Our prayer service is countering growing disengagement

We are delighted to be mentioned in the Jewish Week, in an article about the opening of the JTS Block/Kolker Center for Spiritual Arts, as an alternative prayer service that is countering growing disengagement.

A Different Kind Of Prayer Education
Wed, 08/19/2015
Hannah Dreyfus
Staff Writer
Rabbinical students at JTS will experiment with different types of prayer at the new Block/Kolker Center for Spiritual Arts.

“According to Rabbi Uhrbach, the new center is intended to combat a “crisis of prayer,” a term coined by the late Abraham J. Heschel in his 1954 book “Quest for God.” The crisis is a growing disinterest in traditional liturgy and synagogue services, said Rabbi Uhrbach.

“Adults haven’t been offered models of prayer that reconcile contemporary understandings of God, or at least help people live with the paradoxical tension,” she said.

The “crisis” is reflected in the numbers. A March 2014 Pew Research Center study found that millennials are increasingly unmoored from institutions. Three in 10 young adults between 18 and 33 say they are not affiliated with any religion; the study found that millennials have the highest level of religious and political disaffiliation recorded, in comparison to the post-World War II, baby boomer and Gen-X generations.

A recent study by UJA-Federation of New York on voluntary dues in synagogues corroborated the Pew study’s findings, indicating that Jewish young adults are far less interested in affiliating with Jewish institutions than their older cohorts.

To be sure, efforts to counter growing disengagement with alternative prayer services have been gaining traction. Romemu, a Renewal-inspired congregation on the Upper West Side led by Rabbi David Ingber, often replaces conventional Shabbat services with yoga, ecstatic chanting and meditation. On its website, the congregation describes itself as “unabashedly eclectic” and a center for “Judaism that will ignite your Spirit.” The Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a educational organization in Lower Manhattan, hosts retreats and programming to deepen the spiritual experience of community leaders and laymen, and Or Chayim, an alternative, egalitarian Orthodox minyan on the Upper West Side, allows traditional members to celebrate religious milestones in untraditional ways. (This past Shabbat it celebrated the aufruf, or traditional Shabbat service before a wedding, of two gay members.)”

To read the full article click here:

The Jewish Week: A Different Kind of Prayer Education

Our first grant!

I’m excited to announce that my micro grant application for a free Rosh Hashanah kiddush, seder & tasting hour has been approved by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

From the application:

“For this Rosh Hashanah, the start of the new year, I want to create an event that resonates with who we are and where we are going. I would like to build on the shabbat kiddush style events that I have hosted, but replace the usual kugel and chulent with simanim-comprised dishes that each represent the sense of continuity and rejuvenation that I feel is developing amongst this community I’ve created of minyan attendees.

We will set up some long rectangular tables with platters consisting of 5 categories of simanim: (i) apples & honey, (ii) hot carrot tzimmes, (iii) stuffed cabbage (iv) gefilte fish and (v) pomegranate seeds. When I announce this event, I will ask for volunteers of small groups of people who would like to recite the prayer, say a few words about why they chose the blessing associated with one of these 5 simanim and share some of their hopes for the coming year. At the night of the event, we will start the kiddush hour by calling upon the 5 groups of “blessing volunteers” to each recite their respective prayer and share a few words on their hopes and why this blessing is meaningful to them.”

I’m looking forward to the new year!


“If someone is in pain because of a world that I am a part of, if I can do anything to alleviate their pain, I will do it.”

One of the key reasons I created the LGBTminyan is best articulated by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink in the final sentences of the Forward‘s article on his minyan on the Venice, California boardwalk.

While I certainly do not think I am worthy of creating this minyan, I feel it is necessary to build an independent traditional / Orthodox minyan that makes LGBT people feel included and where they can celebrate their simchas / simchot.

“I used to think that it was easier to leave Orthodox Judaism than it is to stay – that those who leave are weak. That’s what I was taught in the Orthodox world. But I’ve discovered that it’s the actually the opposite. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to leave and most do because they are in a tremendous amount of pain. And if someone is in pain because of a world that I am a part of, if I can do anything to alleviate their pain, I will do it.”

Forward: ‘Shul on the Beach’ Makes Orthodox Waves in Los Angeles