Talk about trying to be too cool for shul.

Coming to NYC this fall: The SoHo Synagogue, an attempt to urban hipsterify Orthodox Judaism for denizens of Lower Manhattan. They’ll be offering services, trips to the Hamptons, and something that is enigmatically called “Torah cocktails.” (Not sure whether this is the logical urban sprawl-style outgrowth of kiddush club into something more similar to a Bungalow 8-style celebrity soiree, or if this is metaphorical–a cocktail of Torah and Madda and modernity.)

“We call it a boutique synagogue. You might have to RSVP. There might be a roped line. It will totally be a scene. But it’s all kosher,” explained Dovi Scheiner, a thin, 28-year-old Orthodox rabbi dressed casually in black pants and an untucked white button-down, with tallith strings hanging down from his waist. Scheiner and his demure 24-year-old wife, Esty, co-founded the project with the philanthropic Soho-ites Katrin and Tony Sosnick, whom the Scheiners met on vacation in Puerto Rico.

I so bet Madonna ends up there at some point. Or Natalie Portman. One thing’s for sure: I won’t be able to afford it.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

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  • This is the stupiest most disgraceful thing I have ever heard of.
    It is an absurd waste, an American human waster.

  • This is the “challah lady” who bakes and delivers challahs to Mayor Bloomberg and his staff every erev shabbos! What a sell out! (no pun intended)

  • Okay, somebody explain to me what’s wrong with this. Seems to me like they’re maintaining traditions and simply marketing themselves in a particular way to a particular crowd.

  • What’s wrong is that they are expanding on the Reform model of an Elitist Judaism. Not even Reform tho would reject people bec. of how they earn a living, or how they are dressed. It is taking the sickest elements of amerikan society and attempting if this is their humor to ‘elevate ‘ it. When we have so many families struggling to live a frum life and these people who obviously are into some kind of drugs, can flagrantly waste money like that, they are Rodfim, the whole group, all of them.

  • Drugs?

    I don’t get that from the article. I get a clever marketing scheme intended to “protect” certain well-to-do members of the tribe from having to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the plebes.

  • Obviously I’m all for making Judaism more hip and relatable, in whatever denomination (you could even claim it’s my sibah d’etre). It’s just the exclusion issue and the emphasis on wealth that I have a problem with.

  • Harry, no cover, but you have to bring documentation showing your family is listed on the Forbes 400.

  • Esther, the emphasis on wealth is intended to push you harder to acquire it. This could be a message from god.

  • Amerikan? Are you a Black Panthers member? Are you going to start saying AmeriKKKan next?

    Somebody has a bit of a drug obsession, too.

  • It’s Chabad. Gotta be. And it’s destined to fail. Not because it’s Chabad – jsirpicco doesn’t want to get into THAT arguement, but because yes, the exclusion – the “loudness” of it. Judaism is meant to be subtle, pure and uplifting. It’s okay to explain the Torah in ways that make it relatable to people. And it’s okay to do events and such that enable non-frum people to see Orthos as real people, relatable, welcoming, etc., even “cool” in the good sense. IT IS NOT OKAY, in my opinion to take Torah and Orthodox Jews and turn both into a hollywood club party (or NYC club party)….and giving them all this attention is even worse.

    Aish is pretty good at being at the edges but maintaining the dignity – at least that’s been my experience in various places (PLEASE DON”T Start crapping on Aish Hatorah just cuz I mentioned the word….I’m just making a point…

    But this stuff is dumb – and a 24 year old Chabad shnip rabbi is not cool…it just doesn’t go…and you know what it’s a bad sign of the times. It’s a sign of how we’re all rotting from within with our stupidies and going after idiocy, sex obsessed….

    And it’s a sign of how desperately we need the geulah. Man. jsirpicco is mucho depressed at this one!

  • TM you art trolling. It won’t make it anyway. Judaism is never hip really, and Jews are never hip either. It is a very sick, sad, Amerkan nonsense.

  • Dovi Scheiner is (was?) the editor of Kosher Spirit, a Chabad publication (I just happened to have a copy nearby and noticed the name…). Yes, this looks like Chabad, but with a great stylist. Check out WTC- the World Tikkun Center that Rabbi Scheiner and his wife run (no coincidence: WTC=WTC- they were married on 9-11). Esty also runs “Flying Challah”. This is a great marketing shtick. I hope it manages to achieve something substantial. Fluff without peanut butter just makes your teeth itch.

