Independent Minyan Conference
April 23-25, 2010
New York, NY
Attended by Deena Fox, Josh Klein, and Ariella Kurshan
Halakhah and Independent Minyanim - Shabbat Afternoon Session 1 (Attended by Josh Klein)
Independent minyanim generally include populations of diverse backgrounds attempting to create a shared religious space. This setting provides some of the most fruitful and challenging ground for engaging Jewish norms as expressed through halakhic sources. In this session, we will hear about a number of halakhic case studies from various minyanim and try to map out some of the ways we could and should be thinking about norms and practices in these independent communities.
Presenter: Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY); Respondents: Ben Dreyfus, Segulah (Washington, DC/Silver Spring, MD); Allie Alperovich, Darkhei Noam (New York, NY)
This was a very interesting session. Ethan Tucker presented on some halakhic problems that an independent minyan might be faced with, and ways to deal with it. This session was quite informative, but unfortunately it was on Shabbat so there was no easy way to take notes from this session. Cases included: Musical Instruments on Shabbat, a case of counting a minyan (with a transgender individual), and other issues.
Meaningful takeaway: Although the case with a transgender individual identifying as a man being counted as a part of the male half of the minyan was very interesting, it was actually quite problematic. Essentially, the person in question is being denied the ability to define his own gender. If he identifies as a male, then who are we to question that? However, the halakha says that it is permissible to count one woman in a minyan when there are 9 men present in the interest of starting the service. Therefore, if we have 9 men and 11 women at our minyan, it would stand to reason that we could count that as our 10 and 10. Similarly, if there are only 9 women, but 11 men, that could count as our minyan as well.
Israel and Minyanim: Why the Disconnect? - Shabbat Afternoon Session 2 (Attended by Josh Klein)
A larger percentage of minyan-goers have spent significant time in Israel than almost any other group of young Jewish adults -more than 50% of minyan attendees have spent 4 months or more In Israel. Yet minyanim do almost no Israel programming – less than 5% of minyanim reported any Israel programming or services in our survey. What is the source of this disconnect to Israel among minyan-goers, should it change and how?
Panel: Ashira Konigsberg, Kehilat Hadar (New York, NY), Jen Naylor, Mission Minyan (San Francisco, CA), Aryeh Cohen, Shtibl (Los Angeles, CA); Respondent: Yair Furstenberg, Hakhel (Jerusalem)
A panel on how the independent minyan movement is very disconnected from Israel. 3 panelists explained the Israel programming and tefilla practices of their respective minyanim, Kehilat hadar, Mission Minyan, and Shtibl.
Takeaways: This really made me think about the relationship between our minyan and Israel. While we do the bracha for the state of Israel, we do not do a misheberach for Israeli soldiers, nor do we do a misheberach for the missing soldiers. Some of the panelists made the argument that inclusion of these misheberachs, and even the prayer for the state of Israel, are political statements. However, I disagree. While not everyone may approve of the mission and actions of the IDF, I think that there is general agreement that we want them to be safe. Additionally, I think it is safe to assume that we would all like the missing soldiers to be returned to their families alive. The Mission Minyan in San Francisco does no include the prayer for the state of Israel, and refuses to co-sponsor any sort of event that has to do with Israel out of their desire to not be a political entity. The general consensus was that most minyanim have a mission to provide quality davening, and that mission does not extend to providing quality Israel programming, which can be done easier, at lower cost, and at higher quality by organizations that already put on Israel programming and have experience in that field.
Leadership Transition, Starting a new minyan and Engaging Volunteers: Two Case Study workshops - Shabbat Afternoon Session 2 (Attended by Ariella Kurshan)
In this session we will use a case study method to examine two critical issues in minyanim. Taking the example of Washington Square Minyan and Englewood/Tenafly Partnership, we will work through these particular issues. The method of case study analysis will also be a take-away of how to solve practical problems.
