Religion

Primer on writing an article on Indy minyanim

So, once again (there was an article in the Washington Post from April 2009, but you have to pay for it), the mainstream press has discovered the independent minyan phenomenon, and written the same boilerplate article about it. To make things easier in the future, I thought I would provide a simple outline for future intrepid reporters who discover this phenomenon.
1. Start with a paragraph about how lively or passionate the service is.
2. Get a quote from Jonathan Sarna. (This seems to apply to anything in the Jewish community.)
3. Get a quote from Elie Kaunfer.
4. Write that everybody in the Indy minyan movement is in their twenties or thirties, is not looking for a community and sees the minaynim as a stop-gap until they settle down.
5. Get a quote from the head of the Reform or Conservative minyan saying that while it is a positive phenomenon, the Indy movement is disturbing since those folks should be in our shuls.
6. Include a picture of an open Torah Scroll.
7. Don’t let any facts get in the way of the story you want to write.

30 thoughts on “Primer on writing an article on Indy minyanim

  1. All the bullet points sound right, but what do you mean by no. 7?
    Are the stories wrong factually, or ignoring certain things they need to be considering?

  2. One fact they ignore is that these groups are unsustainable and don’t provide life-cycle services, can’t usually get it together to build a building or pay for full time rabbis and cantors, and, basically just ignore the huge ideological questions that create those silly denominations we have. Woman are equal? Nah, let’s ignore that problem and just have women over there, men over here, and “mixed seating” there!

    1. Jon writes:
      One fact they ignore is that these groups … can’t usually get it together to build a building or pay for full time rabbis and cantors
      And those Reform congregations are even worse — they can’t even get it together to pay for a mechitza!

    2. Jon writes:
      One fact they ignore is that these groups are unsustainable
      Are the established denominations sustainable?

      1. Did anyone catch the photo caption about the “Saturday morning Kabbalat Shabbat worship service”? Gee whiz, these minyanim are really challenging tradition!

      2. The article says “Ten years ago, the United States had two independent minyanim, plural of minyan.” Really? I thought there were none 10 years ago, since independent minyanim by definition were founded in the last 10 years.

      3. Get a quote from the head of the Reform or Conservative minyan saying that while it is a positive phenomenon, the Indy movement is disturbing since those folks should be in our shuls.
        Actually, I think having that quote from the head of the Reform movement is real progress. While the Conservative movement has been acutely aware of the independent minyan phenomenon for a long time, the Reform movement has largely ignored it.

  3. Really? I thought there were none 10 years ago, since independent minyanim by definition were founded in the last 10 years.
    No, by definition they were founded within the 10 years before the publishing of Rabbi Kaunfer’s book. I guess some of them are a bit over 10 years old now. Yasher koach!
    My favorite part of the article is how “the havurah movement wanted to replace Jewish institutions”. Oh, the stories about the attempted Fabrangen takeover of Ohev Sholom 35 years ago. Good times!

  4. While the Conservative movement has been acutely aware of the independent minyan phenomenon for a long time, the Reform movement has largely ignored it.
    Their general thinking has been that the people involved in indie groups probably wouldn’t be interested in Reform synagogues anyway.

    1. Right, but there has been a lack of reflection on what it means that so many people who grew up in the Reform movement aren’t “interested in Reform synagogues anyway”. (There has been no shortage of reflection on the fact that so many people who grew up in the Conservative movement aren’t interested in Conservative synagogues, even if much of this reflection has been misguided.)

  5. In my experience (admittedly only on the left coast) independent minyans are full of people who want everything a reform temple has ideologically, but uses the excuse of “traditional liturgy” to stay away, or, maybe just they can’t admit that’s where they are.
    @BZ: Are the established denominations sustainable? I don’t think so, no. But their lack of sustainability might result in some consolidation, but the end result will still be shuls with rabbis who do brises and bar mitzvahs.

    1. Jon writes:
      In my experience (admittedly only on the left coast) independent minyans are full of people who want everything a reform temple has ideologically, but uses the excuse of “traditional liturgy” to stay away, or, maybe just they can’t admit that’s where they are.
      Even if that’s true for some people and some minyanim, it’s not as simple as “can’t admit”; if you have a choice between a community that is doing something well and a community that is doing something poorly, why would you choose the latter?
      But their lack of sustainability might result in some consolidation, but the end result will still be shuls with rabbis who do brises and bar mitzvahs.
      Baruch hashem. If there’s one thing American Judaism needs, it’s more bar mitzvahs.

