Friday, February 02, 2007

The minyanim of Studentville, MA...

... or, can't we all just daven together?



Important: If you lack a sense of humor, read this first.

Town stats:

Population: Approximately 100,000 (source: Wikipedia)
Number of kosher restaurants: 0
Number of kosher stores: 0
Number of mikvaot: 0
Jewish population: Unable to obtain statistics. I'd estimate somewhere in thousands. Like many places, most Jews do not go to shul. I would estimate the active Jewish population to be under 1000.
Number of minyanim: At least 14

Names changed to protect the guilty.

Hillel I* Orthodox Minyan I.

Practice: Modern Orthodox
Reasons for existence: Orthodox undergraduate and graduate students from School I, Orthodox non-students who live in the area; Previously, only regularly-meeting Orthodox prayer group in town.
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel I* Orthodox Minyan II.

Practice: Modern Orthodox
Original reasons for existence: Orthodox undergraduate students who didn't want to daven with the non-students in Hillel I Orthodox Minyan I. (The original intent of the minyan was to meet on Shabbat. It never took off.)
Would have served an unserved need when it started: No
Current reason for existence: Weekday morning minyan an hour later.
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel I* Conservative Minyan I

Practice: Shortened-service, discussion session, Conservative/egalitarian
Original reasons for existence: Conservative students from School I; Conservative non-students
Current reasons for existence: Conservative non-students
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel I* Conservative Minyan II

Practice: Traditional-liturgy Conservative/egalitarian
Reasons for existence: Egalitarian-leaning Conservative students (mostly undergraduates) who didn't want to daven with Hillel I Orthodox Minyan I (yes, that's right. Conservative Minyan II was more a breakaway from Orthodox I than Conservative I!)
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel I* Reform Minyan

Practice: Guitar Reform
Reasons for existence: Only Reform prayer group in town.
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel II** Orthodox Minyan.

Practice: Orthodox
Reasons for existence: Orthodox students from School II.
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Hillel II** Conservative Minyan.

Practice: Traditional-liturgy egalitarian/Conservative
Reasons for existence: Conservative/egalitarian students from School II.
Served an unserved need when it started: Yes

Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan I

Practice: Mechitza; Wait for 10 men/10 women for a "minyan"; Women lead parts of the service that aren't important.
Reasons for existence: Orthodox 20- and 30-somethings who wanted to maximize women's participation; Egalitarians who didn't want to daven at Shul Egalitarian Minyan or Hillel I Conservative Minyan II.
Served an unserved need before it started: Maybe. The real pseudo-egalitarian crowd was unserved. The (majority?) egalitarian crowd was served.

Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan II

Note: The latest addition to the fray.
Practice: Mechitza; Wait for 10 men/10 women for a "minyan"; Women lead parts of the service that aren't important. (Sound familiar?)
Reasons for existence: Undergraduate students who didn't want to daven with Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan I or Hillel I Orthodox Minyan I.
Served an unserved need before it started: No. Practice exactly mirrors Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan I.

Shul I Egalitarian Minyan

Practice: Traditional liturgy egalitarian/Conservative
Reasons for existence: Egalitarian-leaning Shul-I-goers who didn't want to daven with Shul I Traditional Minyan; Conservative area residents.
Served an unserved need before it started: Yes

Shul I Traditional Minyan

Original Practice: Orthodox, then non-egalitarian Conservative without a mechitza.
Original reasons for existence: It was the shul minyan.
Served an unserved need before it started: Yes
Current Practice: Modern Orthodox
Current reasons for existence: Members of Shul I who became "too frum" for Shul I Egalitarian Minyan; Orthodox area residents.
Served an unserved need before it started: Maybe

Postdenominational Egalitarian Minyan

Practice: Traditional-liturgy egalitarian/not Conservative
Reasons for existence: A place for 20- and 30-something egalitarians who go to Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan I to go when they don't meet; they won't go to Shul I Egalitarian Minyan or Hillel I Conservative Minyan II.
Served an unserved need before it started: No

Shul Nobody Goes To

Practice: Friday night egalitarian/"non-denominational" minyan
Original reasons for existence: Area residents who grew up in Hillel I forming a community.
Served an unserved need before it started: I dunno.
Current reasons for existence: Providing rental space for Postdenominational egalitarian minyan and Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian Minyan I. Getting Torah scrolls declared pasul (unfit) by said minyanim.

Big Orthodox Outreach Organization

Practice: Big Orthodox Outreach Organization
Reasons for existence: Feeding hungry students and non-students, especially of the bu$ine$$ and law varieties; Starting an hour later on Shabbat morning, thus avoiding any suspicion that Big Orthodox Outreach Organization rabbi is davening b'zman at Hillel I Orthodox Minyan I.
Served an unserved need before it started: Food, yes. Minyan, no.


* It may come as a surprise to some who don't live in Studentville that I'm considering Hillel I as supporting minyanim for non-students. This is something of a historical accident. Hillel I is roughly centrally located in Studentville and functioned as something akin to a Jewish Community Center. At one point, it associated with local K-8 day school (now independent). With recent policy shifts added to the advent or ascendence of so many other minyanim, Hillel I is in the process of losing its connection to non-undergraduate students and non-students alike. When these changes begin to hit them significantly in the donation department has yet to be seen.

** Geographical Note: School II is located far enough way from School I that they could not reasonably be expected to join each others' Hillels on a regular basis. Historical note: Both Hillel organizations were founded with a year of each other.

Updated: Added footnote *, corrected a few typos.
Update 2: Corrected characterization of one of the minyan's practices to reflect it "better." Added link to second post.

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Comments:
I must say-- this is hilarious. I have hours when I make lists such as these-- monuments to wasted time, usually.

Greetings fromמתא ירושלים דיתבא על מי שלוח ועל מי בֿארות!
 