Panelists: Evan Hochberg, Englewood/Tenafly Partnership (Englewood/Tenafly, NJ) – Engaging volunteers/ founding a new minyan; Meg Lederman, Washington Square Minyan (Brookline, MA) – transition process from founders
The case study methodology was an effective way to work through problems that two specific minyanim are having. The session was structured as follows:
1. Overview – 5 minutes; The presenter gives an overview of the situation and frames a question
2. Clarifying questions – 5 minutes; The group asks the presenter clarifying questions that have brief, factual answers
3. Probing questions – 10 minutes; the group asks probing questions of the presenter. The presenter responds to the group’s questions, but the group does not discuss responses yet. After ten minutes, the facilitator asks the presenter to restate his/her question for the group
4. Discussion – 15 minutes; the group talks with each other, while the presenter listens, about the question presented. Possible questions to frame the discussion include: What did we hear? What didn’t we hear that might be relevant? What assumptions seem to be operating? What questions does the dilemma raise for us? What do we think about the dilemma? What might we do or try if faced with a similar dilemma? What have we done in similar situations? Members of the group work to define the issues more thoroughly.
5. Reflection – 5 minutes; The presenter reflects on what s/he heard and on what s/he is not thinking, sharing with the group anything that particularly resonated for him or her, or any new thoughts or questions
6. Debrief – 5 minutes; The facilitator leads a brief conversation about the group’s observation of the process
Open Space – A great tool for community meetings. The community sets the agenda and then the most popular topics are covered in small breakout session
Open Space generated Session: Improving Davening - Sunday Session 1 (Attended by Josh Klein)
From the open space dialogue, we had a group discussing how to improve davening in our communities.
· Two important aspects to finding a davener – technical and vocal qualities. Needs to be proficient in both of those areas.
· Passionate leaders – congregation can tell when a davener is not passionate about what they are doing. The Shatz should be someone who conveys passion and excitement through their davening.
· Creative and thoughtful tunes – this is also quite important when preparing to daven. What are the tunes? Do they work with the words? Do I have backups incase they don’t work?
· Websites/additional information:
o Kolzimrah.info – dig down and will find mp3s with tunes
o Josh Fagelson
o Mechon Hadar Website – lots of mp3s. Chazan at Central Synagogue has lots of recordings that will be put up on website. 3 levels of teaching recordings:
1. Rote davening. One form, repeat it over and over
2. More elaborate beginnings and endings of phrases, going along with rote repeated forms.
3. Framework for real Hazanut – trills and elaborations around the cantillation note, how to get away and come back to the cantillation note, mode, etc.
Open Space generated Session: 10 and 10 - Sunday Session 1 (Attended and facilitated by Ariella Kurshan)
Questions to start discussion: Theoretical Framework? How far do we take it? Why 10 and 10? How do we justify it? What language do we use to talk about it?
Strategies for getting to 10 and 10:
Mission Minyan: The have an advance count for Shabbat Morning. Gabbai committee sends an e-mail asking for people to commit. 20 people represent about 50% of their weekly davening community
Minyan Tehilla: Create a rotation of people who arrive on time. 20 people represent about 25-33% of their weekly davening community
Kolei Hakol: Uses facebook to count for 10 and 10 allows for no guilt tripping
DC Minyan: Uses a public Googledoc sent out on Wednesday before minyan
What is the problem for getting 10 and 10:
Minyan Tehillah: problem is more on time
Kolei Hakol: The problem was men
Who is the motivation behind the 10 and 10 policy?
Mission Minyan: placating Egal
Minyan Tehillah: David Roth: B’erov Am Hadrat Melech is the best argument for a 10 and 10 policy especially if you are egalitarian
Washington Heights Partnership Minyan: Sings a special song when they got to 10 and 10 as a strategy to show it is an important policy
Possible solution if it is a struggle: Defining the 10 and 10 as a minyan policy perhaps term it as a “quorum” rather than a definition of a halakhic minyan, and a possible way to show it as minyan policy would be with some sort of song or perhaps lack of singing until we get to 10 and 10
Open Space generated Session: Cultivating Leadership and Volunteerism - Sunday Session 1 (Attended by Deena Fox)
How do we attract volunteers and then how do we cultivate leaders?