  • They are taking a page out of Shmueli Boteach manual for success.
    Success at any cost.

  • If they’re going by the Boteach manuel, at some point they’re going to get to the chapters on “Celebrities: Keys to Your Success” and “Celebrities: Keys to Your Marginalization”. I can hardly wait!

  • Conserva girl, where have you been? You are like a
    breath of fresh air!!!

  • With respect to the “cool shul”. It won’t work. And I don’t believe it’ll work for different reasons than were already stated. You don’t call something cool, advertise it as cool and hope people buy into the coolness factor. Anyone with a basic understanding of guerilla marketing knows this. Cool happens from the ground up. From the fringes to the mainstream. I give this shul 2-3 years max.

    “Shmueli Boteach”

    Does anyone take this guy seriously anymore…after making an ass of himself, time after time on CNN? Is he not the product of the very thing he laments i.e. narcissm?

  • Boteach is a total bore, a moron, an embarrassment. Good points Shtreimel.
    Oh and that “reggae’ player that they mentioned, is another joke.

  • Shtreimel, tell us what is happening in Vancouver, it is my favorite place in the world, outside of Israel.
    I spent some time there a few years ago.

  • A rabbi in Vancouver once told me that Vancouver is the true Galut. Because when you’re here, you can’t imagine living anywhere else (although I know three Vancouver Yids who recently made aliyah, so go figure).

    Anyhoo, it’s a beautiful, sunny day today and the mountains tips are iced in snow. God’s country baby…God’s country.

  • I noticed many Israeli chickies when I went downtown on a Saturday night.
    Are you involved w/ the single community ? I was trying to make like singles tours this was several years ago.

  • 1. Matisyahu rocks
    2. trying to keep people religious is great, but pandering to the overmonied masses is nuts. However, I can see the desire to get the money in shul instead of some other “hip” spot. Too bad people don’t see shul/Judaism as hip for what it is instead of for some facade hiding its purity.

  • I actually think that Madonna will become a total frum woman at some point.
    I know that this is the minority opinion.

  • He sucks, just a loudmouth blowhard. He’s marginally better than Schlock Rock I will give you that. Now there is a joker par excellenace,

  • Ricker Aish, we welcome a diversity of opinion on Jewlicious. However, there are some red lines and I would ask that you recognize them.

    Criticizing Mati”s”yahu is a no-no, dude.

  • If you knew anything about reggae, you wouldn’t hate Matisyahu. Matisyahu is a rare combination of a serious understanding of reggae and an authentic love for Judaism. And he makes other people love Judaism. What the hell’s wrong with that?

    Also, “chickies”? Have you, uh, met many women in your life?

  • Actually, I was thinking of changing my name to ConservaChickie. Whaddya think?

  • Yes but I don’t like most Jewish music so leave me out of
    your mantras. I don’t like it, because it sounds so phoney to me. If I am going to listen to something already, I will listen to the
    ‘real thing’.
    Mainly what I don’t like is the lack of lyrics. You listen and they are just repeating words from the Prayer books.
    Where are some good lyrics in all of your Jewish music, post them.
    Chickies, Hotties, it’s all good.

  • “Actually, I was thinking of changing my name to ConservaChickie. Whaddya think?”

    Pay real homage to the heart of the movement, go by:


  • Best Jewish album/compilation ever:


    Sephardic Kol-Nidre samples circa temple period, mixed with ambient drone. Ah, what sweet, sweet heaven. Sorta what Brian Eno would’ve made if he walked into Aish. Very hard to find btw. I purchased it in ’98.

    “I noticed many Israeli chickies”
    Aish dude, if you keep calling ’em chickies you’re going to be single no matter what city you live in.

  • Um, I don’t like most Jewish music either. And I don’t recall saying any mantras. Is English your first language?

    When Matisyahu writes lyrics taken from Jewish texts, he’s pretty much holding with the reggae lyrical tradition. Since reggae is often religious music, a lot of reggae lyrics are lifted straight from the Bible. Matisyahu does it in a Jewish context. It would be phoney if he had dreadlocks down to his waist and was singing that everybody should move to Ethiopia to worship Selassie-I the First, Jah Rastafari. Instead, he takes the reggae style and makes it appeal to Jews who are too young/cool for Avram Fried.

