Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. More liturgical minutiae from the first meeting of Shir Chadash here.

We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan. I called KFJ to ask for details. He didn’t have many. He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed. (He didn’t even know if my ballpoint would be allowed–luckily, no one seemed to mind.)

For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3. For a long time, folks have been talking about starting a new traditional egalitarian minyan for the area.

Finally, last week, after a lot of talk, one guy–Brian Immerman, a fourth-year Reform rabbinical student and a former teacher of mine–decided to just go for it. He e-mailed some people and by the middle of Lecha Dodi, about 20 Jews were in his living room to daven.

My notes on the first meeting of Shir Chadash:

  • WHO?: It’s not clear to Brian–or anyone else–as we settle in to begin Kabbalat Shabbat, who is coming. Apparently there’s a Facebook event, someone posted it to the Brooklyn Jews email list and word is spreading. It’s not even clear who in the world is in a position to know about Shir Chadash. Word of mouth (or word of Facebook, or whatever) is at work here in a big way.
  • DEMOGRAPHICS: There are about 20 people there. 18 are actually from the area, if we exclude my mother and I–I live in NJ and she in TX. By the middle of Kabbalat Shabbat, everyone who is going to arrive has arrived. The last couple to arrive look like the oldest people in the room. The group defies, to some extent, the hype about the limited young age of indie minyanim. There are at least two Reform rabbinical students present, one Reform cantorial student, one Reform synagogue youth worker and at least one other Reform summer camp alum present. Esther Smigel, operations manager at Nehirim, is also present. In addition to KFJ and I, Jewschooler Ruby K is there.
  • MUSIC: The music and nusach is mostly what I’ve come to think of as indie minyan-standard nusach. It’s a combination of Carlebach, Ashkenazi nusach and a other melodies that go well with Carlebach and Ashkenazi nusach. There are no instruments, but my guess is that it’s not a crowd that would mind instruments philosophically, though I think it would be too much for the room itself. Given our volume, I’m also wondering what the rest of this apartment building thinks is going on in here.
  • CHAOS: Thank God for a little chaos while davening. I’ve written before about how a service that’s too well-choreographed is disconcerting to me. The Brian starts Psalm 98 to the tune of Psalm 96. There’s some glancing about. Every agrees tacitly that we’re doing the wrong thing and starts over. It’s forgivable because they have similar opening lines, but a little funny because both include the minyan’s name, Shir Chadash, in the opening line!
  • MORE CHAOS: Brian is spinning about as we rise for the first time, trying to locate East. Different people settle on five or six different directions for a moment before Brian points decisively in one direction, having settled on (an) East. Everyone follows suit and turns to face that way. I’m grinning like an idiot.
  • MUSIC, CHAOS and a QUAKER MEETING: Brian pauses before Lecha Dodi to welcome everyone. He then announces that he’s really bad at picking melodies for LD and asks if anyone wants to throw one out. The older guy introduces himself and hums a bit of a slow LD and Brian says, “Great, we’ll start with that one. Who wants to suggest a faster second melody?” Ruby K volunteers to come up with one when the time comes. Before he starts, the guy with the first melody asks if it’s alright if he shares some thoughts. Group: “….?” Guy with the first melody: “I was just thinking about this mezuzah that’s been painted over many times on this door frame…” He goes into a thing about how it’s symbolic of the Jews and etc. It’s nice. It reminds me of this piece from the New York Times a couple months ago. Glancing around at each other, Brian, Mr. First Melody and Ruby K quickly agree in the middle of LD on which verse to switch melodies at.
  • LIRTUGRICAL CHOICES: Brian chooses to include imahot and most–if not all present–follow suit. Most say meitim in Gevurot, but I can’t tell what Brian is saying. After Kabbalat Shabbat, Brian says Chatzi Kaddish, rather than Kaddish Yatom. The choice itself doesn’t bother me one way or the other, but it seems like a confusing choice, given that all but one siddur in use at SC include Yatom at that point. In Magein Avot, he’s adding imahot on the fly and misses some. I’m probably the only person who notices, my brain being diseased in that particular way.
  • SIDDURIM: Siddurim present are a combination of what Brian has on hand and what a few others brought with them. I count 13 different editions of 11 different siddurim in use. (Full list–and it’s an interesting list, if you’re into that kind of thing–here.) Only one siddur, Mishkan T’filah–of which we have two copies–has any transliteration in it. Even then, MT is missing some prayers that I understand most indie minyanim to include. This gives at least one person significant trouble. It’s hard to find a siddur with as much of the Hebrew text as indie minyanim want that also has the transliteration indie minyanim need for their broad potential audience. I know of only two: Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael and Siddur Eit Ratzon. CKY is Friday night-only and is used at Kol Zimrah by those who don’t bring their own siddur. SER was once a Shabbat morning-only companion to CKY, but it’s newer edition has Friday night as well. (We use SER at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Madison, NJ). The lack of siddurim with transliteration strikes me as a serious problem that may turn off first-timers and prevent them from becoming regular attendees. This goes to heart of criticism that indie minaynim are unwelcoming, demographically un-diverse and/or are exclusive too-cool-for-you clubs.
  • STAGE DIRECTIONS: Throughout, Brian–again, a Reform rabbinical student–gives lots of stage directions, something I usually assume a leader at an indie minyan will forgo. They sound word-for-word like what a lot of Reform rabbis say, so I’m guessing that’s just where his head is.
  • PLURALISM: If Shir Chadash codifies anything, I’d guess it ends up as an example of BZ‘s stage 3 plurlalism. There’s a veggie potluck–significantly better-stocked than the last few Kol Zimrahs I’ve been too, despite there being less than half as many people–and we’re using the two-table system, though there’s some confusion as to what that means. After someone reminds us all the about details of the two-table system, it ends up being a two-halves-of-the-same-table system anyway. And there are people piously nigguning through hand-washing while a few others carry on loud conversation. I do a little of both. Some the nigguning hand-washers appear a little miffed.
  • SINGING: After dinner, there’s a lot of singing. All but two or three people stick around for the singing. It’s loud, spirited and at least a few people knew most of the words to most of the songs, so that was good. We benched and sang from L’chu N’ran’nah.

