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Double Chai Check-In: Lizzi Heydemann and Mishkan keep growing

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Double Chai Check-In: Lizzi Heydemann photo

Rabbi Lizzi Jill Honeyrose Heydemann really wants to play kickball.

As the spiritual leader, organizer and visionary of the spiritual community Mishkan Chicago, Heydemann often finds her time in demand between leading services, teaching, coffee shop one-on-ones and life cycle events, but as Mishkan continues to grow rapidly, she’s been able to both hire and inspire more leadership and create more time for her other favorite things, like lakefront runs, spending time with friends and – maybe one day soon – kickball.

Mishkan formed in September 2011 in hopes of bringing together all perspectives and movements of Judaism to create “inspired, down-to-earth Judaism,” and less than a year after, Heydemann was named one of Chicago’s 36 Under 36 inspiring young Jewish adults.

It’s now another year later and Mishkan is thriving, enough so that Heydemann has transitioned completely out of working part time at Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living and moved full time into Mishkan.

“(The move to full time) was a leap of faith,” she said, “even though I wouldn’t have described myself as an entrepreneur at any point in my life.”

Heydemann describes Mishkan’s mission as “to engage, educate, connect and inspire people in Chicago through dynamic experience of prayer, study and community-building.”

Friday night services are held twice a month on the North Side: second Fridays at the Bodhi Spiritual Center (2746 N. Magnolia Avenue) and fourth Fridays at Anshe Emet Synagogue (3751 N. Broadway Street). In addition to services for most holidays throughout the year, Mishkan offers a variety of classes during the week, including a weekly Talmud class taught by Rabbi Benay Lappe of SVARA, the “traditionally radical yeshiva,” and others through collaborations with organizations such as Moishe House and the Institute for the Next Jewish Future.

Up until this past year, Mishkan’s growth has largely been organic, but with increased donor support, strategic planning has become part of the process. Mishkan recently hired its first executive director, Jaré Akchin, formerly the Director of Annual Giving for JCC Chicago, to take on some of the logistical responsibilities.

“I realize now that I don’t any longer have a total handle of everything going on in the organization at all times,” Heydemann said. “There was a time where I could tell you where every dollar came from ... I had my hands in everything and now I’m specializing more into the role that I actually want to play.”

Heydemann said Mishkan’s growth has also come with its challenges. With a community largely comprising young adults, Mishkan has been a very fluid, ever-changing group of lay leaders.

“Part of the dynamism of the community is a constantly shifting constellation of leadership,” she said. “This is not a stable group of adults with kids who aren’t moving. These are people who are moving every year, every other year, different neighborhoods different cities; the complexion of community is changing.”

In terms of participation, however, Heydemann says older adults, seniors and young families have also become increasingly interested in what Mishkan has to offer. She officiated three weddings and a few baby namings this summer.

“Many people look at our community and want in,” she said. “The learning, spirituality, music, community – they want to support that and be a part of it.”

Heydemann said she hopes that education for young children will become a bigger component of Mishkan in the coming years, and that in an ideal situation, she would be able to hire a full-time community organizer to reach into smaller Jewish communities in the city and help people find points of connection to Mishkan or other Jewish experiences that would be best for them.

“There’s actually an immense diversity of things that one can hook into,” Heydemann said. “Kickball is one of them; learning about prayer is one of them; philanthropy is another one of them. Spirituality is what we’re providing.”

Mishkan is offering High Holiday services and programming again this year. To find out more and get tickets, go here.

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