Identity, Politics, Religion

What's next?

This is my workshop description for the NHC Summer Institute:

Havurah: What’s Next?
Many new independent minyanim/havurot/communities have sprouted up over the last few years. These communities have a particularly strong following among people in their 20s and 30s, and exist primarily in urban centers. This workshop is for people in this constituency who are starting to think about the next stage. Where will we move if we can’t afford to stay in our current neighborhoods? What kinds of meaningful Jewish communities will we create there? What new models of Jewish education will we create for our children? How can we think about doing this together? This workshop is an open discussion to brainstorm proactively about these questions.

I have explicated these questions (and my reasons for asking them) in much greater detail at Mah Rabu. I know a bunch of Jewschoolers will be at the ‘tute, but even if you’re not there to participate in the conversation in person, we can start talking here on the Internet. What are your ideas?

8 thoughts on “What's next?

  1. I am traumatized about all these questions. I left New York, and that was hard enough. When I leave San Francisco because I can’t afford ANYTHING about family life here, will I have to give up Jewish community? Is there someplace that isn’t expensive where I can be a part of something like this? Why can’t we all move to rural Ohio or something?
    For those of you about to respond that there is Jewish life outside of the big city – I know. I grew up in South Carolina, which isn’t really a fair comparison, because Jewish life there is quite sad and lonely. I know that there are “options” in places like that – we had a JCC, we had 2 shuls and we had a camp 4 hours away in Georgia. But there is no vibrant community of learning there, and in fact at my shul, there wasn’t even a Saturday morning service. Things like kosher meat, chevruta gemara study, and Simchat Torah celebrations are fantasies.
    It seems the only way to do it the way we want to do it is to live crowded into the big cities, or to live on the outskirts of their pricey suburbs and “commute” to shul.
    Some would argue this is the corner we’ve painted ourselves into by living in Diaspora. Is it true? Again, why can’t we all move to rural Ohio?

  2. You’ve taken the words out of my mouth, but I have to tell you that there IS life outside of the big city, and not just like your South Carolina community. You will find large, vibrant Jewish communities throughout the South and Midwest. Worry not, you don’t have to give up Jewish community by any means! You just need to find the less well-known (in the Jewish world) but still flourishing communities in the cities that are in between the Jewish size of Manhattan and South Carolina.
    Right nearby you is Atlanta–Jewish day schools, shuls, all you want, plus the camp nearby. Texas has *many* Jews; Dallas has a community of 55,000+ Jews and growing, more shuls than you can shake a stick at, multiple kosher restaurants, two kollels (one being Modern Orthodox [!]), and its own Va’ad Hakashrut–and that’s not even mentioning Houston yet! Minneapolis, MN (and it’s twin city, St. Paul) have 40,000+ Jews, multiple shuls of all sorts, competing hashgachot, and easy access to kosher meat!
    I could go on, but I believe it’s a fallacy that there is no (or even not so much) vibrant Jewish life outside of the coasts. I grew up in one of these places, and you can unquestionably find find “vibrant communit[ies] of learning,” “kosher meat, chevruta gemara study, and Simchat Torah celebrations.”
    Of course there’s less Jewish life in Utah–there’s less life in general in Utah (though I do know an observant Jew from Utah, surprising as it is!). And yes, the smaller towns are going to be more like your South Carolina life. But assuming by “big cities” you mean like Manhattan and Boston and San Francisco, I firmly believe that there is great Jewish life somewhere in between the crowded centers of Judaism and the Jewish wastelands of Pierre, South Dakota.
    I hope this is a bit more encouraging! There is life outside of Manhattan; worry not!

  3. -BZ
    I am really sorry that I’ll still be in Israel while your having this retreat. Very often, I’ve thrown around these exact questions, and I am very curious to hear what might come out of a productive sesion which will include many of the young movers and leaders who have created these communities. I’ll try and catch you after for a full report

  4. Benjamin writes:
    vibrant Jewish communities […] more shuls than you can shake a stick at […] multiple shuls of all sorts
    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the (non-Orthodox) shuls that exist out there don’t count as “vibrant Jewish communities” of the kind that I’m looking for. And that’s not a NY-centric statement — the NY shuls count even less!!! That’s why we had to create alternative communities in NY. And now I’m asking about how we can create new communities elsewhere.

  5. BZ–
    I’m sure you’ve thought and talked about this a-plenty, but does the use of the internet play into the conversation any? After all, one of the main reasons that the kind of “meaningful Jewish communities” you mention spring up in urban centers is simply because a high traffic of minds helps kick start any new projects. So Jews “congregating” (sorry…) online–everything from ShulShopper to a site that helps people design indie minyanim (providing case studies, suggested steps, people to contact with questions, etc.) to things I’m not even cool enough to come up with–can help counter the I-just-can’t-live-in-NY-SF-or-Boston-so-where-will-my-Jews-be-at?! feelings.
    Your session, by the way, sounds great, and I hope you post some of the conversation that emerges out of it.

  6. I am in exactly the demographic and life phase that you describe. After a young adulthood in Jerusalem and then both coasts (Boston and San Francisco) I find myself engaged and relocating to Irvine. (yes, that is behind the Orange Curtain). I am searching for a vibrant, traditional-egalitarian-Carlebach davening experience (and possibly even community) down here. It doesn’t exist, but I’d like to create if I could find the people. But how to find them behind their gated communities and in their SUVs? If anyone knows of any like-minded souls in the O.C. please contact me at jill UNDERSCORE jacobs AT msn DOT com. Todah!!

  7. There have also been a string of responses to BZ’s post at the mah rabu website (
    There is Jewish life outsite the biggest cities, and some congregations/communities have participatory havurah or synagogue communities. Others have enough critical mass/Jewish infrastructure that new groups could be added.

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