It is an amusing taxonomy. However, I'm sad to see you think the post-denominational egalitarian minyan didn't serve a purpose when it started. In fact, probably what prompted its formation was that so many people who wanted to daven egalitarian were instead settling for non-egalitarian davening at Hillel Orthodox Minyan I (and later, once it started up, OPEM I). Yes, said egalitarians could have gone to Conservative services at Hillel - but those were either geared to professors or to undergraduates (and not available during the summer, or during school break). The Hillel Orthodox services served them better, at least socially, because they drew a crowd of many ages, making it easier to fit in, and also because they met consistently, every week in and out of the school year. These both matter.

They could also have gone to Shul I Egalitarian Minyan, except it was not fully egalitarian when PDEM I started (women never led musaf, and rarely led any services except Friday night - this is somewhat less true today, although the same man usually leads musaf each week in the egalitarian service). It was also not so accessible to non-insiders (although the people are very nice, the shul spends more time discussing how to keep its current members happy - and how to make its two separate minyanim pray together, despite their obvious desire not to - than to think more broadly about how best to be open and accessible to potential new members). In fact, Shul I would make a nice study in and of itself - it has closer to 5 minyanim now, and had more earlier. (In addition to the 2 you mention, there are different Sunday and Monday morning varieties, plus a distinct Friday night minyan, not to mention occasional holiday services that are a blend of all of the above.)

Finally, it's not clear there is the PDEM/OPEM overlap you think. Most people at OPEM don't go to PDEM, and similarly many people at PDEM specifically don't go to OPEM. The people who go to both have in common that they haven't found a home in the many alternatives in the area.

The point is, these minyanim spring up to serve a purpose. I agree some could lose that purpose later on (institutions tend to stagger on even after their original purpose is gone or irrelevant). However, the proliferation of new minyanim is happening because the pre-existing institutions could not or did not serve a big section of the local Jewish population. You could assert that having this greater variety lets every group serve its core members better (instead of trying to be everything to everybody, and failing to serve anybody well). It would be nice to have everyone davening under the same roof, but alas, things don't always work that way - and I wouldn't want to have everyone compromising to be together, so that in the end no one would be happy (this, I think, is what Shul I's "combined services" are like). Instead of bemoaning it, better to have each community focus on how it can serve its purpose the best (instead of trying to think about "how can we get more people to come?" focus on "how can we be good at what we do?" and let people come if they want that). and even better to think about the many ways/times (Shavuot, anybody?) when we can find a way to bridge the communities, co-sponsor and plan an event, and remind ourselves we're all part of one larger holy community.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
(Ed. note: Deleted comment = this comment deleted for corrections)

probably what prompted its formation was that so many people who wanted to daven egalitarian were instead settling for non-egalitarian davening

The bigger question here is: why were they considered unserved? There already existed two other fully egalitarian minyanim (ok, one of them was transitioning to being fully egalitarian from having the same man lead musaf every week, but, I don't get the sense that most of PEM's members are that radically egalitarian.) that would have been perfectly happy to have them. I understand that one of them (Hillel I Cons II) may have put people off because of lacking a peer group [which brings up a chicken and egg issue], but the other (Shul egal) really serves the same community, and is reasonably malleable to the changes in the community's makeup.

[re: Hillel I Cons II] (and not available during the summer, or during school break).

No, and maybe. Traditionally, graduate students have run Hillel I Cons II during the summer (and some school breaks). With minyan proliferation, and the divergence of communities, I'm not sure how much longer that setup is viable. Whether that's a good thing or not is another issue.

They could also have gone to Shul I Egalitarian Minyan, except it was not fully egalitarian when PDEM I started

This makes no sense to me. Why did Orthodox Pseudo-Egalitarian I win the crowd? (I know that you don't agree that the overlap is so great, but PEM is a smaller group than OPEM I, and a good number of OPEM I participants are willing to daven egal; In a strange twist, given the choice, they will often choose not to). It is far less egalitarian than either egalitarian option ever was.

and later, once it started up, OPEM I)

Historical insight: OPEM I predated PEM with a regular schedule by a few months. The early bird gets the worm?

(In addition to the 2 you mention, there are different Sunday and Monday morning varieties, plus a distinct Friday night minyan, not to mention occasional holiday services that are a blend of all of the above.)

The Sunday morning minyan is considered part of the "Traditional" minyan. The Monday morning minyan is considered part of the "Egalitarian" minyan. The Friday night minyan is also considered part of the egalitarian minyan, although there's good reason to question why. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has yet pushed in any way for break-away status the same way Hillel I Orthodox II intended to be a different minyan from Orthodox I, or Hillel I Conservative II intended to be a different minyan from Conservative I or Orthodox I.

Holiday services discussed below.

(this, I think, is what Shul I's "combined services" are like)

"Combined services" -- if anyone is reading and doesn't understand what the terminology means: no mechitza, men lead services, women get aliyot (and, I think women may read Torah). It's a compromise from the days when Shul I ran both a "traditional" minyan (pre-egalitarian Conservative) and an egalitarian minyan. When it was expected that both minyanim could not meet their quorums (eg, Shalosh regalim), they would "combine" the services under this format. It was also the format of the High Holidays, where only one minyan would meet.

Pre-egal Conservative, egal Conservative, and "Combined" are really not that much different in practice, so, the compromise could work effectively. A Modern Orthodox minyan is completely incompatible with "combined" services, making the "compromise" just a downgrade for egalitarians. It a dinosaur of a bygone era. And, it's rapidly disappearing.

