The shul continues to grow, built on the foundation of rationalist halakhic Judaism.
Congregation Or Chadash is an inclusive, halakhic synagogue in the heart of the Huntington Woods/Oak Park community. Or Chadash’s minyan is a participatory one in which everyone volunteers their services.
Or Chadash was founded by Rabbi Eliezer Cohen over two decades ago, when his prior pulpit was eliminated by the merger of two synagogues. Intent on maintaining a platform for their outlook on Torah Judaism, Rabbi Cohen, eight of his former congregants and members of other congregations who shared their views began meeting in different homes each Shabbat and Sunday morning. The group incorporated under the name “Or Chadash,” or “a new light,” to indicate the minyan offered something different from others in the Oak Park area.
One of Or Chadash’s founding principles is that women have a place in the synagogue. A woman served as the first president — a conscious choice to demonstrate that this is permitted by Halakhah. At Or Chadash, women recite Kaddish in the presence of a minyan, read from the liturgy, lead certain prayers like the prayer for the State of Israel, open the ark, and deliver summaries of the week’s Torah portion and haftarah.
After a number of years as a traveling minyan, Or Chadash found its current home, sharing space with the Lubavitch Cheder on Coolidge Highway in Oak Park. With a sanctuary, social hall and children’s playroom, Or Chadash can accommodate a growing congregation.
Since the passing of Rabbi Cohen in August 2013, the shul has continued to grow, building on the foundation of rationalist halakhic Judaism that Cohen laid down.
Deb Kovsky-Apap, current president of Or Chadash, had a long history with Rabbi Cohen.
“He was actually my Mishnah teacher when I was a kid at Akiva and then was my son’s Mishnah teacher,” she said. “He’s very much an iconoclast in the Detroit Jewish community and in the Orthodox community and created what I think is a very unique shul that really doesn’t have a parallel in our community.”
Kovsky-Apap believes Or Chadash sets itself apart, being a shul that is Zionist, rationalist, halakhic and as egalitarian as can be within the bounds of Halakhah.
“It’s completely volunteer-driven. We have no paid staff, no paid rabbis, everything is free-will contributions and what people choose to put into it. It’s a unique and special place,” she said.
Though not full-time, Rabbi Azaryah Cohen, Rabbi Eliezer Cohen’s son, is co-rabbi of the shul with Rabbi Louis Finkelman.
Or Chadash has services on Shabbat and on all of the holidays but does not have weekday services.
As things are starting to get back to normal and younger kids have been able to be vaccinated, Or Chadash is ramping up its in-person programs and social events.
In years past, kids have been able to take advantage of Or Chadash’s fully stocked children’s playroom, children’s programming for Purim, Chanukah and Sukkot, and a Sukkah Hop. There will also be children’s programming for the High Holidays.
“One of the key things is we’re very open and kid-friendly,” Kovsky-Apap said. “This is not a shul where people are shushing kids that come running into the sanctuary. We want them to be there and to feel welcome.
“We’re hoping to get back to the things we used to do — weekly kiddushes, the Sukkah Hop, monthly potluck dinners on Friday nights — we’d have this beautiful musical Kabbalat Shabbat with families, and then everybody would bring a dish and we’d all eat together in the social hall. I would love to get back to that.”
Or Chadash provides free tickets to High Holiday services, not charging for any service whatsoever. Kovsky-Apap says it’s really the people who show up and participate that make the shul what it is.
“I think there’s probably 20-30 core families that are regulars, and then we get a lot of people who pop in for a Shabbat or holiday and they’re just as welcome as people who are there every week.
“We’re warm, welcoming, a little on the quirky side, but definitely worth checking out. And, importantly, no dues. This was actually written into our bylaws as part of the ethos of the shul that nobody should feel they’re better or lesser than anybody else because of financial contribution. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about showing up and forming a warm and vibrant community.”