Meet Me At Mishkan Shalom

Meet Me At Mishkan Shalom

By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

If you glance at Mishkan Shalom from Shurs Lane, you might guess the former mill is now a high-end condominium or a set of artists’ studios. A closer look at the building reveals a sign featuring ancient Hebrew letters that spell out the synagogue’s name, Mishkan Shalom, which means “Sanctuary of Peace.”

Founded in 1988, the Reconstructionist synagogue moved into its new home on Freeland Avenue in 2002. When members first considered purchasing a building, they made a commitment to find a property within city limits and Manayunk’s central location was the perfect spot. Now it’s often referred to as a “destination synagogue” with over 200+ households come to Manayunk from around the Greater Philadelphia area and surrounding suburbs.

“Our congregation has a commitment to the welfare and flourishing of the City of Philadelphia,” explains Rabbi Shawn Zevit. “It is important for us to build ties to the place in which we meet, pray, celebrate and organize for tikkun olam (Hebrew for “repair of the world” or social justice). As the one Jewish entity in Manayunk and Roxborough, we are serious about our role in the community.”

To that end, Mishkan Shalom staff and members have become integrated into the neighborhood through a number of initiatives. The congregation has collected donations for North Light Community Center’s food pantry. And to offer holiday shoppers and restaurant goers a taste of Mishkan, the congregation hosted a “Mishkan-on-Main Street” Hanukkah celebration in a storefront on Main Street this pase December. In fact, more Jewish people and interfaith families who live in the neighborhood are finding their way to Mishkan than ever before.

“It has been great to be a part of a synagogue that is right here,” says Andrea Nunez, who with her husband Carlos and two young daughters joined the synagogue last year. “We spend so much of our time commuting everywhere; it’s nice to have a local synagogue that we can walk to and enjoy.”

Mishkan Shalom is dedicated to the repair of the world through prayer, study and acts of caring. The prayer services are inclusive and dynamic. Rabbi Zevit is an accomplished musician who brings the energy of his guitar and original compositions to weekly Sabbath services held on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Rabbi Yael Levy, who recently celebrated twenty years of serving the community, leads a Jewish mindfulness meditation program at the synagogue called A Way In, offering a weekly meditation that is open to all.

Study at Mishkan Shalom sees learning as a lifelong pursuit. From Tot Shabbat services for the very young ones to a vibrant congregational school for K -7th grade and dynamic teen programs, Mishkan offers an interactive curriculum. On a typical Wednesday evening when Hebrew school is in session, the building buzzes with students learning through art, music, cooking and drama. In addition to supporting all kind of learners within the school, Mishkan also offers “Celebrations!”, a holiday program specially designed for families raising Jewish children with special needs, and “Mitzvah Menshes,” a monthly social group for young adults with cognitive disabilities. For adults, classes and events designed to stretch the mind inspire creativity and deepen engagement with Judaism are offered throughout the year and are open to everyone, not only synagogue members.

Mishkan Shalom is proud to continue its tradition of welcoming everyone to join in services for the holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Services are always warm and welcoming, featuring a mix of music and meditation, Hebrew and English, and sharing and reflection. Special children’s services are offered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as opportunities to join for communal meals.

When not being used for synagogue events, Mishkan’s beautiful building is also available to rent for weddings, birthdays and other events. One neighbor, whose baby shower was held in Mishkan’s social hall, recently rented the room to throw her baby’s first birthday party there again and on Sunday mornings, Mishkan’s sanctuary is filled with members of the City Light Church, which has been renting from the synagogue since 2012. The building also includes office space for rent and classrooms that can be used for school or camp rentals.

Mishkan’s commitment to acts of caring focuses both on supporting members through life’s challenges as well as taking action around social justice issues. Rabbi Zevit and a core team of Mishkan activists work with other faith-filled congregations across the city and participate in the Interfaith Peace Walk, the New Sanctuary Movement, and address issues like sustainability and mass incarceration. The commitment to social justice is a common thread that brings people together. Talia Hoke moved to Manayunk last year and was delighted to discover Mishkan in her backyard.

“Mishkan is the home for a diverse group of people and given my diverse background, I feel safe, accepted, supported and validated there,” Talia said. “I didn’t quite think that I’d be able to find a place that offered what I was looking for, but Mishkan is a synagogue that appreciates the beauty of diversity and connects its members to this beauty, both at home and the world at large.”

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer has been a teacher at Mishkan Shalom since 1998. She is an educator and writer and recently released “The Little Gate Crasher.” Visit her at

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