It would be nice to have everyone davening under the same roof, but alas, things don't always work that way - and I wouldn't want to have everyone compromising to be together,

There is some element of ridiculousness in the attitude of 20/30's that they can't daven with undergraduate students, and vice versa. The main prompt for the post was the announcement of OPEM II, in which it was explicitly mentioned that it was modeled on OPEM I. My first question: If what they wanted was OPEM I, why could they not have simply gone to OPEM I?

I don't have issues with different Jewish ideologies. It's pretty clear that if you want egalitarianism, you won't be happy at a traditional Orthodox minyan. What is lost a bit in designer minyanim for specific-age-groups, etc., is the art of compromise and the ability of Jews who are likely to become this generation's leaders to work with other Jews who are slightly different from themselves (by age, professional status, marital status, etc), especially when their goals (to make a minyan=a community with similar ideology) don't differ all that much. There are also issues of division of labor resources (and money) in a community whose active Jewish community is really not that large.
 
Thanks for posting this - this is fascinating!

I participated in Hillel I Reform Minyan (on high holidays and Friday nights, the only times it met) and Hillel I Conservative Minyan II (on Shabbat mornings, weekdays, etc.) around the turn of the century.

While I can't speak for OPEMI vs OPEMII, my experience with HIRM convinced me that there can be value in segregating minyanim into undergrads and non-undergrads.

One of the great things about Hillel I for me (and about college student organizations in general) was that we had a relatively blank slate to create whatever we wanted. Because no one is there longer than 4 years, institutional inertia doesn't get in the way, and we were free to experiment. My (and many of my contemporaries') leadership experience at Hillel empowered us to go out into the world and create new Jewish initiatives.

While this was my experience with Hillel I as a whole, I felt like I was deprived of this experience in HIRM. In addition to undergrads (and a very small number of grad students), the Reform Minyan had a population of non-students who were there every week. This wasn't the transient 20s-and-30s population that goes to OPEMI and PEM, but an older crowd that had been going to the minyan for a long time. Since the "community members" had been around for 10 or 15 years and we (the undergrads) were there for less than 4 years, and since the were there week in and week out (including the summer and other school vacations) and we were only there when school was in session, they had the upper hand in determining how things were run. The service was pretty much the same every week, apparently as it had been for years, and the "community members" were opposed to any change, not out of malice or stodginess (they were perfectly nice people), but because they didn't know how to do things any other way. (Some of them had never been involved in any other Jewish community.) So the minyan kept running the way it always had, and undergrads voted with their feet and mostly stayed away. Most of the "Reform" population either didn't daven anywhere, or (when it became the cool minyan) davened at HICMII.

If we had had an undergrad-centered Reform minyan, we would have had the freedom to mold it in the image that we were looking for, and to meet the needs of the undergrad Reform population.

That said, there are many more degrees of freedom in constructing a Reform service than an "Orthodox pseudo-egalitarian" service, and it looks like the folks at OPEMI and OPEMII are looking for the same type of service (unlike the different factions at HIRM in my day), so maybe this isn't analogous.

(And I hear that things have changed for the better at HIRM over the last half-decade.)
 
Thanks for posting this - this is fascinating!

Thanks for the comment.

While I can't speak for OPEMI vs OPEMII, my experience with HIRM convinced me that there can be value in segregating minyanim into undergrads and non-undergrads. Because no one is there longer than 4 years, institutional inertia doesn't get in the way,

(Emph. added) LOL!

leadership experience at Hillel empowered us to go out into the world and create new Jewish initiatives.

I wrote a post a long time ago (so long ago, it was on my LiveJournal) about the current "postdenominational" trend being an attempt to remake a functioning Hillel.

What I should point out is that the minyanim you refer to are in NYC, NYC, NYC, and DC. I don't know much about what else is around in DC, but if you look at the stats of NYC, you will find that they are quite different from the stats of Studentville.

The service was pretty much the same every week, apparently as it had been for years,

I don't think anything in my post would have opposed the creation of the hypothetical "Experiment [Non?]Reform Minyan," in the same way that I think HICMII is justified in its existence, even though HICMI was there beforehand. You'll notice that most of the minyanim of Studentville are covering a very narrow range of practice. In Studentville (unlike in NYC), minyan proliferation and the division of the community along (slightly-different) generational lines is not happening on the left and it's not happening on the right -- it's happening between traditional-liturgy egalitarianism and Modern Orthodoxy. This is a reflection of the ideology of the active Jewish community. The only differences in actual practice between PEM, HICMII, and SEM are in the arrangements of the chairs and the method of calling pages. These seem to me like awfully petty reasons to dissolve a community. While I didn't go to OPEM II, the announcement notice specifically indicated that it was modeled on both OPEM I's model and OPEM I itself.

If we had had an undergrad-centered Reform minyan,
... or a more responsive leadership structure? Similar issue to the "generational divide" in HIOI.

That said, there are many more degrees of freedom in constructing a Reform service...

*bing*
 
I enjoyed this tremendously -- thanks for putting it out there. As a stalwart of Shul I, who walked in there one Friday night ~10.5 years ago (well before anyone could have envisioned THAT service ever becoming "egal", btw) and never left... it's interesting to see the perspective(s) of others on all of these.
 
So many things to comment on. so little time.
The entire community has fundamental issues, specifying that the PDEM isn't necessary seems to be the tip of the iceberg.
It's not like we can even claim to be 4 or 5 distinct communities, two weeks ago there was a birth in the community, I got no less then 4 emails asking me to help make meals via 4 different mailing lists (from four different organizations) with 3 of them pointing to the same coordinator.
Everyone struggles to make minyan on time, and to find leyners and people with good energy and skills, and heaven help you if need to say kaddish, you should just move to the other side of the Thames river, because none of the groups can guarantee that they'll have a viable service outside of shabbos. And why should anyone care about someone who isn't directly their peer if they don't feel like that person is really part of their community.