  • By the way, I was kidding, if ck can criticize Arik Einstein, any musician is fair game.

  • Matisyahu’s ok.

    IMHO, Perry Farrell did a much better job at morphing Jewish ideas and pop/electronic sounds on his solo album. But then again, I’m a HUGE Jane’s fan. So Perry could’ve burped the entire Hagaddah and I would’ve purchased it.

  • Matisiyahu is probably NOT the direction JEwish music should be going in….it’s great that he’s frum 3 years and make a kiddush hashem about not playing on Shabbos…but the reggae thing takes all the KEDUSHA out of Jewihs music…not everything that rocks is gold….

  • TM said:

    I get a clever marketing scheme intended to “protect” certain well-to-do members of the tribe from having to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the plebes

    That;s exactly what is wrong with it, TM.

    But you knew that.

  • Yes Ephraim.

    Would you like more emoticons with my posts so they’re clearer?

  • Combining some of the last comments just posted, I propose that Mattisyahu be the chazzan at the new SoHo Synagogue.

  • OK, TM, now I know that most of your posts are just to get a rise out of people, I think I can probably ignore you when you post on subjects like tis.

    But if you want to be taken seriously, yes, it would probably be a good idea to use emoticons so that people know when you’re trolling.

  • Yes Ephraim, it’s like this: when you disagree with me, I’m just trying to get a “rise out of people” and when you agree with me, I’m a serious and intelligent poster.

    It’s an easy arrangement and I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty following from now on.

    Now back to the topic at hand. People go to synagogues to be part of a community and not just to pray or worship. This is one particular type of community.

    I understand the dislike of money becoming a factor in people’s comments here, but it is just another community. Will they turn people away? Possibly. But I know synagogues that turn people away if they don’t pay annual dues (shame on those rabbis).

    Now, if the way people worship is affected, then I understand people’s objections. But how do we know this is so? If Matthew Bronfman feels more comfortable praying with people who have a couple of hundred million in assets, who are any of us to judge?

    I say, live and let live.

    (Ephraim, if you disagree, just assume I’m not serious and if you agree, post all the kudos I richly deserve. Thanks).

  • The lyric tells a story. You can tell so much in one or 2 sentences. It has to do w/ originality. This is what attacts me. As it happens I played some guitar back in the day. The hard part or the starting point for what I like is the lyrics. Jewish music does not do that. I am not sure why. They follow a formula. Take a verse in the Bible that people either know, or not. Put some minor chords around it. There’s your song. give it to some producer let him shmaltz it up a bit.
    It is boring. I need the creativity of a simple line like this:
    ‘I’ve been waiting here for you, for a lifetime’. Simple powerful, gives you a certain image and feel and emotion.
    Matisyahu and that horrid band you had at your Long Beach party, they have the substance, the chops as it were, but they are lacking the originality of the lyrics.
    Maybe it can’t be done what I am asking for.

  • What! Grr you guys are all party poopers! The Schul is a great idea! And whats wrong with Chabad?? Or matisyahu!? Youre ruining everything, EVERYTHING!

  • ooooooooh, jessi…. while matisyahu could conceivably be called an excellent musician (and a swell guy to boot), puh-lease don’t get me started on chabad… a friend of mine wrote a short story about what he’d do if he could have his way with the yechi-niks in his neighborhood (which is not to say all chabadniks are yechi-niks, but… it’s here, if you’ve got the stomach for it (beware: it’s an NC-17 reading experience)).

  • You know, I gotta agree with Jessi here. A lot of you are being party-poopers.

    In order to sustain Orthodox Judaism, the younger generation has to try to make it relevant to themselves. If the goal is the same, i.e. a Torah-observant lifestyle, does it matter if people get there through hip Soho lofts and Hasidic reggae as opposed to what older people may have experienced?

    If something brings people to a mitzvah that they otherwise would not have come to, if it brings Jews closer to Torah, why would you criticize it? What kind of an Orthodox Jew are you if you emit knee-jerk condemnations of every new idea to do kiruv? At least let them try. I don’t know how great of an idea this shul is, but Chabad has done great things before, so they should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.

