Our first press coverage!

Pride of place: New DIY minyan draws LGBT Orthodox Jews – Jewish World Features Israel News | Haaretz.

A monthly Shabbat gathering in New York that aims to offer a ‘unique traditional and Orthodox space’ for members of the community proves unexpectedly popular.

By | Dec. 22, 2014 | 6:56 PM

NEW YORK – When Oliver Rosenberg moved back to New York last February, after a year-and-a-half hiatus in Los Angeles, he immediately got to work on two startups. The first was Prealth, a mobile app that allows consumers to compare costs of doctors’ visits and offers helpful health-care information. The second was Or Chayim, an independent monthlyminyan (prayer quorum) for traditional and Orthodox lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews, which concluded the year with a special Shabbat Hanukkah celebration last Friday.

For Or Chayim’s first event in February, which he advertised on social media, Rosenberg said he hoped for about two dozen attendees. Instead, more than 50 people showed up in the events room of his apartment building on the Upper West Side, where the minyan continues to gather. Each month, Or Chayim consistently attracts between 50-75 participants, who daven a traditional service and then nosh on cholent and kugel, followed by a kosher catered dinner.

“I don’t really know what the magic ingredient is but I feel like he found it,” said Jared Arader, a regular attendee, of the community that has been created by Rosenberg.

More than 200 people have attended Or Chayim Shabbat events to date, and the group boasts over 400 followers on social media. The popularity of the minyan suggests that Rosenberg has tapped into an under-served niche in the city’s Jewish community, which has surprised even him.

“I’m shocked by how successful it’s been,” he told Haaretz.

The past decade has seen extraordinary progress in LGBT inclusion in the American Jewish community, mirroring increasingly widespread acceptance in the country. Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues have led the way, with the Conservative movement coming around in recent years as well. Though the insular world of the ultra-Orthodox remains largely impenetrable to this momentum, some modern Orthodox communities have taken steps to open the door to LGBT individuals.

American organizations like JQ Youth, founded in 2001 to support young LGBT Orthodox Jews, and Eshel, founded in 2012 to support parents of LGBT Orthodox children, are helping to shape a generation for whom embracing one’s sexuality and experiencing a traditional religious upbringing are no longer mutually exclusive.

‘This is not a bar’

Rosenberg, now 28, came out when he was 22 and a student at Yeshiva University. He spoke in 2009 on panel at the university called “Being Gay in the Orthodox World.” Following graduation, he explored a variety of synagogues and congregations on both the West and East Coasts, including Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in New York, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, but found that he was missing the structure and liturgical traditions he had grown up with.

“It was so rich within me, this very traditional Orthodox spiritual style,” Rosenberg explained. And yet he saw that an Orthodox shul, even an inclusive one, didn’t offer the sense of freedom and camaraderie that a gay space provides. So he created Or Chayim to bridge the gap, contributing to the DIY independent minyan trend that has shaped American Judaism in the past decade. Apparently, others were looking for this as well.

“I know [that] as an openly gay man I can go to most of the minyanim on the Upper West Side and in New York,” said Arader. “But there’s something welcoming and open and safe in being in an environment where gay is normative and you don’t have feel as cautious about it.”

While the Or Chayim environment is certainly social and, for some, its appeal is primarily the mingling, the group’s roots are firmly religious – “centered around Shabbat, centered around a service,” Rosenberg said. “There are a ton of gay Jewish parties in New York, but this is not in a bar, it’s not in a club.”

The group’s Shabbat service follows Orthodox guidelines and a lowmehitza (barrier) separates men and women – when there are women: Approximately 90 percent of attendees to date have been male.

“We all hope more women will attend eventually,” said Arader, who pointed out that some transgender men have attended as well, which is also welcome. The age range is from 16 to 80, with a sizable contingent between their twenties and fifties. In terms of religious affiliation, Rosenberg says that about one-third identify as Orthodox, half grew up traditional but left the fold, and the remaining 20 or so percent don’t come from a traditional background but are, as Rosenberg put it, “traditional-curious.”

To continue reading the article please click on the link here.

Statement on the horrific synagogue massacre terrorist attack in Israel – November 18 2014

I felt shaken the entire day yesterday by the devastating news out of Israel.

We turn to houses of prayer to feel a sense of safety, community and connection. It is a place where we open up to G-d, make ourselves vulnerable and pray for health, sustenance and peace. The haunting images of worshippers wrapped in their talis and sprawled on the floor in pools of blood echoes images not seen since the Holocaust.

As we have come together this year to make our own place to pray and congregate, yesterday’s attack on a synagogue felt so violating. Arab terrorists killed five morning worshippers at Kehilat Bnei Torah Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem and left another six people critically injured.

It is horrifying that these victims were attacked just as they finished the last blessing of the Amidah, the prayer for peace:  Sim Shalom Tova U’vracha.  שִׂים שָׁלוֹם טוֹבָה וּבְרָכָה     Grant peace, everywhere, Goodness and blessing.

We express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of these 5 murdered innocents.

Rabbi Moshe Twersky.

Rabbi Kalman Levine

Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky

Rabbi Abraham Goldberg

and Zidan Sayif (the heroic Druze policeman who was the first on the scene and shot the terrorists).