Additionally for most things, working together is like pulling teeth since everyone has the attitude that's my way or no way. The result is a bunch of burnt out coordinators who do a ton of work reinventing the wheel and a fragmented community. It's arguable that the community serves a wider crowd then it did a few years ago. But the vast majority of people are just being cannibalized from each other.

A couple of specific points:
>Historical insight: OPEM I predated PEM with a regular schedule by a few months. The early bird gets the worm?

OPEM has more people by virtue of attracting people to the left and to the right, the organizers may view it as the only way to have services, but the people who are showing up mostly view it as a compromise but one worth making for good davening and a good social space. The PEM may not view its self as conservative, but that's the only group that it can gain people from, and they aren't such regular shul goers.

In Response to BZ
I'm ok with the idea that 18-22 year olds should get their own space and be allowed to experiment and play without 55 year olds telling them that this is how it is. But once you're done with college I think it's time to play with adults a bit. Because in 10 years you'll need day care, and then a day school, and a rabbi to marry you. And in a community where all the resources are poured into fragmentation it just isn't viable to have those things.
 
Ah, a perennially favorite topic. I have to agree that the fracturing in the community is divisive. Here are a few responses to Anonymous#1’s argument.

However, the proliferation of new minyanim is happening because the pre-existing institutions could not or did not serve a big section of the local Jewish population.

I would take issue with the “could not.” There is too much belief in this community that it is not possible for us to daven together, to compromise, to create better communal spaces that serve larger numbers of people. PEM’s members could have and could still help make Shul I Egal a place more to their liking (bringing melodies, singing, and spirit, by showing up and volunteering to get involved). That could still happen on the 3 Saturdays a month when PEM is not meeting and the vast majority of its members are not davening in a fully egalitarian space during those weeks (99% or them are at OPEM I or Hillel I Ortho or shaarei shayna).

You could assert that having this greater variety lets every group serve its core members better (instead of trying to be everything to everybody, and failing to serve anybody well). It would be nice to have everyone davening under the same roof, but alas, things don't always work that way...

I don’t think we need take elfsdh’s “can’t we all just daven together” quite so literally. There is a long distance between all under one roof and 14 minyanim in one small community. There is plenty of room for diversity without the degree of fragmentation that we witness each week. In fact, sometimes compromise can be beautiful thing. It need not always be watered down everything to everyone, and I am not advocating abolishing all options – it is good to have choices. However, there is also something lovely and valuable about bringing together more people to daven that should not be so lightly dismissed. In fact, done correctly it can bring more rather than less ruach (something OPEM I and PEM claim to strive for). A community can be diverse without being divided. When we separate so much we deny ourselves the joy and obligation of being there for each other, for Kaddish, yes, and Bar Mitzvahs too (Query: How many OPEM and PEM members ever meet children over the age of 3 in Studentville?!).

They could also have gone to Shul I Egalitarian Minyan, except it was not fully egalitarian when PDEM I started (women never led musaf, and rarely led any services except Friday night - this is somewhat less true today, although the same man usually leads musaf each week in the egalitarian service).

Regardless of its origins, Shul I Egalitarian Minyan is now both egalitarian and lay led. If the same man leads musaf, it is because he volunteers to do so and there are few other people attending who want to. If PEM attendees are held back by this, all they need to do is show up and volunteer to lead musaf. They would be welcomed with open arms, regardless of their gender.
 
(Anonymouses, could you make up some pseudonyms so we can tell you apart? Thanks!)

Anonymous 2:03 PM writes:
But once you're done with college I think it's time to play with adults a bit.

I'm not sure what you mean, because people who are done with college are adults. Condescending to these people and referring to them (indirectly) as children isn't a good way to attract them to your community.

Because in 10 years you'll need day care, and then a day school, and a rabbi to marry you. And in a community where all the resources are poured into fragmentation it just isn't viable to have those things.

I don't need or want day school for my future children, Jewish marriage doesn't require a rabbi (and I know plenty of rabbis anyway), and day care doesn't need to be provided by the Jewish community. Anyway, any complaints about the absence of 20something Jews from established Jewish institutions should be directed at the institutions (who had decades of head start to address this problem and failed) and not at the 20somethings who are finally taking the initiative to create meaningful Jewish communities (rather than disappear until it's time to have children).
 
Anonymous 4:05 PM writes:
PEM’s members could have and could still help make Shul I Egal a place more to their liking (bringing melodies, singing, and spirit, by showing up and volunteering to get involved).

I'm not so familiar with Shul I (outside of its major annual event), so this question isn't entirely rhetorical. In your heart of hearts, can you say that the existing population of Shul I would be entirely happy with any changes that the PEM people wanted to make?
 
Anonymous 4:05 --

I don’t think we need take elfsdh’s “can’t we all just daven together” quite so literally.


It's a catchy line, isn't it?

I don't think that people should be forced to compromise on their principles in the name of a false unity. That's why I don't consider factors like ideological differences (egalitarian vs. nonegalitarian, music on Shabbat and holidays vs. none, traditional liturgy vs. abridged liturgy) and geographic distance to be "problems" to which I would bring special attention.

Which brings us to the point of Anonymous 2:03 --
The result is a bunch of burnt out coordinators who do a ton of work reinventing the wheel and a fragmented community. It's arguable that the community serves a wider crowd then it did a few years ago. But the vast majority of people are just being cannibalized from each other.

... and the difference between Studentville and NYC. Studentville has a much smaller active Jewish community that is much more easily perturbed by small fluctuations.

From the requests-to-prevent-us-from-going-insane department:
BZ--

(Anonymouses, could you make up some pseudonyms so we can tell you apart? Thanks!)
Agreed. If this post gets more responses (keep 'em coming!), it's going to be rather difficult to tell who's who when Anonymous 2:45 responds to Anonymous 3:15, etc.

bz--
not at the 20somethings who are finally taking the initiative to create meaningful Jewish communities
...and...
In your heart of hearts, can you say that the existing population of Shul I would be entirely happy with any changes that the PEM people wanted to make?

