Jewish history in the Bay Area dates back to the mid-19th century when Jewish gold prospctors gathered in San Francisco for California’s first Jewish worship service. Today, there are over 95,000 Jews in the Bay Area, representing all denominations of the tradition. In keeping with the often progressive and experimental nature of the region, the Jewish Renewal Movement has had a great impact on Northern California, exemplified by the flourishing Aquarian Minyan.
The Aquarian Minyan got its start in 1974 when Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi hosted a month-long kabbalah workshop. People were excited by his experiential style and inclusion of mystical and cross-cultural ideas and decided to organize a group that would continue to celebrate Shabbat in this fashion.
Over the years, the Aquarian Minyan has grown from a loose-knit group, to a havurah, to a non-profit organization, to a congregation. Although the Minyan has no permanent building for its worship, it does have an administrative office and a hotline which can be called to find out about upcoming events.
The congregation currently holds Kabbalat Shabbat services in people’s homes 3-4 Friday nights and two Saturday mornings each month, led either by the host/hostess or a lay leader.
Holiday services usually take place in rented spaces to accommodate the large numbers of attendees. These services are planned by committees, and use an egalitarian liturgy compiled from various sources. It includes much contemporary language, Hebrew transliteration, and feminized or gender-inclusive Hebrew and English options.
In an effort to be fluid, the congregation frequently revises previous editions of its Friday evening Siddur, High Holy Days Machzor, and Passover Haggadah, adding new prayers, songs, and translations.
Life-cycle services for members, such as Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Brit Milah, namings and conversions, weddings and funerals, also take place under Minyan auspices, led by qualified lay leaders.
As a paradigm of creative, spiritual, and egalitarian Judaism in the Bay Area community, the Minyan has inspired the formation of many other groups and projects, including other minyanim, havurot, and congregations; the Jewish Artists Community of the Bay (J.A.C.O.B.); and AGADA, the illustrated Jewish literary magazine. The Minyan also serves as a resource to teach other and newer congregations about Jewish Renewal. In collaboration with its sister congregation, Kehilla Community Synagogue, the Minyan hosted the fifth P’nai Or Kallah in Berkeley in 1993. It is an active member of the Network of Jewish Renewal Communities, for which it hosted the first Jewish Renewal Education Conference in May 1998, and supports the work of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.