July 1, 2011
Seeking Meaningful Prayer in Tel Aviv
Last month a group of young professionals in Tel Aviv organized a watershed event at a historic synagogue that they have adopted as their own. With the donation of a Torah scroll from a celebrity member they began a new era in what they describe as not only a synagogue, but also a community center.
Ynet, the English-language website of Israel’s best-selling Hebrew newspaper, has a video report on the community, which is made up of local and international Jews alike. Natan Bashevkin, a star of the Israeli version of the “Survivor” reality series and a member of the shul, vowed that if he was the show’s winner he would give a sefer Torah to the synagogue. That scroll was dedicated in a gala celebration a month ago.
In the U.S., the independent minyanim movement has provided an outlet for well-educated Jews who care about Judaism and have empowered themselves to create new communities for meaningful prayer. They avoid sectarianism in favor of flexibility and openness. The Ynet video suggests similar impulses among these olim and native Israelis, with the difference that their outlet is in a traditional synagogue on Ben Yehuda Street near Ben Gurion Avenue. (Of course there are independent minyanim in Tel Aviv too.)
Given the aging of the membership at so many synagogues in America, maybe this model could work there too. Jay M. Shultz of the Tel Aviv group explains that “the older generation really handed us the keys; without them we wouldn’t be here.” Some American shuls might consider following their example.