Because of the absence of differences in practice, I'm not quite sure what the differences that make PEM any more "meaningful" than SEM. The only differences I can think of are:
(1) chair arrangements (response: it's petty)
(2) calling pages (response: even PEM has given up on the most absolutist form of Gezeirat Kehilat Hadar; also petty)
(3) Davening with a diverse group of people. (That's what this post is about)
 
elfsdh writes:
(Emph. added) LOL!

Everything's relative.

I wrote a post a long time ago (so long ago, it was on my LiveJournal) about the current "postdenominational" trend being an attempt to remake a functioning Hillel.

"Remake" isn't quite the word; I think it's taking Hillel to the next level. (Most Hillels, including Hillel I in my time, are still quite denominational, albeit multidenominational.)

What I should point out is that the minyanim you refer to are in NYC, NYC, NYC, and DC.

Small correction which doesn't change your point: NYC, NYC, DC, and DC.

These seem to me like awfully petty reasons to dissolve a community. While I didn't go to OPEM II, the announcement notice specifically indicated that it was modeled on both OPEM I's model and OPEM I itself.

Is OPEM II associated with Hillel I? If so, then they might see themselves not as splitting away from a community (viz. OPEM I), but as davening the way they want while staying within their community (viz. Hillel I) rather than leaving campus to go to OPEM I. (Disclaimer: I don't know these people and I'm just speculating.)
 
This list of minyanim gets even longer if you include defunct groups like the Hillel I Friday night "grad student" "minyan". (Scare quotes are because they were neither grad students nor were there 10 of them.)
 
This is anonymous II ok fine I'll go with Locke.

I don't need or want day school for my future children, Jewish marriage doesn't require a rabbi

Well it's really hard to talk to that kind of statement, if you don't care about some of the hallmarks of the modern Jewish educational system. Well {shrug} I guess we can just sell all those buildings then. I notice that you didn't mention saying kaddish, another one of those rather fundamental constructs.

Anyway Shul I is currently mostly run by a 20s30s crowd, it does a heck of a lot to try and be a warm friendly place not withstanding Anon I's comments to the contrary. And the older crowd is thrilled to see young faces.
-Locke
 
Locke writes:
Well it's really hard to talk to that kind of statement, if you don't care about some of the hallmarks of the modern Jewish educational system.

Do you want Jew-free public schools?

And the older crowd is thrilled to see young faces.

I want to be part of a community where I am seen as an individual human being, not as a "young face".

(Note: This comment is not directed at Shul I. As I said, I am not very familiar with it. I don't currently live in Studentville, and only lived there as an undergrad.)
 
This is anonymous III. I'll go with Kant.

In your heart of hearts, can you say that the existing population of Shul I would be entirely happy with any changes that the PEM people wanted to make?

Shul I's Egal minyan runs a full traditional egalitarian service, almost identical to PEM's in content (as elfsdh has mentioned), and encourages people to step up and participate. And, yes, in fact, I am sure that PEM atendees participation would indeed be welcomed.
 
This list of minyanim gets even longer if you include defunct groups

Defunct groups were specifically not included. There's also Hillel I Women's Tefilah (organizer moved away; potential crowd is the same as would be going to OPEM anyway), and, if we go back far enough in history, we can add a number of failed chavurot, failed shuls, merged shuls, etc.

The only minyan I might actually be missing in the tally is Hillel II Reform. I have no contact with anyone who goes to it, or who knows anyone who goes to it, and it has a website with a schedule that hasn't been updated in 2 years.

like the Hillel I Friday night "grad student" "minyan".

I'm not sure which group you're referring to. It may be from before I was here. The only group I know of with a similar name was the immediate precursor to PEM, and it doesn't really fit the description.

Is OPEM II associated with Hillel I?

In terms of where I read the announcement, and the people involved, yes. Is it being approached as an official extension of the institution? I don't know. I don't even really know if OPEM II was a one-shot occurrence or the beginning of an intent-to-split.

If it a sign of an impending intent-to-split, it would be aimed primarily at the current communities of HIOI and HICMII, not at bringing Jews into the community. The method of "testing the waters" would also be similar to the method by which PEM did.

Then again, as far as I know, OPEM I (now proudly "independent/post-denominational/etc") was almost a satellite of Hillel I.

I am including splits within the Hillel I context too, just as I'm including the two major minyanim from Shul I as separate entities.
 
BZ --
I want to be part of a community where I am seen as an individual human being, not as a "young face".

I think you're reading too much into Locke's use of cliche. I think it's being used in the sense of "Minyan X would love to have layners." If someone comes in, that doesn't mean that they're not also individuals, they also happen to be layners.

Locke --
I think BZ is trying to make his point that you don't need "established" institutions to get the benefits they usually provide. And, I buy it. Once the "independent" institutions start providing those services, they will likely become stodgy old institutions just like the ones they replaced. Many of today's established schools and shuls started in basements. :-)

day care
I don't see why an independent minyan couldn't form a day care cooperative. Once it gets large enough, it might start have to worry about those pesky government regulations. Then, volunteerism gives way to professionalism, and voila, you have a new institution.

day schools
To the best of my knowledge, the day schools in the Studentville area are not all associated with minyanim. I could also see an independent minyan trying to run a Hebrew school. As above, it could lead to (gasp!) a new institution.

a rabbi to marry you
BZ is right, you don't need a rabbi. For those who want one, there are plenty of them around.

