Sign In Forgot Password

Ready to Ruach! Special Brith Shalom service inspiring all ages


By MATT SAMUELS | JHV•Thu, May 11, 2023
When it comes to Jewish worship, one service does not fit all.


JHV: DANIEL BISSONNET
Congregation Brith Shalom Friday Night Ruach participants: (front) Joseph Hassid, Abigail Sacks, Ellis Anne Lowther, Levi Lowther and Shayna Hassid, (middle) Julie Fleischer, Liba Sigel, Sophie Bach and Nava Teller, (back) Olivia Bell, Hannah Gorelick, Eliana Weiner, Rabbi Teller and Eddie Weiner.

Synagogues are constantly finding new and innovative ways to reach their diverse and evolving congregations.

At Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, an interactive contemporary Friday night service has brought together members from across several generations.

Friday Night Ruach, led by Brith Shalom Rabbi Ranon Teller, is drawing hundreds of people to the synagogue, and they are walking away feeling engaged, enlightened and energized.

“Our Brith Shalom community is made up of a variety of people, each on their own unique journey,” Rabbi Teller told the JHV. “A sizable percentage of our membership seeks meaning, connection and spirit in a contemporary setting.

“During Friday Night Ruach, we have young families, older members and everyone in between. It is really beautiful to see that.”

On May 19, Brith Shalom is expanding the Ruach Service to include not only spiritual fulfillment, but also cultural enlightenment.

Friday Night Ruach – which is open to the entire Jewish community – will include a contemporary Shabbat experience with worship, davening, dinner, desserts and Israel dancing, led by Machol Houston.

“We realized Judaism is a religion, but it is also a culture,” Rabbi Teller said. “The synagogue is our home for our religious spirit, but it can also be a home for our cultural spirit, and we will be doing that with Israeli dancing. We are really excited about this expansion.”

A big part of the Ruach Service involves the next generation of song leaders. Rabbi Teller and his daughter, Nava Teller, have worked with a dozen students on how to lead and engage the congregation in song.

Sophie Bach, 11, has been part of Brith Shalom her entire life and has really taken to the Ruach Service as a singer and song leader.

“Going up there [to the bimah] and singing is the greatest feeling in the world,” Sophia told the JHV. “You are surrounded by a group of your friends and there are tons of people listening to you.

“Sometimes, you might have a tough day, but when you are part of a Ruach Shabbat, it can relieve all that stress. My parents say they always feel at peace and feel spirituality. It is just amazing.”

Shayna Hassid, 11, agreed.

“You really feel like you are in a community,” Shayna told the JHV. “The songs make you feel happy and excited to be there. During the service you can sing along and dance. The instruments are also nice to have because they make the service more lively.”

Rabbi Teller has enjoyed sharing the spotlight with the next generation.

“Ruach leadership is a specific skill, and the leaders empower the community to sing. They are a conductor of music and energy,” he said.

“At Brith Shalom, we are a singing community. So, this is a matter of channeling and guiding that singing. We are training them to become Ruach singers.”

The service is not just for students, however; congregants from all ages attend.

Joey Rappaport, 46, and his wife, Abi, said they have really enjoyed the nontraditional music-based service. Both of their children – Emily and Liat – became B’not Mitzvah at CBS and they made sure that, in January 2023, Liat’s Bat Mitzvah services were scheduled with Ruach in mind.

“Music is a core part of her life and she shares that passion with the rabbi during services when he invites her to partake in the singing,” Joey told the JHV.

“The services really offer the community an opportunity to connect with their faith, their rabbi, their friends and their family. Through spiritual prayer, moving music and fabulous food, Rabbi Teller and the Brith Shalom staff have created a warm and inviting place for my family to express the Judaism that we love.

“We have met lifelong friends that we socialize with outside of the services and celebrate holidays together.”

Mix in the Israeli dancing and it is the perfect recipe for a spirited celebration.

“When we are dancing, we are channeling the cultural spirit of Judaism,” Rabbi Teller said. “We dance in rhythm with each other, and it connects us to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. It is a very powerful experience.”

Rabbi Teller said the Israeli dancing is expected to be a regular part of the monthly Ruach Service.

