Feminists create earth-based High Holy Day services

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They knew what they wanted in a High Holy Day service but couldn't find it. That's why a group of eight friends has been meeting for six months to design services they say weren't available in the Bay Area.

"We are calling ourselves a Jewish, feminist, earth-based, inclusive, ritual community. Yeah, it's a mouthful," says Alina Evers, of the new group, Pardes Rimonim (Hebrew for pomegranate grove).

The planning group is predominantly lesbian, but members stress that all are welcome.

The High Holy Day services — to be held Sunday and Monday, Sept. 24 and 25 and Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 3 and 4 at San Francisco's Congregation Sha'ar Zahav — may be the birth of an annual ritual. If interest is high enough, Pardes Rimonim may even begin holding weekly Shabbat services.

Now, the group meets once a week in both Berkeley and San Francisco to plan the services. Participants have been tackling concepts in the Hebrew liturgy that they aren't comfortable with, such as "sovereignty, kin imagery, the hierarchical conception, heterosexist language," and rewriting prayers such as Avinu Malkenu.

"It's not about changing gender pronouns. To change king to queen isn't changing the underlying framework. It's superficial," says Evers.

The prayers aren't going to be the only thing that will drastically differentiate Pardes Rimonim's style of worship from traditional synagogue services.

For one thing, the group is asking those interested in attending services to donate one to three hours of time and make a donation based on a sliding scale. No participants will be asked to pay more than they can afford.

What's more, the group says it is committed to lay leadership: No rabbi will lead the proceedings although Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh, of San Francisco's Or Shalom Jewish Community, helped give the group its initial encouragement.

The service will incorporate chanting, meditation, songs, personal sharing, storytelling and customs from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Buddhist, Sufi and pagan traditions.

It will depart from traditional images of a "transcendent God," Evers says. " We want to balance that with an imminent divinity, in ourselves, our bodies, in the earth. God is here, not only up there."