- founders reached out to a second tier of leaders even before the first meeting to work as gabbaim, work on logistics, build the website, now trying to find that third tier of volunteers and leaders (Kol Rinah)
o ask for volunteers during announcements
o list on website
- draft a list of people who’ve been to the minyan more than once and the people who’ve expressed interests (Minyan Tikvah)
o connect that with a list of tasks the minyan needs and reach out to those people
- Try using google forms to ask for demographic information and ask for areas of interest
- Individual ask works much better than a general call, but some try to do this anyway for transparency and to cover our backs so people cannot complain
o Also some new people may respond to the open call
o Different types of asks serve different purposes
o Asking individually also makes people feel included in the community, gives people ownership
- Keep track of people who are being asked so you don’t over ask the same people
- How do you match people with appropriate roles/how do you redirect people who are not appropriate?
- Ask people to do low level participation, like setting up the space, and then raise the ask to the next level
- There are prayer leaders and organizing work/grunt work
o When can you step back and say you’ve done enough
o Does everyone have an obligation to do the grunt work
- What do you do when members of the community have a habit of not following through?
o Identifying the people who may not be able to do prep/etc. and maybe offering them an on-site task
o Asking people to be in charge of something and requiring them to find a replacement if they cannot follow through
o Don’t rely on people who have not proven they are reliable for high end tasks – develop leaders through low level responsibilities first
§ One group has a davening corps and you cannot lead until you participate in the davening corps
· They meet once a month to discuss the arc of the service, etc
· They commit to attend the mtgs and lead davening regularly
· And the people who lead maariv and kabbalat Shabbat plan ahead together
· This will be a three month process and then they will open up to a new cohort
o Some think it is worth trying people out in tasks and believe that most people understand the standard
§ If they don’t meet the standard you have a frank conversation
§ Identify which leader can effectively have that conversation
§ “We really value you as a community member and we love having you participate. We’ve heard some feedback about your davening or X so we’d like to share that before you lead again”
§ Read: Having difficult conversations (a book)
- How do you train the volunteers/leaders?
o Have people work on teams so they learn the approach and skills
o Have one leader train the next person in that area
- Leaders are feeling very drained – some of them have young children and they are not able to replace the drained leaders quick enough
o Can you ask all of the members to complete a certain number of tasks or hours as part of your membership?
o Can you just pay someone to help with leadership tasks?
o How do you show new members that you need new leaders even thought it appears that everything is working without them?
§ Publicizing all of the behind the scenes work
o Try a campaign to lay out all of the roles and express a need without sounding desperate: “We want to change our leadership model to involve more people. Please join us in taking on one of the rolling roles…”
- Gender issues in leadership
- Resources for developing leadership
o Online melody resources/creating CDs of melodies and links on website
o Chevruta for davening skills (with members of the minyan and even other communities, Hillels, rabbis and synagogues)
o Workshops to increase skills on a given topic and then follow up and encouragement of people who have learned
o Management books
o Studies of group dynamics
o Train the current leaders
- It is easy to pigeonhole volunteers and ask them to do the same things – it is good to ask people for new roles
- How do you keep people committed to their responsibilities/the roles they have committed to?
- Does lay led mean that everyone has to participate/volunteer? Is showing up enough?
o Everyone who shows up is participating
o Thank you at end to all who participated
Expecting the Unexpected: Gabbaing on the Fly - Sunday Session 2 (Attended by Josh Klein)
Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
What happens when you discover that the Sefer Torah is invalid in the middle of an aliyah? How about when your 10th person walks out in the middle of kaddish? We will examine these questions and others (including your own) as we attempt to perfect the art of smooth gabbaing in even the most unexpected circumstances.
Ethan Tucker teaches on some gabbai issues that might come up during davening.
· The minyan leaves in the middle of davening:
o Diagram of where to look for minyan.
o In general, if you have started a section (chazara, barchu/kriyat shma, etc) with a minyan, and the minyan leaves after you have started, then you continue as if there is still a minyan. Example: Hazara. Minyan leaves during the opening blessing – Kedusha is still recited, and also the full Kaddish after the hazara is recited, as that kadish goes with the amidah.
o If minyan comes while you are doing the silent amidah, then the person who makes the minyan should lead the hazara. If that person is not able to leave, then that person should concentrate very hard on the words while someone else does the hazara.
o When doing birkat hacohanim, there MUST be a minyan present. IF the minyan left after the hazara started, then the duchening does not happen unless the minyan reappears.
o You can finish an aliyah without a minyan (concluding blessing), but you cannot start any more until the minyan has been reached.
o Check for a minyan before every barchu, Kaddish yatom, hazi Kaddish, etc.