“Machol Houston’s mission is to preserve and promote our Jewish heritage through dance and music and make certain Israeli dance continues for generations to come,” Machol Houston’s Norma Szub told the JHV.

“Several of our regular participants are members of Congregation Brith Shalom and we wanted people to experience the joy of Israeli dance and uplifting music. Come and dance, meet new people, exercise and socialize and feel connected to your roots.”

One service may not fit all, but Brith Shalom’s Friday Night Ruach is checking a lot of boxes.

“It all comes together to create a beautiful Friday night,” Rabbi Teller said. “I’m proud of the participants and the leaders. It feels great and really is an amazing experience.”

* * *

Congregation Brith Shalom will hold its next Friday Night Ruach service at 6:15 p.m., May 19. You can attend in person at 4610 Bellaire Blvd., or watch on Youtube.com/c/CongregationBrithShalom.

As Hanukkah begins, how a Bellaire synagogue is teaching its youngest congregants ancient traditions

Jonathan Limehouse
Houston Chronicle Staff writer
Dec. 16, 2022

Rabbi Ranon Teller gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.
Rabbi Ranon Teller gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

Houstonians practicing Judaism will light the first of eight Hanukkah candles Sunday to signal the beginning of the religious holiday which has historically symbolized a rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

"The reason for (Hanukkah) in modern times is to bring light to our dark world," Rabbi Ranon Teller of Congregation Brith Shalom said. "We've got racism, war, antisemitism and poverty. It's our responsibility to bring joy, light, understanding and mutual respect into this world."

Rabbi Ranon Teller shows a dreidel as he gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.
Rabbi Ranon Teller shows a dreidel as he gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

Brith Shalom, a conservative Jewish congregation based in Houston, encourages its members to commemorate Hanukkah in their homes by putting a menorah in their windows to publicize the miracle of the Maccabees — a group of rebel warriors — defending the Holy Temple against a "sophisticated and huge" Syrian army over 2000 years ago in 150 BC, Teller said. Members of Birth Shalom and others celebrating Hanukkah also put the Menorah in their windows to show their commitment to spreading love and light to the world, according to Teller. Not a lot will be going on in the synagogue during the holiday, because Hanukkah is primarily celebrated in the home. The congregation recommends its members spend time with their families and do some good in the world whether that's through volunteering or donating, he said.

Children celebrating Hanukkah are taught a child-friendly version of the holiday's meaning, Mark Levine, a cantor for Congregation Brith Shalom, said. The clergyman and educator tells children about the legend of the eternal light the Jews found after the battle against the Syrian army that's supposed to burn all the time and represent God's presence.

"They found this little bit of crucible oil that should last one day," Levine said. "Miracles of miracles, it lasted eight days and gave them enough time to produce more."

Rabbi Ranon Teller gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.
Rabbi Ranon Teller gives a lesson on Hanukkah to a class of 3-6-year-old children at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

Levine said the child-friendly version is more sellable and tangible to children as opposed to discussing a military victory over land. Congregation Brith Shalom educators teach children at Goldberg Montessori School songs about the victory and eternal light. The eight candles are also lit and displayed publicly.

"You're basically displaying those candles as a way of saying 'God is in the world,'" Levine said. "We want people to hear that message. Again, very parallel to most American religions, we want you to see the hand of God in history."

Teller, whose been the rabbi at Brith Shalom for the past 18 years, said it's "extremely important" for Houston's Jewish community to celebrate Hanukkah.

"We're activists for positivity in the world," he said. "We are dedicated to help not only ourselves but to reach out into the world."

Various tiles featuring symbols of Judaism adorn the walls in a hallway at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.
Various tiles featuring symbols of Judaism adorn the walls in a hallway at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

One annual event the congregation plans on reinstating next year is their community service day which invites churches and organizations from other religious communities to gather, pray and learn about each other.

"We're looking to bring together the fact that taking care of the world we've been gifted from God is a responsibility that crosses all the religious lines," Levine said. "Our obligation is to partner with God in repairing the world as it exists."