But, this is getting off-topic.

saying kaddish
These are minyanim we're talking about, right? Whether these particular ones (or others in similar situations) can get it together to help someone without stepping on each others' toes *is* on topic.
 
elf's dh said: Because of the absence of differences in practice, I'm not quite sure what the differences that make PEM any more "meaningful" than SEM. The only differences I can think of are...:

It all depends on how you define "differences in practice." In addition to ritual matters, I would also include aesthetic issues in this category. From my (albeit somewhat limited) experience of SEM, I'd say that there are (or were, as of two years ago) serious differences in this area between SEM and PEM. One example: every time I went to SEM, I felt mildly embarrassed when I sang out loud with any kind of enthusiasm. The singing was pretty much always spotty and ho-hum, despite some attempts to ramp it up. Shelichei tzibbur insisted on, for the most part, the old school Conservative tunes that I sung growing up (and really dislike). Occasionally there was a guest shaliach tzibbur or someone with some new tunes, but the kahal's response was generally pretty tepid. I love leading davening, but I resisted leading there, because I saw how it was like pulling teeth to get people to sing (especially when it was trying to get them to sing Carlebach or Modzitz or Breslov). SEM struck me as a minyan that was kind of stuck in the 80s in the way my parents' minyan is.

I wasn't close enough to the SEM leadership to really know for sure, but from my vantage point I also didn't get the vibe that SEM regulars would really take so kindly to a flock of enthusiastic 20-somethings coming in with their new tunes and turning the place upside down.

PEM was more in tune with my thoughts on davening (musical, unabashedly enthusiastic, and participatory), although at the time it was also more shvach than I hear it is now.

I also think there was a different social dynamic between SEM and PEM. Everyone at SEM was nice and tried to be welcoming. However, I felt pretty uncomfortable there as a single 20-something woman, and many of my female friends did, too. Older guys would hit on us a lot in inappropriate ways. The first time I came to SEM, a guy honed in on me, took my hand, and literally wouldn't let go of it for at least 30 seconds, and I kind of had to shake him off. Clearly no one meant any malice, but there were enough people (again, mostly guys) who made me uncomfortable that I could never make SEM my home. That never happened to me at PEM.

Anyway, take this all with a grain of salt, since I left Studentville 2.5 years ago. I left in small-but-significant part because I couldn't really find a home base in the Studentville Jewish world the way I had always been able to in other East Coast cities.
 
rr --
All this is acknowledging that there are going to be differences between the experiences of a married male and a single female.

PEM social dynamic: If I were to follow Anonymous I's advice (about Shul I) to its logical conclusions, I would have had to separate out PEM's Friday night davening from its Shabbat morning davening too. In my experience, it's been a mixed bag. It ranges from very friendly to extreme cliquishness.

The SEM social dynamic has changed a lot in the past few years. As Locke pointed out above, SEM is now effectively run by 20s/30s, albeit a different set of 20's/30's than PEM or OPEM I. Had I written this post then, Shul I might have been called "The Shul Nobody Goes To I." But, then, H1CM2 might have been a more viable option for the postgraduate egalitarian wants-to-sing-a-lot crowd.

Shelichei tzibbur insisted on, for the most part, the old school Conservative tunes that I sung growing up (and really dislike).

They regularly use some tunes I hate with a passion. Then again, so does every other minyan in the area. It depends a lot on who's leading.

because I saw how it was like pulling teeth to get people to sing (especially when it was trying to get them to sing Carlebach or Modzitz or Breslov).

Trying unfamiliar tunes is hard anywhere. At various points, I've led SEM, PEM, H1CM2, H1CM1, H1O1, and minyanim in other cities. I haven't found any of them much more difficult than the others. And, yes, I do challenge congregations with unfamiliar tunes (eg, avoiding Carlebach at Carlebach-using outfits, introducing it in 80's-Conservative ones, etc.).
 
Locke again,

On the subject of the various institutional resources, well with all of the energy poured into running the various minyanim and duplicating infrastructure is there any energy left over to build a kosher restaurant or a mikvah.

rr-
Ahh now you have a point.. the social dynamic of some of the groups are quite different. I like to think of the two major groups of people that inhabit studentville as crowd 1: which takes itself very seriously and won't laugh at anything. and crowd 2: who have a tendency to laugh much too loudly, and at inappropriate times.

These two personality type really don't mix well, and that probably contributes to some of the organizational issues in the community.

I'm sorry you were creeped out by that fellow, it's a function of being a shul in a town with a lot of oddballs, even the bums have phds. People come looking for something, it's hard to know what to do with people that don't have good social graces. On the other hand as PDEM and OPEM grow from being small private mailing lists of all friends to organizations that advertise and recruit... Well, the oddballs are surprisingly equal opportunity, and your choice becomes to either be uncomfortable or mean.

Depending on the week that you'd show up now you might hear Carlebach, there's a bigger crowd now and I think more people view it as vibrant space.
-Locke
 
elfsdh said:

I don't know much about what else is around in DC, but if you look at the stats of NYC, you will find that they are quite different from the stats of Studentville.

So, to answer (briefly, a full answer would require another blog) the questions about Capitol City, the stats are as follows:

Population: Approximately 580,000 (source: Wikipedia)
Number of kosher restaurants: 2 (Eli’s and JCC Café)
Number of kosher stores: 0*
Number of mikvaot: 1 (National Capitol Mikvah, newly opened)
Jewish population: Don’t know, but many more than Studentville.**

*In fact there is still more hechshered food available in not specifically kosher stores in Capitol City than in Studentville, and food can also be delivered to homes in Capitol City from kosher stores in the burbs.

**Capitol City supports 7 medium-to-large synagogues (in the central City area 1 Ortho and 1 Conservative; plus in the City but further out towards the suburbs an additional Ortho and Conservative right across the street from each other, and 3 Reform shuls) and 1 medium size OPEM/PEM Compromise Minyan (it draws more people than any of the Studentville minyanim), in addition to several other PEMs.
 
