You Said It: Hakafa’s Encirclement of Friendship Makes Life Better

It’s hidden away from view — easy to miss if you’re driving on the North Shore — but making a powerful impact around the country.

As a congregant for over a decade, I’m honored to be a part of Congregation Hakafa, whose spirit lives in my heart. As this dynamic Reform Jewish congregation celebrates its 35th anniversary, its social justice work resonates across the nation and in Washington, D.C. What’s more, Hakafa is making countless lives better across the Chicagoland area and beyond.

To best understand why Hakafa is unique, let me share its roots. It started in 1983 as an alternative to established religious institutions, with a self-led assembly gathering in living rooms. The group voted to hire Robert Marx, a social justice leader, to be their rabbi. Prior to Hakafa, Rabbi Marx founded Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1966 and was recognized nationally for his part in the civil rights movement. Marx suggested naming the congregation Hakafa, which means an encirclement of friends. True to those words, Hakafa has consistently built a community of faith and friendship that extends not only to nearly 300 member families, but to the wider circle of humanity.

Rabbi Bruce Elder of Highland Park came to Hakafa in 1999 and has led us since Rabbi Marx’s retirement in 2002. With a focus on investing in people, Hakafa chose not to own a permanent building. Instead, Friday night services are held at the Community House Winnetka. Sunday school and adult education happen at Glencoe’s Takiff Center. Hakafa uses an office at the North Shore United Methodist Church, and Saturday morning services and special meetings are held in congregant homes.

I appreciate Hakafa’s myriad local and national social service and disaster relief efforts: mentoring immigrant families, serving in soup kitchens and women’s shelters, providing medical supplies, addressing housing discrimination and gun control laws, and much more.

Hakafa volunteers participated on an interfaith mission with the Winnetka Congregational Church and the Muslim Community Center of Morton Grove to rebuild homes that were devastated by the hurricane in Houston. Another outreach with the Vermont Habitat for Humanity group took our volunteers to rebuild homes in Puerto Rico. What joy they gave to those who felt forgotten.

That’s not all. In January 2019, a major accomplishment happened. Hakafa volunteers joined others to help close down the youth immigrant detention center in Tornillo, Texas! People demonstrated, created petitions, addressed the media, and lobbied in D.C. More action continues as we seek justice to thousands of imprisoned children. We know that every voice matters.

Beyond its social conscience, Hakafa emanates a feeling of friendship. Led by Rabbi Elder, Music Director Sara Goodman, and many dedicated congregants, I know that whoever comes to visit or speak will be welcomed with kindness.

Hakafa is such a beautiful sanctuary of peace, no matter where we meet. We build relationships at yearly Shabbat in the Home dinners. We commune at summertime Friday night services at Shabbat on the Beach. And we treasure the sacred warmth in a congregant’s home for Saturday morning minyan. There’s always a new opportunity to learn from talented professionals during Sunday morning adult education classes, too. Every few years, we schmooze over an Arts Fest, where artists and musicians share their talents. There’s also weekly Torah study, holiday and social gatherings, and outreach to those in need. You never feel alone at Hakafa.

Making it better every day. That’s what Congregation Hakafa has done for me and so many others. They’re proof how a small group of committed individuals can make a difference.