Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who Are We?

The best way to describe and tell the history of this minyan is probably through the various permutations of its name. It was originally called Bira Amiqta, and is commonly known (in Yiddish) as the Leader Minyan. Around 1989, the members of the Leader family (including Zelig, Ebn, and Avraham) were faced with a dilemma: where in Jerusalem could one pray on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? The need was for a gathering where emotion and ecstasy, song and spontaneity, were honored guests. The family made a quick calculation and found that together with Menahem Kallus and the children, there were already seven men above bar-mitzvah age. So the decision was made to begin davening in the basement of Avraham and Michal's house in the Katamonim neighborhood of Jerusalem—hence the name Bira Amikta (The Deep Pit), based on the talmudic saying “From a high peak to a deep pit,” as the feeling was that prayer is born in the depths.

In those days, it was hard to get a minyan. Eventually, the minyan moved to the Baka and then the Katamon neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the name was changed to Amika de-Bira, a Zoharic expression meaning “the depths of the well,” as prayer still needs to come from the depths, but we were no longer in the basement. At this point the minyan started to get popular, and people asked that we meet on every Shabbat Mevarkhim, the Shabbat before Rosh Hodesh, in addition to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

As a result of organic demand, women have received aliyot and read from the Torah at our minyan since 1992. After reviewing the halakhic sources, it was decided that not only may women be called up to the Torah, but they may also read from it, in addition to participating in other parts of the service. At the same time, we maintain the separation between men and women during prayer, in accordance with Jewish law. More recently, other halakhically-oriented minyans in Jerusalem and abroad have adopted this form.

The main emphasis of the minyan remains the creation of an intense but loose prayer atmosphere where the heart may open up, even if only for a moment. We meet currently at Ha-Merkaz la-Umanuyot ha-Mizrah at 17 Hizkiyahu ha-Melekh Street in Jerusalem, and we’ll continue as long as the spirit can soar.