· Invalid Sefer Torah
o There are 2 views:
1. It is completely invalid to read from pasul torah
2. It is valid when there are no alternatives
o We go with the second one, and at DC minyan we have a backup torah that we can use if this situation comes up.
o IMPORTANT: Once a pasul is found, we should not read from that torah. HOWEVER: Any reading done from that torah already is still valid. You do not repeat anything.
o Procedure when finding a pasul:
1. Reader finishes the pasuk.
2. If that pasuk is not within 3 verses of a break (paragraph, break in the line, etc), or at a break, then the person who had the aliyah says the concluding blessing.
3. If that pasuk is within 3 verses of a break and not at a break, then the concluding bracha is not said.
4. The torah is rolled up and put back in the ark with NO hagbah, and no songs/brachot to put away the torah.
5. The other torah is taken out and opened.
6. If #2 above, the next aliyah starts where the last reading ended. Do not repeat anything. The breaks in aliyot might have to be reconfigured on the fly.
7. If #3, the reader immediately continues the reading, up to the point where s/he would have ended anyways.
8. Service continues.
o If there is no other sefer torah available:
1. The person who has the aliyah stands at the amud while the reader finishes the aliyah.
2. Do not say the concluding blessing.
3. The readings continue, with the appropriate trope ending aliyot.
4. At the end of Shvi’I, the person who is still up there from the aliyah where the pasul was found says the concluding bracha.
5. Principle: we do not want to say more brachot over the pasul torah.
o Interesting side note: If the maftir for that day is in a different chumash (5th, or book) of the torah, then that maftir can still be read that day. Meaning that the torah reading should be finished, and when you move to a new book can say the brachot. You have no reason to suspect mistakes in the other book of the torah.
o When is a torah pasul:
1. Change in letters that change the pronunciation or the meaning of the word.
2. Words are wrong.
3. Words cannot be read
· Kohen, Levi Yisroel
o When no Levi – Same cohen does first 2 aliyot.
o When no Cohen – levi does first aliyah, yisrael does the rest.
o Ways to get more cohanim in – aharon aliyah in addition.
o Ways to get more kohanim in – continue rotation throughout aliyot – cohen, levi, yisroel, cohen, levi, yisroel
o If a Cohen is called up without knowing for an aliyah that is not the cohen aliyah, say at the end of calling him up “aph al pi she-hoo lo cohen.”
· Davening with a different Nusach
o Hard situation – have to make that person stop davening. Make sure people know which nusach (text) to use.
Prayer with a Purpose: Clarifying and Communicating Your Minyan's Vision – Sunday session 2 (Attended by Ariella Kurshan and Deena Fox)
Shawn Landres, Jewish Jumpstart (Los Angeles, CA)
What is your minyan's vision for itself and the world around it? Does your minyan have a mission? This session will offer a hands-on opportunity to reflect on and clarify your community's purpose.
The goal of this exercise is not to come up with a single vision for a community but to get the leaders thinking critically about what our goal is and what we are working towards.
key words we associate with our minyan
2. Ask everyone to write down a sentence that represents their vision for what the world will look like after their minyan achieves success. Then ask someone to read the sentence aloud and have people ask clarifying and probing questions. For example, let's suppose the sentence is: "Traditional and observant Jews view egalitarianism and change as integral to Judaism and not as a challenge to it." Some follow-up questions might include: Isn't "egalitarianism" captured by the word "change." Why do you specify what you don't want instead of only specifying what you do want? Why does the sentence focus on perception and not reality ("view")?
3. After going through 1 or 2 examples of probing questions, we then split into groups of 3 and spend 5 minutes in which a person reads his/her sentence and the others ask probing questions.
4. Then we spend 3 minutes revising our sentences based on the probing questions. Finally, we go around and share our sentences.
