Advice for Oregon’s Jewtopians

I remember as a college student in the late 1980’s in Eugene, hearing stories from the members of local Temple of the intentional community that had just collapsed.

Seven families and several singles shared organic gardens, Jewish holidays, hosted thousands of people for spiritual retreats over five years from l983-88 at Moshav Shivtei Shalom, on the shores of Dorena Lake, l5 miles east of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Composed of hipped out Jewish Renewal folks, followers mostly of Reb Zalman and Reb Shlomo, they had rejected the boring Judaism and Jewish community and sought to create an intentional Jewish community…in rural Oregon.

I was just returning from a year in Israel on Habonim Workshop, a majority of which I spent at Kibbutz Gezer. The spiritual communal aspects of the Oregon Moshav sounded wonderful, as I had become disillusioned with the highly secular life of kibbutzniks. But the Moshav couldn’t make a living just hosting spiritual retreats, and commuting to jobs outside the community. By the time I got there, the Moshav families were attempting to integrate into Eugene’s Jewish community. Many become friends and mentors, including Rabbi Hanan Sills, my first real spiritual mentor.

Twenty plus years later a new community, this time centered around a Reconstructionist congregation in Ashland Oregon is being built. “The planned development, called Aleph Springs, features eight single-family units and six condos that will wrap around Havurah Shir Hadash, the local Jewish Renewal synagogue. The development received its final approval from the City of Ashland about a month ago.”

Will Aleph spring make it? I don’t know. Part of the problem of all intentional communities is funding- how to make money. Assuming the community can come up with some revenue generating businesses like hospitality, consulting, a clinic etc. they have a chance at overcoming the first hurdle. The second major hurdle are the challenges presented by micro-community living. If there is a central leader, that can be problematic, and if there is a consensus model that can be problematic. Who makes decisions on big issues can literally tear a community apart.

There are the positive sides, the things which draw one to intentionally community. Its a Utopian dream. But all Utopias have troubles with their kids, who are not part of the decision to pull away from the mainstream, they feel trapped by the community. They are not the idealists, it was their parents. And they get to know each other too well. And while it doesn’t mean they will be messed up, it means they will likely leave the community.

Aleph Springs – based on just what I have read- will be smarter, and just use the community for living in proximity to each other. They have a chance – they are not a commune, or an intentional community in the traditional sense, but an intentional development. Like ones built for avid golf players, theses are avid shul goers. It could work, with the right shul, the right city, the leaders, and the right tude.

These Jewtopians by building an intentional development are using a mostly successful model and applying Jewish needs. I would recommend that they 1) hold back an apartment or two for rentals. People come to the area all the time for the Shakespeare Festival, and they can earn some money to support the shul. They should consider 2) a community space, multi-purpose room, as well for functions. Lastly, I don’t know if this is part of their plans, but without a 3) Mikvah, their community will not have the spiritual help and foundation it needs to survive. The mikvah is the most important facility, far more important than a shul. You can pray in a converted garage, you can’t mikvah in a swimming pool.

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Posted on June 16, 2009, in Judaism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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