On a sunny June evening, Rabbi Ben Freed warmly welcomes folks under an outdoor pavilion in Cherokee Park for evening Shabbat. Members of Keneseth Israel Congregation — children and families, older folks and younger adults — gather to sing together in prayer and blessing for the sabbath service. Young ones dance with shakers and drums in the center of a circle of picnic tables as cantor Sharon Hordes and a cohort of musicians lead the song. The mood of the community is celebratory and reverent; birdsong and children’s laughter punctuate ancient Hebrew verses. Rabbi Freed offers a reflection on the selected scripture, playfully sending the children to scope out an area of the park like the Israelites investigated new land in the story. The kiddush blessing, then the communal partaking of challah bread and grape juice, is followed by a jubilant community potluck (complete with many varieties of ice cream). 

Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions, emerging in the 6th century BCE as the first Abrahamic faith. The religious tradition is understood to be the expression of the covenant between God and the ancient Israelites. Today, there are many sects of Judaism that represent varied interpretations and continuations of millennia-old traditions.

In 2021, a Brandeis University study showed that in Louisville, there were approximately 18,300 adults and children living in Jewish households, of whom 14,200 identify as Jewish. Thirty-seven percent of Jewish adults in Louisville do not identify with any particular denomination of Judaism. One percent identify as Orthodox, 23% as Conservative, 26% as Reform, and 12% identify with other denominations.

Matt Golden, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), shares that there are up to 10 different Jewish communities in Louisville, ranging in structure and charism. Some gather in brick-and-mortar buildings while others meet in home synagogues. While many Jews in Louisville are not affiliated with a particular congregation, the Jewish community at large serves Louisville in significant ways through myriad organizations and the Trager Family Jewish Community Center, also known as “the J.” These many efforts represent Judaism’s commitment to Tikkun Olam: repairing the world through just service and action. 

Keneseth Israel, Rabbi Freed’s community, was founded in Orthodoxy but has evolved into a fully egalitarian Conservative shul affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The congregation offers unique opportunities to connect with one another and learn more about the faith, including events like Jews & Brews meet-ups at breweries to discuss tenets of Judaism. 

Learn more about Keneseth Israel here.