel. In general, Ahavas Israel has a close relationship with Temple Emanuel.

Rabbi David Krishef
Rabbi David Krishef

“It’s been a wonderful school and a model for partnerships between Reform and Conservative congregations and what we can do to improve our educational programming by working in partnership,” said Rabbi David Krishef, Ahavas’ head rabbi who has been with the congregation for 28 years. “We’ve been able to engage in the partnerships with Temple Emanuel while still maintaining our identity as a relatively traditional but egalitarian Conservative congregation.” 

Ahavas’ Corner of the Field Garden provides three deliveries a week of various vegetables to the Temple Emanuel food pantry and/or other organizations that provide food distribution. They have distributed approximately 2,000 pounds a year for the past three years. In addition, a group from Ahavas Israel volunteers monthly preparing meals for those in need.

Ahavas, Temple Emanuel and the UJS entered a three-way partnership last summer and hired a full-time cantor, Cantor David Fair. Fair spends most of his time with Temple Emanuel and the school but helps out on many Shabbat and holiday mornings on a part-time basis at Ahavas. 

Ahavas’ Cantor Emeritus, Stuart Rapaport, has been a lay cantor for 45 years.

Krishef takes pride in Ahavas being a Conservative congregation that serves a large part of West Michigan and beyond.

“We’ve had members from Lansing, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and more,” Krishef said. “We cover a wide area, and we also really try to create a big tent congregation. We have a very good program for Jews by choice, that’s an important part of our congregation.” 

Watch “Ask the Rabbi” with Rabbi Krishef

 

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