Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is "independent" the best descriptor of our minyanim?

There is a current boomlet of new havurot and minyanim. this boomlet it is usually dated to 2002:

The phenomenon started seven years ago with the Shtibl Minyan in Los Angeles, followed closely by Kehilat Hadar on Manhattan's Upper West. Hadar was joined in 2002 by Kol Zimrah and Darkhei Noam in New York and the D.C. Minyan in Washington...Today there are almost a dozen such minyans in New York, a handful in Boston, Washington and Philadelphia, and others in New Jersey, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Haven.

Many of these minyanim self-label as independent minyanim.

Hadar, for instance, describes itself as a
n an independent, egalitarian community committed to spirited traditional prayer, study and social action.The first word is independent.
Kol Zimrah.

When independent is used as a descriptor it is defining itself in relationship to something else. I suppose it'd be better to say defining on the basis on a non-relationship with something else. What are these minyanim independent of? I think many people presume that independent in this context is a reference to large, powerful jewish institutions, like Movements, JCCs, Synagogues, The Major Donors, etc.

The DC Minyan usually meets in a Jewish Community Center (DCJCC). Kol Zimrah often meets in a synagogue (The SAJ). Tikkun Leil Shabbat is blessed with the use of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism ( The RAC). Hadar, I believe, has often met at a Hillel (Columbia).
It is terrific that these spaces are available. The Jewish community doesn't need any more buildings, and it's great that we can share. When we were talking about things that we were independent from, Synagogues, Movements, Hillels, etc figured prominently. How odd that these four large and significant "independent minyanim" meet (sometimes or usually) in a JCC, a Synagogue, a building run by the largest denomination, and a Hillel.

I am not sure of the various financial arrangements, but in most cases, i imagine, the minyanim are charged for the additional costs to the host institution such as security if they are open later, setup, or cleanup, as appropriate. Though not free, this is a great gift, perhaps even a mutually beneficial arrangement. Minyanim don't foot the sunk costs of the buildings and Synagogues get convenient access to great services and build a relationship with many young folks. The big difference is not in which resources we use, but rather in whether or not we pay Movement dues. We don't. And as a result are not part of these vast and perhaps impersonal Movements. To be fair, we have greater ideological diversity than most large Synagogues as we try to involve a wide variety of folks. But many Synagogues also try to keep a big tent, so i am not sure this makes us distinct.

Even if the main distinction was our non-membership in Movements and non-affiliation with them, "independent" would not be the most precise term because it doesn't focus in on the distinction and is confusing. We could move toward calling ourselves non-denominational (kinda bland), post-denominational (most hostile), or trans-denominational (pretty good). That said, i could easily imagine a situation in which one of these minyanim affiliated with a Movement and still considering them a peer, ally, and network member.

What defines us is not a commitment to Movements (or independence from Movements as it were) but rather a commitment to vibrant egalitarian communities. Egalitarian in the sense that we are all equal as members. We don't have paid professionals to be Jewish for us. We are Jewish together, individually, and collectively. We don't show up to watch other people learn, we show up to study. We don't show up to watch prayer, we show up to pray. We don't show up to hear singing, we show up to sing. What word would better describe that as the nuance around we which we define?

Empowered Minyanim: this is no good because, not only is it snarky, but it also is unbearably self-important which would play into an already abounding negative stereotype.

Egalitarian Minyanim: though technically a good use of the actual definition, this word has become so closely identified with gender-based issues, it would be understood in that light, and though those issues are important, there are many gender-egalitarian communities that aren't egalitarian in other ways we care about, so it's not a good statement of what makes us different.

Fruity Minyanim: some really aren't so fruity, so this isn't ideal. plus, people would confuse us with a network of Queer Shuls.

Young Minyanim: again, this isn't really the principle. there is certainly a strong correlation between young minyanim and our kinda minyanim, but it is not really the distinction.

In short, i am still figuring out if there is a good one adjective answer to the question of how we ought to modify minyanim when we talk about the emerging core. Any ideas?


At 9/27/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

Using space that belongs to Jewish institutions doesn't mean that the minyanim are part of those institutions. Hadar meets most frequently in a Presbyterian church, but no one would suggest that Hadar is connected to The Presbyterian Church.

At 9/27/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

What word would better describe that as the nuance around we which we define?

"Havurah" is one option, except there are too many misconceptions about what it means.

At 9/27/2006 , Blogger Chorus of Apes said...

I like the term "independent minyan" Yes, we use institutional resources, and I think it behooves us to recognize that. That said, we are independent of movement structure, policy, and concerns. Its all just less political. Some folks run the show, others show up, and if something needs to change either it changes, or folks start up something that they like better (see DC Minyan/DC Reform Havurah beginnings). There are enough young Jews in the cities were this stuff is brewing that we dont have to fight over it. So, in some sense we are independent of the dynamics of movement shuls.

Another way to think about it is that we are independent of a rabbi. We do not depend on rabbinic authority, leadership, or religious functioning (of course, it helps to have friends who are rabbis to do stuff like be mesader kidushin and the like). Maybe I like this best, like the 20-somethings we are, we have just moved out of home and off the college campus, and now we are independent of authority. We have not cut ties with the organized community (far from it as many of us work and live in it), but we are independent of it.

At 12/03/2009 , Blogger DafKesher said...

How 'bout "shul"?

At 12/06/2009 , Blogger Gail said...

You write: Minyanim don't foot the sunk costs of the buildings and Synagogues get convenient access to great services and build a relationship with many young folks.

Good for you. This is yet one more example where older Jews are paying for the services younger Jews are taking for granted, including the movements that brought you the youth groups, summer camps, Israel experiences and other benefits that have brought you to being the "independent" leaders you are. Eventually, you energized younger folks will have to take on the responsibility for the building we don't need more of and the institutions that serve more than a small group. And at that point, our interdependence will become all the more clear to you. I hope the larger institutions survive the current financial crisis and still exist for you so that you don't have to start building again from the ground up.


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