  6. Too often, mainstream media write the same story on every Jewish topic. Hell, the Federation newspapers are so much better? This is why we have Indy media.
    And those Reform congregations are even worse — they can’t even get it together to pay for a mechitza!
    Good one.

  7. Jon, nail on the head. I go to tow minyanim regularly because I like more traditional liturgy and Reform ideology. And I generally find that in the case of my usual Shabbat morning hangout (which used to be a library minyan at a large Reform synagogue until the new rabbi of that synagogue didn’t like having a library minyan and they left–oh and everyone there except for me is over 50) is exactly that. Our liturgy is roughly Conservative in content, though certainly not in presentation and our ideology tends to be Reform-like.
    My monthly Friday night group also has Conservative-ish liturgical structure and content, though again, not presentation. The thinking there is not Reform, specifically. There is room for many kinds of thought in that room, including Reform-ish.

  8. Good article. Re BZ’s crack about the mechitza — a number of years ago I went to Torah study one Shabbat morning at a congregation which was emerging from Classical Reform into the mainstream. The social hall, where the class met, was set up with round tables. I went and sat down with my friends,then looked around. The three tables on the east side of the room were occupied by women. The three tables on the west side of the room were occupied by men. So the mechitza was there, just woven of invisible cloth — and had anybody legislated it, there would have been hell to pay.
    With all due regard to the 20s-30s population of today’s indy minyanim having grown up in Reform and Conservative synagogues they no longer frequent, I can only point out that until the emergence of the indedendent phenomenon — I won’t get involved in the the distinction between minyanim and chavurot — Reform and Conservative Jews in that age cohort were not in synagogues on Shabbat at all. I see the current indy minyan proliferation as a success story for the Movement camps and a reflection of the anti-institutionalism which reigns throughout American society today, not just inthe Jewish community.
    Being neither a navi nor the son of a navi, I won’t try to imagine what the next step will be for the minyanaires and the minyanim — nor do I have any insight as to how the synagogue movements and their congregations will evolve. I may not be around to see it, but I’ll predict that the mechitza between the Reform and Conservative movements will shrink, and that the prevailing dues-based business model will give way to something else (as Dr. Gary Tobin z”l told us 20 years ago it needed to do). And I’ll further predict that the very people who are now kvetching on Jewschool will be instrumental in creating a vibrant if different liberal Jewish religious future.

  9. So the basis of my beef with most reporting and general yammering about indy minyanim is that the Shtibl, the minyan at which I daven and of which I was one of the founders, is ten years old, its members range in age from twenty to upper sixties; there are single members and married members and members with children (both single and married); most of all we are a community. While we only meet rergularly for shabbat morning, we have davening for all the chagim, we have celebrated brisses, weddings, bnei mitzvah and unfortunately funerals and shivahs. We eat at each others’ houses, and hang out with each other. Shtibl is our primary affiliation. This is a full blown community. We have membership, but it is not a dues paying membership-it is dependent on service (from leyning, leading davening to setting up chairs). Finally, we are a consensus based community. In short, we do not fit most of the supposed categories with which the independent minyan “movement” is labelled.

  10. don’t you all know that there are already hundreds of independent minyunim like my shul, beys am harutsim in monsey. gett over it and move on to the next sugyuh. please I beg you!
    it’s giving me a veytik already!

  11. Who cares if they aren’t sustainable? If they aren’t, then folks will move on to a big box synagogue. I don’t see what the big deal is. Every little change does not mean the sky is falling. Is it the general halacha to panic over shit that’s not that worrisome or is it just American minchag?

  12. @shmuel: It’s minhag. But I believe it *is* issur d’rabbanan to talk about anything without saying it might be a threat to Jewish continuity. Somewhere in Masechet Oy Gevalt, on the mishna about an overcooked brisket.

  13. @GY not only is it a minhag but in the tradition of minhag yisrael din hu (a custom becomes law) it has been documented and discussed by Simon Rawidowicz in his essay called “The Ever Dying Jew.”

  14. And what about the fact that the WP article completely overlooks the positive growth of independent minyanim in the Midwest??? They claim that there is ‘tremendous potential for growth’…little do they know that it’s already happening. Whatever happened to researching the facts. Gevalt.

  15. Raysh Weiss writes:
    They claim that there is ‘tremendous potential for growth’…little do they know that it’s already happening.
    Writing the same article over and over again means that if it wasn’t happening in 2003, then as far as they’re concerned, it’s not happening.

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