Rabbi Ranon Teller talks about Hanukkah in his office at Congregation Brith Shalom on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. 
Rabbi Ranon Teller talks about Hanukkah in his office at Congregation Brith Shalom on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

Hanukkah decorations adorn the walls in a classroom at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.
Hanukkah decorations adorn the walls in a classroom at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

Hanukkah decorations adorn the walls in a classroom at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school.Hanukkah decorations adorn the walls in a classroom at Goldberg Montessori School on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Houston. Congregation Brith Shalom shares the campus with the school. Brett Coomer/Staff photographer.

 

One of Houston's Jewish congregations takes a new approach to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year

Clare Fonstein
Houston Chronicle Staff writer
Oct. 5, 2022

Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, lead songs for the congregation at a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.

Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, lead songs for the congregation at a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Yoni, a boy made of felt with a thick Israeli accent and a porcupine companion, taught an audience of Jewish families gathering for Yom Kippur how to apologize for mistakes and wrongdoings, a theme of the holy day.

Members of the congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire were assisted by Yoni the puppet as they entered year 5783 of the Jewish calendar, on the holiest day of the year. An outdoor service for families was held at the Nature Discovery Center on Wednesday morning. The hour-long service was followed by themed arts and crafts and story time.

Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, use puppets as they lead a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, use puppets as they lead a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

The service was led by Rabbi Ranon Teller and his 17-year-old daughter, Nava. The father-daughter duo guided songs and prayers with guitars.  

Nava said the family service has been adapted to be more engaging. Children were called up to help lead songs throughout the service.  

“Instead of families with young children having to sit in the synagogue for many hours — even though that service can be really meaningful — I think what's much more meaningful for young families is being able to come and sing together for a shorter amount of time,” Nava said.  

Janice Rubin attended the service even though her kids are grown now. “I was looking for a way to experience Yom Kippur through different eyes,” she said.

She said Yom Kippur is a chance to have a fresh start.

Yom Kippur is the day in the Jewish religion where people are “inscribed in the book of life.”

“It's a time to really think about our whole past year and all of the mistakes we might have made and even thinking about the good things we've done, but this is our time to ask God for forgiveness and also ask our friends and family for forgiveness,” Nava said.  

About 300 families RSVP’d for the event. An organizer of the service, Erin Lepselter, said Brith Shalom has about 500 family units in its congregation. White folding chairs were set up on the center’s front lawn, framed by trees that blocked the sun, making for a comfortable 70 degree morning. As people walked in wearing white, a table had all they needed for the service: prayer books, kippahs and insect repellent. Police officers attended for security.

Children make crafts after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.

Children make crafts after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Students of the Houston Independent School District were given Wednesday off and called it “fall holiday.”

Brith Shalom also held a main, daylong Yom Kippur service at the synagogue, rather than the grassy lawn of the Nature Center.

Nava said last year she helped lead a similar type of service, but it was much smaller. Lepselter said last year was their trial run.

“We had such a successful turnout that we decided to do it again,” Lepselter said.

Congregants sing during a service Wednesday in observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.

Congregants sing during a service Wednesday in observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

The service was also open to those who were not members of the temple.

“I’m really, really grateful that my dad and I could provide this for the congregation, and even people who aren't members of Brith Shalom are here today and I think that's really special,” Nava said.

Children make crafts of Jonah and the whale after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Children make crafts of Jonah and the whale after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Children make crafts of Jonah and the whale after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Children make crafts of Jonah and the whale after a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Jonah Paranaski, president of Brith Shalom synagogue, right, address the congregation as Nava Teller listens during a service in the observance of Yom Kippur on Wednesday at the Nature Discover Center.

Jonah Paransky, president of Brith Shalom synagogue, right, address the congregation as Nava Teller listens during a service in the observance of Yom Kippur on Wednesday at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Children come to the front to sing during a service Wednesday in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Children come to the front to sing during a service Wednesday in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Men and boys wear yarmulkes during a service in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 in Houston, TX.
Men and boys wear yarmulkes during a service in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom synagogue at the Nature Discover Center Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 in Houston, TX.Michael Wyke/Contributor

Parents and their kids cover their eyes as they sing a song during a service Wednesday in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Parents and their kids cover their eyes as they sing a song during a service Wednesday in the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, lead songs at a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Rabbi Ranon Teller and his daughter, Nava, lead songs at a service Wednesday during the observance of Yom Kippur by members of Congregation Brith Shalom at the Nature Discover Center.
Michael Wyke/Contributor

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784