I’m curious to see how it continues, given that there didn’t seem to be any discussion of a structure for moving forward. In all, I give the first meeting of Shir Chadash five ballpoint pens, the highest rating I can give.

18 Responses to “Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights”

  1. Which siddur had chatzi kaddish after kabbalat shabbat? Is it possible the ba’al t’fillah just misread what was in his siddur?


    Avi · November 8th, 2010 at 4:33 pm
  2. Kol Hakavod for checking out a new minyan, especially when it’s a schlep from where you live, and for providing such a thorough wrap up for those who might be interested in davening there.

    And I like that you brought your Mom to check it out too :) Nice post…


    curious · November 8th, 2010 at 4:41 pm
  3. Avi: I wasn’t there and don’t know which siddurim attendees were using, but I know that some editions of Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil (“the purple siddur”) put chatzi kaddish and kaddish yatom on equal footing as options after kabbalat shabbat. And I’d guess they’re not the first.


    Desh · November 8th, 2010 at 4:50 pm
  4. love your ratings system… although I have to start wondering about it now (could you give a five ballpoint rating to a really fabulous halachic minyan?)


    KRG · November 8th, 2010 at 5:03 pm
  5. We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan

    Thanks for reporting on this, and mazal tov to the new minyan! I’m glad to hear this exists (though I think they should have called it the Crown Heights Egalitarian Minyan, just for the shock value).

    He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed.

    Can you think of any regularly meeting minyanim where musical instruments are “allowed” (as opposed to used or not used), i.e. where the leader isn’t using instruments as part of the service but participants are free to bring and play them? I can’t.

    For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

    Word. I’m still only at one so far (Kol Zimrah), plus one partnership minyan (Darkhei Noam), and wish I had been to more.

    The leader starts Psalm 98 to the tune of Psalm 96.

    If I’m not mistaken, I think the Carlebach “Psalm 96″ melody (aka “Ki Va Mo’eid”) was applied to Psalm 98 before it was applied to Psalm 96. So the leader may have been going for old-school, rather than making a mistake.

    The leader is spinning about as we rise for the first time, trying to locate East.

    Because it’s really important to face east for Psalm 29!