    And when people say things like Matisyahu “takes all the KEDUSHA out of Jewish music,” it delegitimizes something a lot of people enjoy and something that has brought a lot of people closer to Torah. All it seems to be saying is that, “I can’t relate to it, therefore it’s bad for the Jewish people.”

    Maybe these guys in Soho are selfish, but no more selfish than that.

  • Michael, Fine, what you are saying is that I shouldn’t comment
    on an art form. that is ridiculous. Now you raise a good point. OK for the high school/college kids, what should they listen to?
    Since they will be partying and listening to Dance, Trance, etc…
    Why not some of this. Yes well again, why not meaningful lyrics that is all I ask for.

  • will they be bringing jews closer to torah, michael? whose torah are they bringing jews closer to, without entering into the whole Chabad discussion? btw, it doesn’t look like a kiruv place at all — looks like it’s targeted at the already-frum. i agree with a lot of the posters that the ultra-materialism of such a venture might be seen to counter some fundamental tenets of torah — not that torah necessarily says “be poor,” but i think it says “the purpose of gashmiyut is to transform it into a vessel to contain holiness.” is a versace challah-cover raising the sparks of holiness from the material, or dragging holiness down? in club-like social interactions, wealth is about competition and power — flaunt it if ya got it — and on shabbos, all your wealth is supposed to be expended in sanctifying god — how to make it sanctify god when it’s being flaunted like a new pair of silicone implants? aren’t we supposed to be modest and tznuah about such things (our implants, our wealth, etc)? like i said, i don’t think torah wants people to be poor — i just think it wants us to walk modestly before god.

  • Well, if one believes the Torah is divine, then there is only one Torah, G-d’s Torah.

    From what the article made it sound like, there was a lack of Jewish religious presence in SoHo.

    Scheiner’s hipster brand of Orthodoxy might leave more traditional Jews cold, but it does serve a constituency. Says Edgar Bronfman’s son Matthew, who recently bought the Israeli Ikea franchise, “Last year, I was telling my business partner that I want to move to Soho, and he said to me, ‘But where are you going to pray?’ I didn’t have an answer for him, but now I do.”

    If SoHo’s rich and hip Jews are alienated by more traditional Judaism, at least now there’s something for them. Hopefully they’ll be mature enough not to turn it into a clubhouse with an aron. Give ’em a chance. At least they’re getting together and davening, which is ultimately what’s important. The rest, theoretically, should follow. You have to get people interested first.

  • I once shared a Shabbat with a Chabad shaliach. Right in the middle of Kiddush (right in the middle of Kiddush!) he adds something about “Our Rebbe, the King Messaih”.

    Have you ever been somewhere completely familiar and comfortable, and all of a sudden some little thing happens and you wonder where the hell you are and start to panic, because all of a sudden nothing is as it seems?

    It was like that. Creeped me right the hell out.

    I’m not completely down with the Body Snatchers meme, but I really wondered who the hell this guy was for a miute.

  • Wow, Muffti has to agree once again with Shtremiel. These guys can do what they like, it still won’t be cool. After all, the Rabbi is quoted as saying:

    It will totally be a scene.

    Now, everyone know that saying ‘totally’ is uncool. It’s not even cool for teenage girls, PR chicks and gay men to say it anymore. So, really, the evidence for lack of cool is overwhelming.

    Shtremiel may be misguided on an awful lot of stuff (so says Muffti) but the man is an excellent judge of cool. Muffti just hope Perry Farrell doesn’t burp out the haggadah or Muffti may find himself downloading buying it as well.

  • GM,

    Rumor has it that Perry is teaming up with Nuno (ex-gtr from Extreme). And while I want to slam Extreme, I once owned all their albums and shadow danced to Pornograffitti many times.

  • ephraim — the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up when i hear stories like that… thanks for sharing it.
    Michael — “Give ’em a chance.” No thanks, not if they’re not gonna charge me my firstborn child for admittance. P.S. Which rich-and-hip SoHo Jews do you know that are gonna get together for a cocktail after work and… daven maariv together? Do these people know how to daven maariv? They’re gonna interrupt a nocturnal session of unfettered mack-daddiness to, uh, pray? Forgive my cynicism, but “hip” and “maariv” have rarely ever coalesced in my experience… but then again, maybe I just need to get out more.

