The Vashon Havurah started in the summer of 1986 when Islander Bob Berley ran a small newspaper advertisement seeking Island Jews for social get-togethers and to create a Mishpachah (extended family). Several people responded and the Havurah was born, first called the Jewish Study Group. That group included Sid Shapiro, Terry Startz, Dick and Pamela Schubert, Steve Schlossman, Barbara Denard, Bob Berley, and Deborah Holcombe. Most meetings centered on the question of who we were as a small Jewish community.
Meetings and holiday services were held in Sid Shapiro’s living room with up to 12 people attending. By 1988, the group grew larger and a Seder was held at Steve Schlossman and Barbara Denard’s studio, lead by Seattle Rabbi Jim Mirel. The group planted a beautiful willow tree (Babalonia) at Dockton Park to celebrate Tu B’Shevat. They have met there every August since, to share a summer picnic and enjoy “their” tree.
The group named themselves Vashon Havurah (meaning a “group of friends”). Over the years, meetings and holiday events were held in several Island churches. Eventually, monthly services were held at the Land Trust Building, and the Grange Hall became the favorite place for well-attended Passover Seders and Hanukah parties. Sometimes services were lay lead (mostly by Emma Amiad) and sometimes by visiting rabbis or cantors. Wendy Marcus led the group for a year, followed by cantor Ira Fein for two years. In later years, Sha’ari Garfinkel and Tammy Lianu took an active role in presenting services. The group was officially incorporated in 1995 and received their 501 c (3) status as a non-profit.
Since the building purchase in May 2003, the Havurah has grown and changed. Havurat Ee Shalom (literally “group of friends on an island of peace” in Hebrew) has become the center for Jewish life on the Island, as well as offering a beautiful space to other Island groups. A number of groups conduct classes in dance, yoga, drama and other creative activities, and the building has hosted many concerts and events by non-profit groups.
Havurat Ee Shalom re-wrote the by-laws and elected a board of directors in the summer of 2003. Many fund raising events and generous donations from Havurah members and their families have helped to pay for the building. In 2016 the Havurah paid of the building debt, thanks in part forgiving of some debt be key members, and we have been slowly making necessary repairs .
Havurat Ee Shalom published a monthly newsletter since 1993. More recently we’ve added a web site and a regular email newsletter. A printed quarterly newsletter is planned. The Torah study group regularly meets at 9:30 on Shabbat mornings. Besides Jewish holiday services and events, the Havurah has recently featured cultural events and discussions, many with Jewish themes.
In 2007 Rabbi Fern Feldman began leading High Holiday services, as well as a variety of life cycle events, including b’nei mitzvah, weddings and conversions. Though Rabbi Fern made her home in the Bay area of California, she visited Vashon periodically to lead weekend workshops and services. In 2016 Wendy Marcus returned to the Havurah for the High Holidays. Wendy currently conducts a music-filled Friday night service on the third Thursday of every month.
In May of 2015, the Havurah Board of Directors unanimously approved a space-sharing agreement with The Puget Sound Zen Center.