We say as is customary, Baruch Dayan Emet. Blessed is the True Judge. For only he understands.

Additionally, we must pray for the injured victims who remain in critical condition at this time: Here are their Hebrew names:

Shmuel Yerucham ben Baila

Chaim Yechiel Ben Malka

Avraham Shmuel Ben Shaina

Eitan ben Sarah

Aryeh ben Bracha

We must remain optimistic and dream for peace and imagine a future someday where Jews and Arabs can live side by side peacefully.

The coming months, however, will be challenging as Israel faces an evil radical terrorist onslaught. “The murder of non-Zionist Torah scholars is an attack on Jews more than Israel, and explaining it requires an understanding of hatred, not of politics,” as the New Republic wrote last night in Politics can’t explain the Israeli synagogue attack. Only hatred can.

As LGBT Jews, Or Chayim expresses its unconditional and unwavering support for Israel. We have an obligation to stand with and support Israel both on the days when the world weeps with us and on the days when it is deafeningly silent or critical.

One can not answer for the numerous CNN headline gaffes yesterday. Nor can one answer why the White House sat quietly all Summer before finally acknowledging this week that Europe’s anti-Zionism is increasingly anti-Semitism.  Nor can one answer, why the White House decided in October to suspend its standards against civilian casualties in its new war in Syria and Iraq after criticizing Israel for civilian casualties all summer. There is hypocrisy in this world. And Israel like every Western democracy has an obligation to protect the hard-fought rights, liberties and freedoms of its citizenry.
We know that Israel is just and moral and that the majority of its citizens crave peace. And as Prime Minister Netanyahu says, if the Arabs dropped their weapons tomorrow there would be peace, but if Israel dropped its weapons tomorrow, there would be no more Israel.

Let us be proud that Israel only uses force when it is utmost necessary. Even then, as in this summer’s war with Gaza, Israel provided two advance warnings to each of its targets ahead of time. A tactic that was unprecedented in war. A tactic that limited civilian casualties. And a tactic that is a model for other nations to someday follow.

We must stand with Israel when it uses force to protect itself and/or root out terrorism.


In this week’s torah portion, Parshat Toldot, our forefather Jacob (also known as Israel) creates a lentil stew for the mourning of his grandfather Abraham (Genesis 25:29-30). The great medieval biblical scholar Rashi asks, “why serve lentils in mourning?” He answers that “lentils have no mouth, no openings. So too the mourner has no mouth. They can’t speak.” Mourners have no answers, they have no words to say. I feel the same way right now. We have no words to say for yesterday’s awful tragedy.

Yet Rashi cites an additional reason. “Lentils resemble a wheel, for mourning is a turning wheel in the world.” As the Talmud, in Bava Basra 16b, says “just as the wheel turns, so too, mourning goes around in an inescapable cycle, befalling the inhabitants of the world.” The Talmud continues that lentils are a consolation and reminder that mourning is not a constant.

The people of Israel are not known for carrying grudges. After all, mourning is not a constant. We move on.

Today the Kehilat Bnei Torah Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem was open for services again.

And once again they are saying the blessing of Sim Shalom this morning. God bless our sacred liturgy that for generation after generation keeps its people optimistic and sustains us with the resiliency to pray for peace on the day after the most harrowing of horrors.

Let us keep that in mind and let us keep the names of those that are critically injured in mind as we pray with the entire nation of Israel for peace.

Oliver Rosenberg
President & Founder
Or Chayim

שִׂים שָׁלוֹם טוֹבָה וּבְרָכָה

חֵן וָחֶֽסֶד וְרַחֲמִים עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ

בָּרְכֵֽנוּ, אָבִֽינוּ, כֻּלָּֽנוּ כְּאֶחָד בְּאוֹר פָּנֶֽיךָ

כִּי בְאוֹר פָּנֶֽיךָ נָתַֽתָּ לָּֽנוּ ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ

תּוֹרַת חַיִּים וְאַֽהֲבַת חֶֽסֶד וּצְדָקָה וּבְרָכָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלוֹם

וְטוֹב בְּעֵינֶֽיךָ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה בִּשְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ הַמְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשָּׁלוֹם

Sim shalom tovah u-ve-raħa

Ḥen vacħesed ve-raħamim aleinu ve-al kol Yisrael amekha

Barkheinu Avinu kulanu ke-eħad be-or panekha

Ki ve-or panekha natata lanu, Adonai Eloheinu

Torat ħayim ve-ahavat ħesed, u-tzedaka u-ve-raħa ve-raħamim ve-ħayim ve-shalom

Ve-tov be-einekha le-varekh et amkha Yisrael be-khol et u-ve-khol sha’ah bi-shlomekha

Baruch atta Adonai, ha-mevarekh et amo Yisrael ba-shalom.

Grant peace everywhere goodness and blessing,

Grace, lovingkindness and mercy to us and unto all Israel, Your people.

Bless us, our Father, all of us as one with the light of Your face;

For by the light of Your face You have given us, Adonai our God,

The Torah of life, and love of kindness, and righteousness and blessing and mercy and life and peace;

And may it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at all times and in every hour with Your peace.

Praised are You, Adonai, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

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!