I am not your typical Jewschooler. True, I am liberal and Jewish, but I proudly work in corporate America, enjoy the occasional trefa banquet and, perhaps most egregiously, I am a member of a Reform Temple on the Upper East Side of New York City.
Please don’t take away my blogging privileges before you hear me out.
In September of 2008, I left the warm embrace of the professional Jewish world to enter the for-profit sector. It became clear that I needed a place for the High Holidays and to call my own Jewishly. In that my work environment would no longer be Jewish in content, I needed a Jewish home to learn, celebrate and work for the community.
I live on the Upper East Side, so I found a congregation on the Upper East Side. Not going to lie here, the $18/year under 30 memberships did help matters. So, with my wife, I joined Temple Shaaray Tefila just in time for some High Holiday action.
After the beginning of the year, I started getting invited to this Shabbat Unplugged service, catering to the 20s-30s set in the congregation. Always an open minded person,* I began to go to these cohort-specific services to see what was happening. I was married, so I didn’t need a meat market, and I have a strong Jewish identity, so I didn’t need a line-by-line explanation, both real concerns with traditional outreach to this community with in the Reform Movement.
But I was pleasantly surprise to find a prayerful and intentional community of committed Reform Jews of my generation engaged in a local congregation. Shabbat Unplugged won’t do it for everyone and I wouldn’t begin to pretend it is a panacea for the under involvement of younger Jews in traditional congregational life. But it is a real start. Like I said, I don’t fit the Jewschooler mold very well and I do believe in the importance of the synagogue as a vital center of Jewish learning, life and celebration in our communities.
These services address many of issues that my generation often complains about regarding stuffy Reform congregations. And by way of voting with our feet, people seem to be pro-Shabbat Unplugged. When I started going to these services there were about 50 to 75 people on a good night and now we run out of chairs topping out at about double the early attendance numbers. The organizers like to joke that the sushi oneg is what brings people in but it is the respect for our desire for a real, accessible and meaningful Shabbat experience, that brings people in and it is for sure what brings them back.
Services include community song, an approachable d’var Torah-based sermon, time to kibitz and yes a sushi oneg. But there is a sense of community that is real here that I have not seen regularly in other places and is the number one reason I have continued as a member of this Temple after my introductory under 30 membership turned into a more traditional congregational membership (read more money).
This Friday night there is a Shabbat Unplugged service at 7:30pm and I invite you all to join the community for a warm celebration at the end of another cold, wet week. Temple Shaaray Tefila is located at the South West corner of 79th Street and Second Ave in New York City.
*This was a joke in case you missed it.