For the sake of completeness it might be worth tagging the various minyanim with approx founding dates. Studentville recently gained an eruv which is part of the fuel for some of these changes. Not that anyone has quantified the population change.
-Locke
 
Clearly the situation in Capitol City, while a more viable analogy than Metropolis, is still not truly comparable to Studentville.

This brings us back to Studentville, which has none of these things, as elfsdh so aptly pointed out. It is telling that in a community which is too small to support this infrastructure, an extraordinarily large number of minyanim divide resources and organizational energy. We all struggle to get a minyan – variously defined – more often than we would like. Information is redundant and divided among so many different mailing lists based on minyanim that Studentville residents must track half-a-dozen mailing lists just to know what is happening in one small community. Leaders claim to desire better cooperation, yet communication among them is scant. Somehow, cooperation seems elusive. I am not advocating abolishing all minyanim. As elfsdh points out, variety serves a substantive or geographic purpose. But continued proliferation of minyanim does seem to be self-destructive. I am a bit of an idealist, perhaps, in believing that it doesn’t have to be so. More cooperation among minyan leadership and populations is possible and would benefit the community as a whole.
 
For the sake of completeness it might be worth tagging the various minyanim with approx founding dates.

I'm not sure that I can do that with any degree of accuracy. While I can get the founding dates of OPEMs, PEM, and BOOO within a year, some of the other groups have less definite starting times (and, it's not publically available information). Also, some of the groups have precursor-groups. Do I shift the founding dates backwards to include those?

I'd place most of the recent sets of major changes at around 2003-2004, within a year or so of the eruv coming up.
 
Absolutely fascinating. I remember Studentville quite fondly (and have an abiding wish to return), particularly Shul I in all its incarnations.

My feeling on the independent minyan scene is that it treads dangerously closely to narcissism at times, but if it can maintain a responsible and sustainable leadership model and generate long-term communal aspirations, has the potential to do quite a bit of good for lots of people. In any case, it's certainly better than being stuck in Stodgydale, which at least trumps ConspicuousConsumptionNeck.
 
This is Anonymous I. Call me Ishmael.

There is a lot to reply to and comment on. For now I just want to throw this idea out there:

The new independent minyanim being critiqued here (for causing "fragmentation" of community resources) do not meet every Shabbat. and even when they meet on Shabbat, it's only at night or in the morning, not both. This has two implications:
1. If you want to be part of a community that is there every shabbat, these places will not work for you. (They may aspire to, but they don't do it now.) So in that sense there is already a somewhat limited scope for these minyanim (vs. Shul I or Hillel, which have services every Friday night and Shabbat morning).
2. There are plenty of Shabbat services in a given month when regular attendees of the independent minyanim could go to the other options (e.g., Shul I, Hillel, etc.)

The implication of this, I think, is that there's nothing stopping regular attendees of PEM or OPEM I from going to the more regular shuls a few times a month. If they don't, I think you can assume they've tried and decided it wasn't the place for them. There's also nothing stopping any of these institutions from reaching out and trying to partner with another as a way to help bring the community together. I would assume that lack of this, and instead discussing "how can we get people from X to start coming to us?" is instead an implicit statement that "we don't want to change what we do, but we want more people to come." I think that is unlikely to be successful. The head count is not independent of the content you provide.

OK, maybe one other reply -

Kant wrote:
It is telling that in a community which is too small to support this infrastructure, an extraordinarily large number of minyanim divide resources and organizational energy.

Just curious - what infrastructure is not being supported? If it's things like kosher restaurants, stores, and a mikvah, all of these are available in Jewishtown (across the river from Studentville) already, which is not too far away. It would be ironic to decry the fragmentation in Studentville (where minyanim proliferate and don't cooperate) and yet claim that both Studentville and Jewishtown each need their own kosher butcher, etc. All of these things are expensive, and real estate in Studentville is quite pricey. Furthermore, the community in Studentville has historically been transient, which discourages the expensive investment needed to open a kosher establishment (which in any case often are transient themselves, because of the high price of kosher food, and limited audience). I think that the multiple minyanim of Studentville have nothing to do with the lack of other kosher amenities there. If anything, they have made the community appear larger and more vibrant, which at some point should lead to more investment in things serving a settled Jewish community.

Information is redundant and divided among so many different mailing lists based on minyanim that Studentville residents must track half-a-dozen mailing lists just to know what is happening in one small community.

I agree with you. Fortunately, the cure for this is easily available in the form of the Internet. All that is necessary is for each group to agree to make their calendar available in a common format, and then you could easily aggregate them into one big Studentville calendar. I think Google has a calendar program that makes this easy (and free).

You could also have each group make its announcements available via RSS feed, and then it would similarly be easy to gather them in one place.

More cooperation among minyan leadership and populations is possible and would benefit the community as a whole.

Sounds good to me - speak up and tell the leader of your community that's what you want.

-Ishmael
 
Call me Ishmael.

LOL!


The new independent minyanim being critiqued here (for causing "fragmentation" of community resources)


I should point out that even though this discussion turned towards discussing two groups in particular (at least one other seemed to have nobody arguing for it), part of the point had to do with the choices made by individuals in the community (and the "independent minyan movement"?) to avoid established institutions that are doing things substantially the same way, and of the increasing tendency to self-segregate towards lesser diversity (ahem, H1O2-original/OPEM II/PEM) in a small community.

The duplication of effort occurs when the same people get desperate pleas for performing minyan-related functions (eg, davening, reading Torah, and just showing up to be counted), volunteer-time, money, and such.

OPEM I and PEM (I think) have at least realized by now that they should not compete with each other on the same week. I think this was a great advance.

