Shul's Out as Jewish Millennials Customize Their Own Spiritual Experiences

Published: 
February 12, 2016

Source: Haaretz

 

Young American Jews are flocking to pop-up events that fill a need for casual, inventive gatherings, while traditional institutions struggle to catch up. New York’s Jews are finding creative new ways to connect with Judaism independent of synagogues – from musical Shabbats for young families in an upscale Brooklyn condo building to pot luck suppers and lots of singing with hundreds of 20- and 30-somethings around the corner; and from a monthly Ecstatic Mincha that pairs dancing with prayer to a private Kol Nidre service for Russian families on the Upper East Side.

These and countless other one-off and occasional events are part of a burgeoning wave of gatherings that, much like the pop-up boutiques in vogue in recent years, generate buzz and create impromptu communities. The Jewish equivalent is not a movement, per se, since there is no coordinating body, but an important trend from which synagogue leaders must learn, experts say.

Pop-up events are driven by the generation that has grown up ordering Starbucks drinks precisely to their liking and creating Spotify playlists with only the music they want to hear, who aren’t finding their spiritual and social needs met by traditional Jewish establishments.

“This is the age of hyper-curation,” says Seth Cohen, senior director of the Charles and Lynne Schusterman Family Foundation, which has provided micro-grant funding to some of the efforts. “If you can curate everything in your life, why shouldn’t you be able to curate your Jewish experiences?”

Since 2014, OneTable, a New York-based startup, has provided mentoring, support and grants that have enabled volunteer hosts to create 1,000 unique Shabbat dinners for some 12,000 participants in their 20s and 30s across the country, said OneTable executive director Aliza Kline.

The decade-old Moishe House, a network of 86 residences for post-college Jews around the world, recently started Moishe House Without Walls, to encourage alumni to create independent events and experiences for others.

Even that bastion of the establishment, Hillel International, has created a spinoff called Base Hillel (playing on the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Beit Hillel and the concept of home base). Adapting Chabad’s model, Hillel created two New York City locations in Williamsburg and Union Square, planting young rabbinical couples whose agenda is to meet young Jews where they are. Another is planned for Chicago, with further expansion anticipated.

Schusterman’s Cohen says the successful pop-up experiments “foreshadow the type of programming that establishment Jewish organizations will either need to provide or they’ll end up being irrelevant. We live in a world where consumers are seeking ways to be creative.” And if institutions don’t shift their approach from one that provides experiences to one providing a platform for creative experimentation, he said, “they’ll be just another part of Jewish history.”

Read more at Haaretz.

Updated: Mar. 06, 2016
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