There are many paths and organizations through with people to reach a single vision. A vision allows you to bring people along on an engaging process. This animates and distinguishes you. A vision is just slightly out of reach; it's something that organization work towards, but it's not a set of goals or ideas. The goals and specific actions belong in a mission statement of an organization, which represents how an organization achieves its mission.
Is there a container that holds the visions of the whole leadership? Let everyone draft a vision and then look at the versions and see how they fit together, what the parameters of the “container” are.
Vision is not about you, the mission is all about you.
Weisenberg's Spontaneous Jewish Choir; Bringing a Melody to Life - Sunday Session 3 (Attended by Josh Klein)
Joey Weisenberg, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
In this class, we will focus on learning one old Jewish melody, studying it's musical mechanics, and bringing that melody to life collectively with beautiful harmony and rhythm.
· Community does not really know a tune until they have sung it through at least 20 times.
· There are 4 stages to learning/knowing a niggun
1. Hearing it for the first time
2. Being able to sing along
3. Being able to sing the whole thing by yourself if somebody else starts it, or being able to start from the middle
4. Being able to sing the beginning of the Niggun yourself with no prompting.
· It is important to feel the rhythm behind the music. Many large spaces are hard to sing together in because it is hard to hear the rhythm behind the music.
· Different speeds of a song can produce difference moods, different kavanah.
Demystifying Fundraising: Starting from the Grassroots – Sunday session 3 (attended by Deena Fox)
Lani Santo, American Jewish World Service and Altshul (Brooklyn, NY)
Participants will explore the concept of grassroots fundraising, gain confidence in their ability to engage in grassroots fundraising, and understand why this is an important part of strengthening an independent minyan.
Why is fundraising valuable and important?
- Organization needs money to succeed/accomplish mission
- Creating sense of ownership
- Engaging external stakeholders
- Cultivating giving is a value
- Forces us to clarify our mission/vision
- Giving makes people feel good
- Enables widespread participation
- People can contribute in different ways – for some people that is financial
Challenges to fundraising
- Not letting money become central
Shifting the focus
- Think about the ask as an opportunity for the giver and an empowering experience for them
- See fundraising as an opportunity to educate people about the mission of the organization
Steps moving forward
- Develop elevator pitch
- State the costs openly
- Give people information about the asks and what it will let the organization do
- Series on Judaism and philanthropy paired with membership and fundraising conversation
Foundations of Social Media: Tools, Skills and Mindsets for Success Online – (Attended by Ariella Kurshan)
Lisa Colton, Darim Online and Charlottesville Minyan (Charlottesville, VA)
As Clay Shirky writes in his famous book Here Comes Everybody, the age of social media means “organizations no longer have a monopoly on organizing.” Today’s tools are cheap (if not free) and amazingly useful for organizing our community, delegating administrative tasks, and helping us achieve our goals. Come learn the wisdom of the social media revolution, how you can put it to work for your needs, and what’s working well for other minyanim. Come to share your work, get your questions answered, and walk away with a toolbox full of goodies.
What we want to cover:
7. Organizations no long have a monopoly on organizing
8. Printing press to Facebook: Both represent communication revolutions
Social hubs; mavens and connectors
9. Characteristics of social media
Participatory: People want an active role; blurs the line between consumer and producer
Open and democratic: Voting, comments, information sharing; authenticity and trustworthiness
Conversational: Instead of email blasts, use social media o create conversation
10. Storytelling: Put people in the story via blog or Facebook, not just the institutions
Google alerts: Google alerts lets you know when your minyan (based on pre-defined search terms) has a new hit
Temple Israel of Memphis has a great Facebook page
Note: Facebook pages are searchable on Google (groups are not)
Real life example: Lisa tweeted that AT&T dropped 4 of her calls in the last few minutes. An AT&T representative responded to her Tweet and offered to help
Ambient awareness and digital intimacy in the NY Times last year: Gives us a difference sense of community
Marketing – use your “listening” to identify unofficial outposts
Website is home base; blog/facebook/twitter is an “official outpost”
Unofficial outposts (third-party platform): Find places where your target audience goes and participate in the conversation. Add value, educated, include links
12. Social content is social media
Content should be newsworthy, unique, controversial, timely, immediately useful, and/or funny
1:12 or 1:20 ratio
Check out Sixth & I on Twitter
Invite user-generated content
Garner feedback and encourage conversation
13. Facebook page is like your living room: If someone is really disrespectful, you can delete his/her comment or even kick that person out of the group
a. Civi CRM – CRM for database management (Hadar just started using it)
b. Eventbrite; Chipin: Great for fundraising; can embed box on your page
15. Around 11 am on Tuesday or Wednesday is best time to send email, according to Constant Contact
Building Singing Communities - Sunday Session 4 (Attended by Josh Klein)
Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
As a follow up to the Spontaneous Jewish Choir class, this class will focus on strategies for developing singing and music in your communities, and how to take the greatest advantage of the musical potential that's already present.