If it's things like kosher restaurants, stores, and a mikvah, all of these are available in Jewishtown

Not sure what Kant was thinking of, but the stats I put up (restaurants, stores, mikvaot) were there because these are good indicators of the size of an active Jewish community -- they are non-shul entities that are determined by the size of a niche market. Not because I think resources devoted to minyanim would be redirected towards any of these if there were fewer minyanim in the town.

the Internet

Yay, Internet! (Of course, maintaining a community-wide resource requires yet more volunteer time, but I'm all for it)
 
Kant here.

Ishmael said:

The implication of this, I think, is that there's nothing stopping regular attendees of PEM or OPEM I from going to the more regular shuls a few times a month.

Agreed, I made that point earlier.

If they don't, I think you can assume they've tried and decided it wasn't the place for them.

Actually, I'm not convinced this is true. There are an astonishing number of OPEMI/PEM attendees who (from personal conversations with them) have either not tried a more regular shul or have tried it only once. The complaints I hear regularly go something like this: 1) My friends aren't there. 2) There's (a) not enough ruach or (b) I want different melodies. 3) There are too many kids.

My answers to those people:

1) That's a cyclical problem. If Ploni and Plonit both won't go to Shul 1 because they don't have friends there, they can go together and voila, problem solved! Moreover, they could *shockingly* meet new friends. Yikes!

2) An entirely solvable problem. If (a) come and bring friends, and that'll make a huge difference. If (b) come and lead!

3) I really don't have a good answer to this one. But note, unless you're planning on keeping PEM / OPEMI 20-something and single forever, this problem will follow you.


Elf's DH:

The duplication of effort occurs when the same people get desperate pleas for performing minyan-related functions (eg, davening, reading Torah, and just showing up to be counted), volunteer-time, money, and such.

Amen to that!

OPEM I and PEM (I think) have at least realized by now that they should not compete with each other on the same week. I think this was a great advance.

Well, on a normal basis this does seem to be the case. However, Purim comes to mind as a counter example. This seems like an obvious time for OPEMI and PEM (most of who's members regularly attend OPEM I as well!) to have a combined Megillah reading. And yet they meet in the same place and have two readings even though they both do a mixed kria.

Not sure what Kant was thinking of, but the stats I put up (restaurants, stores, mikvaot) were there because these are good indicators of the size of an active Jewish community -- they are non-shul entities that are determined by the size of a niche market. Not because I think resources devoted to minyanim would be redirected towards any of these if there were fewer minyanim in the town.

Yes, this is actually exactly what I was getting at. I never said that the proliferation of minyanim causes this lack of infrastructure, merely that the lack of infrastructure is indicative of the size of the community.
 
2) An entirely solvable problem. If (a) come and bring friends, and that'll make a huge difference. If (b) come and lead!

What if the current members of the shul like things the way they are (except they wish the numbers were bigger) and don't want a hostile takeover? This seems disrespectful to minhag hamakom.
 
BZ---
What if the current members of the shul like things the way they are

If we were talking about substantial differences, that's one thing. Part of the premise of this post is that we are not. I don't expect that that would be the result.

don't want a hostile takeover?

Working with and appreciating diversity are not signs of a hostile takeover! If group X really is incapable of doing that, then, it justifies establishing competing institutions, one with practice A, one with practice B. Established institutions can be dead-set on maintaining stupid barriers to diversity. I've written about one example myself in a very old post -- groups that were thrown together but who should not have been davening together.
 
As a side note, I just noticed the parallel titles between my older post ("Can't we all just...get along?") which advocated separating prayer groups, and this new one ("Can't we all just daven together?") which advocates being together. I had nearly forgotten about the older one, but the parallelism works nicely within the view I've been presenting.
 
I think Google has a calendar program that makes this easy (and free).

Shul I's use of the plans calendar open source app predated gcal's existence. It supports importing remote calendars, it's prettier then gcal, and there are a bunch of shul's using it, including a bunch of Jewish themed icons. If anyone wants to set up a metacalendar I'm happy to help. {waves} hi to all the anonymous people.
 
Did anyone reading this description of Studentville -not- know what town it's talking about?

Just curious. It seems like it's a pretty unique place.
 
A second comment. Perhaps too late, but I just discovered this discussion.

It seems like the main difference between the minyanim is social, and it's interesting how many people are obscuring that by talking about all the needs that the new minyanim are serving. If people wouldn't attend the old minyanim regularly because they felt socially out of place, I would say that the new minyanim are to some extent filling an unmet need.

PEM and OPEM can be characterized as analagous to similar NYC institutions, while Shul I and Hillel I are more indiginous. No institution is as unique as people think it is, but I think it would be hard to find things similar to this in the towns where single 20-30's tend to live, though maybe in other towns around universities.
 
pikachu --
Did anyone reading this description of Studentville -not- know what town it's talking about?
It doesn't matter.
(1) There's virtue in staying off Google. The last thing I would want is for someone searching for any of the minyanim in Studentville to find this post. Pseudoanonymity gives a chance for more open criticism that can stay private from those who don't specifically look for it.
(2) Pseudoanonymity also allows the discussion to proceed in a somewhat more general manner.
(3) Given the exaggeration [and, humor, I think] involved in the characterizations, it's would be unfair to actually state names. Those who know probably have a better understanding for where the characterizations are exaggerated.
(4) It helps maintain my pseudonymity.

If people wouldn't attend the old minyanim regularly because they felt socially out of place, I would say that the new minyanim are to some extent filling an unmet need.
Part of the criticism is of those who, by their unwillingness to work with other who are different, make themselves out of place in the established communities. And, I would have to add to that that the established communities do (sometimes) help perpetuate the exclusion. The social issue is a tough nut to crack.
 
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