Zachary Thacher often spends Friday nights at home in his New York City apartment, but not because he's skipping out on Sabbath-eve prayer services. Thacher, 32, is the founder of Kol haKfar, an independent Jewish community that, like a growing number of similar groups around the country, meets in the homes of community participants. Thacher says he started his group--which now has a Friday-eve attendance of about 25--because "having a meaningful, personal service just didn't seem possible in the harsh lighting and monotonous, institutional vibe of a synagogue."
Like Kol haKfar, many of the new communities thriving in cities across the U.S. are run by volunteers--with a healthy representation in their 20s and 30s--and offer religious services organized almost exclusively by e-mail. The groups tend to avoid denominational classification. At Kol haKfar, for instance, some participants use Orthodox prayer books while others follow along using more liberal Reconstructionist texts.
"Throughout our history, Jewish communities were transient, so the tradition evolved to be portable and easy to take on the road," says Joelle Novey, 26, who founded Tikkun Leil Shabbat, which started meeting every other week in Washington apartments this past summer. "It's the people who gather for a holy purpose who create the sanctuary, not the building," she says. Just as the new minyanim--prayer communities--don't require a specific type of physical structure, they are also open to holding services without rabbis. "Laypeople can lead the service, read from the Torah, give a sermon and take on any of the service's traditional roles," Novey says.
Some veteran Jewish leaders draw inspiration from the new groups. "They're a reminder that we need to welcome unconventional approaches to Jewish life," says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Niles Goldstein, a co-founder of the New Shul, a progressive Manhattan congregation, occasionally leads outdoor prayer sessions. "Who wants to sit against hard-backed pews?" says Goldstein. "I'd much rather sit up against a tree."
Yasher koach to Kol HaKfar and Tikkun Leil Shabbat! I talked to the reporter on the phone for a long time, but Kol Zimrah didn't make it into the article. But it was a very short article, and KZ doesn't have services in apartments, so we didn't qualify for the first tier.
The Reform movement has now broken its long public silence on independent minyanim, but I'm not sure what this brief quote means.