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The Savior Down the Street: Mission Minyan 

Wednesday, Nov 25 2015
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At 7 p.m., Friday night is just beginning in the Mission District. Across the street from Farina's outdoor seating on 18th Street, every time the doors of the Women's Building swing open, the unmistakable sound of dozens of singing voices floats down from the second floor and spills out onto the street.

The singing is coming from a plain room with white walls and a wood floor similar to a basketball court, where about 60 people are shouting in earnest, in voices that ebb and flow like a pulse. Some people are seated in chairs facing the windows that look out onto the street, others are gathered along the rear wall, and a few are standing behind a wooden platform that resembles a bar, pounding it to the rhythm of the singing while a few children run freely around the back.

This is a Jewish gathering. Even if you didn't recognize the language as Hebrew, you would notice the men's yarmulkes. But this is not a synagogue. This is the Mission Minyan — the Hebrew term for the quorum of adults required to make a religious gathering "count" — a group that got its start in a living room in 1995.

There are many reasons why an observant Jew would prefer this to a synagogue. There are no rabbis "in charge" here, decisions are made collectively, and women are allowed to lead prayer — all progressive innovations a Reform Jew would appreciate. But everything is in Hebrew, rather rigorous in format, and Orthodox enough that the presence of a camera makes some people uneasy (as does the thought of taking a bus or taxi to the shabbot dinner to which I am invited later).

That mix of tradition and acceptance of current circumstances creates an atmosphere that's "spiritual" more than anything else, says Aviva Kanoff, a minyan board member (and my host at dinner).

A recent transplant from New York City — like many of the young men and women here on Friday, she's been in the city less than two years — Kanoff tired of Hebrew school as a girl. Upon arriving in San Francisco — a place where, as many New Yorkers warned her, "there are no Jews!" — she found herself wanting to connect with her "Jewishness" and with a Jewish community, a sentiment echoed by the dozen or so people gathered at her apartment for dinner.

Why not a synagogue? "There's something special about a makeshift space," she says. A spiritual community, worshipping at the Women's Building, preparing meals for special events in space shared with Latino and women's organizations, somehow just feels right.

"This city has soul," Kanoff says. "A lot of places don't have that."


The Savior Down the Street

THE VISION, Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

THE REVIVAL, Rock of Ages Baptist Church

THE CHANTING, Hokke-shu Buddhist Church

THE MYSTERY, Immaculate Conception Chapel

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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