    The lack of siddurim with transliteration strikes me as a serious problem that may turn off first-timers and prevent them from becoming regular attendees. This goes to heart of criticism that indie minaynim are unwelcoming, demographically un-diverse and/or are exclusive too-cool-for-you clubs.

    This is a high bar that you’re setting for a minyan that was just started last week by one guy sending out an email and a Facebook invitation. (EVERYONE there was a first-timer!) A week ago this minyan didn’t even exist; would it have been more welcoming if it had remained in non-existence?


    BZ · November 8th, 2010 at 8:43 pm
  6. Desh writes:
    Avi: I wasn’t there and don’t know which siddurim attendees were using, but I know that some editions of Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil (”the purple siddur”) put chatzi kaddish and kaddish yatom on equal footing as options after kabbalat shabbat. And I’d guess they’re not the first.

    Definitely not the first. Scanning through my household’s siddur collection, chatzi kaddish after kabbalat shabbat can be found in nusach eidot hamizrach, Kol Haneshama (Reconstructionist), and Gates of Prayer (Reform). There’s more to life than nusach Ashkenaz.


    BZ · November 8th, 2010 at 8:47 pm
  7. KRG writes:
    love your ratings system… although I have to start wondering about it now (could you give a five ballpoint rating to a really fabulous halachic minyan?)

    Conceding for the sake of argument that writing with a ballpoint pen is in the halachic category of “writing”, and therefore prohibited on Shabbat,
    1) DAMW’s previous posts on this subject make clear that he just wants to be able to write undisturbed; he’s not insisting that anyone else write. I get the comments from the previous threads about why some people are unhappy with this, but would you claim that a minyan that doesn’t police its participants’ individual behavior isn’t a “halachic minyan”?
    2) Why couldn’t there be a really fabulous halachic weekday minyan?


    BZ · November 8th, 2010 at 8:52 pm
  8. A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3.

    The 2 and the 3 go a lot farther than that (individually, though that’s about as far as they go together).


    BZ · November 8th, 2010 at 10:32 pm
  9. @BZ… the humor impairment button is over to the left. Perhaps I accidentally punched it?
    But since it does seem to be off:
    1.depends on what you mean by policing, individual and behavior, but I was really talking about the RATINGS system (thus the -apparently low- ha ha factor)
    2. I hope there are lots of them….


    KRG · November 9th, 2010 at 10:06 am
  10. Avi,
    My guess is the siddur he was using did not have chatzi kaddish after Kab Shab. Placing chatzi kaddish there is a feature of Reform minhag. I happen to know that the leader’s background is Reform, so that was probably a conscious decision on his part. I don’t recall which siddur he was using, but it definitely wasn’t Reform. There were two copies Mishkan T’filah present. One went unused and the other was used by someone who identified her self as need transliterations.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 9th, 2010 at 12:28 pm
  11. Desh,
    That’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that in CKY before. He wasn’t using that siddur, though. CKY and Eit Ratzon are favorites of mine so I have a radar for them. They were not present.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 9th, 2010 at 12:30 pm
  12. KRG,
    We’ll have to see about that if and when that situation arises. My guess is that it would be difficult for me to do that. The rating system is based on nothing more than my own preferences. In this case, a low level of chaos helped Shir Chadash reach five ballpoint pens because I happen to like a low level of chaos during services.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 9th, 2010 at 12:31 pm
  13. BZ said,
    This is a high bar that you’re setting for a minyan that was just started last week by one guy sending out an email and a Facebook invitation. (EVERYONE there was a first-timer!) A week ago this minyan didn’t even exist; would it have been more welcoming if it had remained in non-existence?

    You’ll get no argument from me on that. But it’s an issue nonetheless. What if there was someone there–among all of us first-timers–who doesn’t come back because of that? And what if, months from now or a year from now, once Shir Chadash has hopefully been meeting regularly for a while, this problem persists?

    There is the criticism from the synagogue-affiliation-obsessed crowd that the indie minyan crowd wants a free ride and doesn’t want to pay for anything. There are all kind of problems with that statement, but there’s validity to it if a group is complacent to keep bringing in a different handful of siddurim each week and never invests in solving this problem.

    In another of your comments, you note precedents for chatzi kaddish following Kab Shab. The only siddurim that were there that night that I know to have this minhag were two different editions of Mishkan T’filah. One one was in use. It was, I know for a fact, the only siddur present with chatzi kaddish at that point and I know that the leader wasn’t using it.