· Be proximate. Have people very close together, and they will sing more together. You can hear everyone, you can participate more, it is a more meaningful and intimate experience.
· Make sure that other people know a new tune before you start – station ringers. But have them close to you in the middle. Strong source coming from the middle will draw people in.
· Pews are restrictive – too proper. Need to break out of the proper and move away from the rigid structure. Encourage people to get into it and get excited.
· When doing a melody class – small room is much better. Start with 4 chairs in the middle – let the circle grow only as large as it needs to be. Then encourage everyone to get closer.
· It is not important how many people are singing – what is important is how focused they are. We need to have a listening community, where people are paying attention to those around them and joining in, rather than dominating everything and not being able to follow anyone else.
· Create a culture where it is OK to sit next to a stranger even in a not crowded room – that will make it easier to have people sit in the middle of the room rather than around the edges.
· Be in the middle, be proximate, be loud, be engaging, teach lots of tunes, and do them over and over and over and over again.
Theory and Practice of Pluralistic Jewish Communities – Attended by Ariella Kurshan
Ben Dreyfus, Segulah (Washington, DC/Silver Spring, MD)
Every community has some areas on which it takes a firm stand, and other issues on which it seeks to be pluralistic, accommodating multiple practices and identities. What does it mean to be pluralistic, and how do we implement this in our communities? We will explore the theory of Jewish pluralism, and share pluralistic practices developed in our communities.
Hilchot Pluralism by Ben Dreyfus
a. Not a binary, not an on-off switch
b. Communities have some pluralistic practices and some non-pluralistic practices
c. Not always possible to be pluralistic about pluralism
a. Pluralism is not the same thing as diversity; diverse people is not the same as pluralistic community (e.g., Chabad, Kotel)
b. Mah Rabu (Ben’s blog): Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism (modes of discourse in how we talk about pluralism)
ii. Stage 1: Forbidden, permitted, and required; Frummest common denominator (e.g., Harvard Hillel policy that birkat hamazon is always led by a man from a desire to be as inclusive as possible and not from a desire to subscribe to a specific halakhic approach)
1. Issue is that the communal meta standard stems from what is forbidden and what is requires; a person who evaluates religious practice from a different perspective does not have a voice at a table (or in order to have a voice, they have to exaggerate their position)
2. For a catered meal, stage 1 makes the most sense
iii. Stage 2: Comfort and compromise; discourse is about how can we make everybody comfortable or compromise to make everyone equally uncomfortable
1. Issues is that comfort becomes the code-word for deeply held principles; no distinction between being uncomfortable with sexism and being uncomfortable with the air conditioning being too strong
iv. Stage 3: Identity; find ways for people with different identities to come together; set-up community such that no one has to compromise once they are in the community; it’s okay to visit other communities and it doesn’t change your identity
a. Potlucks: Two table system makes it possible for everyone to eat and for everyone to contribute (all vegetarian table and all vegetarian heckshered table); universal donor table and universal recipient table
i. Different communities will have different needs and will draw the line differently
b. Language: Don’t call the vegetarian heckshered table the “kosher”; rather, describe things as they are
i. Ask specific questions rather than using labels and short-hand
4. Solutions from your community
a. Minyan-check system: Ask people in room whether there is a minyan; if 10 people think there is a minyan, then it’s considered to have a minyan
i. One way to implement in a non-obtrusive way is to use to have 10 books on the shelf and have people take and return books to the shelf, depending on whether or not people believe there is a minyan. When all the books are removed, you know there is a minyan.
5. Questions from your community