Adat Chaverim

Plano | April 27, 2007
Courtesy of Adat Chaverim

RABBI Jordan Parr
ADDRESS 6300A Independence Parkway
PHONE 972-491-5917
SHABBAT SERVICES Fridays at 7:30 P.M.

Like much in Plano, Adat Chaverim is relatively new, founded by Reform Jews who were traveling more than ten miles to the nearest Reform synagogue or were simply not attending anywhere. A small group held its first official function in March 1997 on Purim, the sometimes raucous festival that celebrates the ability of Jews to survive hardship in an alien land. The name they chose is Hebrew for “community of friends.” Word of the new congregation spread, and today Adat Chaverim comprises 225 families from Plano, Frisco, Allen, McKinney, and other areas north and east of Dallas.

Unable to afford construction of a freestanding synagogue, these resourceful friends remodeled a former health club, transforming the space into what Rabbi Jordan Parr has referred to as their “gym-agogue.” Tucked into an L-shaped strip center and flanked by a chiropractor, a dentist, a paint store, and a gymnastics studio, the facility reflects the members’ creativity. Since the space is walled in on both sides, the illusion of windows has been managed by mounting illuminated Plexiglas boxes high along the front walls; scenes painted by middle school children create the appearance of stained glass. Other key features, including the bimah (the dais), the ark that contains the sacred Torah scrolls, and a menorah crafted of seven kinds of wood, were made by a woodworker in the congregation.

As the community gathered on the Friday evening of my visit, the atmosphere matched its name. Congregants, most dressed casually, greeted one another with hugs, warm handshakes, and exchanges of “Shabbat
shalom.” The service got under way with singing led by Barry Skolnick, who is not an official cantor but who fills the role about twice a month. Most of the songs were lighthearted, often accompanied by clapping. One, an example of the Hasidic musical style known as a nigun, included repeated choruses of “Bim bam, bim bam, biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy, oy!” and was genuinely fun, though I had no idea what I was affirming.

After the singing, Michelle Sigle, whose daughter Zoë would celebrate her bat mitzvah the next morning, performed the Candle Blessing, lighting candles by the bimah and waving her hands over the flames. Next came a pleasant ritual in which those with something to celebrate crowded under a large tallit (prayer shawl) held by several taller men and serving as a sukkat simchah (“canopy of joy”). Zoë mentioned her bat mitzvah. A few of her peers mentioned less momentous but warmly applauded accomplishments: reaching the semifinals in girls’ basketball, achieving fifth place in a dance competition, placing first at a band contest. One did not have to be present to win: A woman announced that a paper by a relative about to receive a degree in molecular virology had been accepted for publication in the Journal of Immunology. A few people noted birthdays. Rabbi Parr said, “Mazel tov to all,” and the congregation sang an expression of thanksgiving.

The order of service followed a prayer book written in Hebrew with a transliteration and a translation just below the text. Although it was a bit tricky reading from back to front, I managed adequately during recitation of the Shema, the quintessential Hebrew prayer whose words from Deuteronomy 6:4—9 (“Hear, O Israel, Adonai [the Lord] is our God, Adonai is One! …”) are inscribed on the parchment folded into
mezuzahs on the doorposts of Jewish homes. But I was not sufficiently familiar with the liturgy to know exactly when to bow toward the ark during the centrally important Tefillah prayer, in which worshippers repeatedly proclaim the glory of God.

A stout man with a friendly mien and manner, Rabbi Parr wore a gray suit and a stole decorated with several bands of bright colors. He also wore a kippah, or skullcap, as did more men than I’ve seen in other Reform services. For his sermon, Parr drew on Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, focusing on famed test pilot Chuck Yeager. He recounted how Yeager made history by breaking the sound barrier in an experimental plane, the X-1. Though other pilots soon repeated the feat, it is Yeager we remember because he also broke a psychological barrier. The celebrated aviator reported that as a plane approaches Mach 1, the rivets on

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