    This is just further proof that I need a mizrachi siddur as well. Any suggestions, anyone?

    Why couldn’t there be a really fabulous halachic weekday minyan?

    That had occurred to me when I read KRG’s comment the first time. At that point, it would probably be the separated seating that bothered me.

    (individually, though that’s about as far as they go together).

    That’s what I meant. Either way, it’s a hell of a lot further out on those lines than I’ve ever been before!


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 9th, 2010 at 12:41 pm
  14. Why couldn’t there be a really fabulous halachic weekday minyan?

    That had occurred to me when I read KRG’s comment the first time. At that point, it would probably be the separated seating that bothered me.

    There are minyanim with mixed seating that self-identify (and/or are identified by others) as “halachic”!


    BZ · November 9th, 2010 at 1:04 pm
  15. DAMW writes:
    You’ll get no argument from me on that. But it’s an issue nonetheless. What if there was someone there–among all of us first-timers–who doesn’t come back because of that? And what if, months from now or a year from now, once Shir Chadash has hopefully been meeting regularly for a while, this problem persists?

    This comment expresses my views on this (even though it’s talking about a somewhat different issue). On the one hand, the organizers of the minyan may see this as a constructive suggestion for the future; on the other hand, cut them some slack.

    There is the criticism from the synagogue-affiliation-obsessed crowd that the indie minyan crowd wants a free ride and doesn’t want to pay for anything. There are all kind of problems with that statement, but there’s validity to it if a group is complacent to keep bringing in a different handful of siddurim each week and never invests in solving this problem.

    Were any siddurim (transliterated or not) systematically provided by the minyan? Or was it just whatever the host happened to have on the shelf? Did the email invite say “bring your own siddur”, or imply that siddurim would be provided?

    If we’re talking about free riders, why do the organizers of a new minyan (who weren’t minyan organizers a week ago) have a greater responsibility to provide transliterated siddurim for those who want them than the responsibility that such participants have to bring such siddurim for themselves?


    BZ · November 9th, 2010 at 1:14 pm
  16. On the one hand, the organizers of the minyan may see this as a constructive suggestion for the future; on the other hand, cut them some slack.

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement on this. I gave them five ballpoint pens after all. I loved the whole evening. So why do I need to cut anyone slack? What slack is there to cut? It’s one of a couple of criticisms couched in a pile of praise.

    Were any siddurim (transliterated or not) systematically provided by the minyan?

    No. Nor did I expect there to be. This is a warning for the future, something Shir Chadash should be careful of as it moves forward.

    If we’re talking about free riders, why do the organizers of a new minyan (who weren’t minyan organizers a week ago) have a greater responsibility to provide transliterated siddurim for those who want them than the responsibility that such participants have to bring such siddurim for themselves?

    It’s not as though this was organized by novices. The handful that actually planned this are all people who have led and/or organized a service or two before, to say the least. So none of this is a surprising scenario to them.

    If a group is OK with attracting a broad range of people–which I’ll assume Shir Chadash is–they’ll have to expect a broad range of comfort with Hebrew and a broad range of ability to arrive with a siddur in hand.

    Further, I’d suggest that if we expect people who need transliteration to show up, we should also expect them to be the least equipped to bring their own siddur. This is quote a generalization, but it’s meant as one. Surely there are exceptions in the form of people who need transliteration and travel with their own siddur and in the form of people who don’t need transliteration, but don’t own and siddurim. Nonetheless, I think my point stands.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 9th, 2010 at 5:57 pm
  17. Shir Chadash doesn’t have a religious school either! Clearly they’re sending a message that they don’t want to welcome families with children.


    BZ · November 9th, 2010 at 6:40 pm
  18. That’s different. Here’s how: Shir Chadash doesn’t claim to have a religious school. It doesn’t really claim much of anything, given that it’s not a formal organization quite yet, but the idea is to have a Friday night service from time to time.

    Certainly, you can go more specific and say that Shir Chadash only seeks to provide a Friday night service, but makes no claims about providing siddurim. And that would make sense, but I would say that it’s useless to a whole lot of people.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 10th, 2010 at 12:55 am

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