  • Ephraim, I very much agree with your comment nr. 53.
    You’re quite right.

  • I thought this was such an innocuous post when I put it up this morning. Didn’t think it would rile all y’all up so much. I’m sure CK will weigh in as soon as they activate wireless access at 30,000 feet or upon his triumphant return to the Hall of Justice, Canada office.

    Barefoot, what’s a satire? The article is for real, I just got my print copy of New York Magazine. The NY Jewish scene is so varied (and present company excluded, fairly wealthy) that there probably is a population that would support this kind of synagogue. But the problem every Jewish org here faces is waning enthusiasm and attrition after an initial period of excitement at the novelty: if they don’t let people like me in because of the velvet rope, they’ll not only have writer’s wrath to deal with, but will have difficulty finding the core of people who want to get involved but can’t afford a financial contribution.

    I use the word totally. But only when I don’t care whether or not people take me seriously.

    I’m wary of all those “king Mashiach” references, but fully acknowledge that Chabad has provided great service to the Jewish community nationwide and overseas, providing travelers with opportunities to connect to Shabbat, kosher food, a kaddish minyan or what have you when they’re far away from home, or where there is no other Jewish life to speak of. I’m not moderating these posts for content, but I think it’s important not to generalize about all Chabad people being completely creepy.

    As for Extreme? Sing it with me, Shtreimel…”There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by Jews…”

  • esther, get the funk out! 🙂
    i have yet to meet a chabadnik who wasn’t at least a little creepy.
    i really do think that they are all closeted meshichistim.
    i spent time in crown heights right after the rebbe passed away, and, despite what some lubavitchers will tell you now, they really all did think that their rebbe was the Messiah.
    all of them. that’s what made them lubavitchers, what gave them their identity. all those outposts in guam, saudi arabia, rangoon — they were doing, and continue to do it for their righteous rebbe, the Melekh HaMashiach. in the words of my former rosh yeshiva: “When the rebbe was alive — okay, maybe there may have been a tiny hava mina, even among non-chabadniks, that he was the mashiach… but that hava mina is no longer viable.” You know what they say about hava minas in the Gemara? Even if they are eventually refuted, they still contain a kernel of truthfulness. i sincerely believe that in their hearts of hearts, the shluchim who are still coming out of Crown Heights, to this very day, hold by that hava mina. and it pains me to say this, because i myself owe much (however indirectly) to the kiruv of the lubavitchers, but i don’t think they’re ever gonna live that down.

  • “…and this hole in my heart can’t be filled with synagogue dues”

  • Worse yet, since they started w/ their Rebbe is Mashiach thing, they devoted themselves less to traditional Kiruv.
    Other groups do much more Kiruv today, such as Gateways,
    Shuvu, Aish HaTorah.

  • jsirpicco,
    reggae might not seem to go hand in hand with ‘freilich’, but then again, I understand that on many occasions, BTs are excellant additions because they bring an extra something that religious-born folks ‘thinking inside the box’, wouldn’t be able to pursue. Other example would be Shuli Rand and his awesome movie and play and there are several BT painters who do so much creative work besides painting pictures of Rabbis.

  • Wallah… mah itchem? First of all, there already exists a well established orthodox shul in soho. It’s a couple blocks south of Broadway and Canal, the congregation is youngish and kinda hip and if you want hipster cred, it’s across the street from one of those old school burlesque style strip joints where the dancers shun silicone and really are working their way through degrees at NYU (I read an article about it the New York Times, I am not a patron).

    This shul however does not have a velvet rope and they tend to be thrilled anytime anyone participates. So now about this new shul?


    I have to agree with muffti. If you have to say something is totally cool then chances are it aint. However those Chabad guys are pretty crafty so you never know what they have up their sleeves.

    What can I say? I’m not comfortable with their whole Mashiach thing but whenever you need them, Chabad guys are there. This new congregation is kinda sketchy with its forced urban hipster appeal, but what the hey, if more people go to shul, can it be that bad?

    As far as Matisyahu goes, I went to the show, I listened to the CD and I enjoyed both. Is there really anything else left to discuss?

  • Looks like this has been left up in the air. I propose a little investigative reporting. Esther- what are you doing Friday night? Let’s put on some frum Versace, pick up Paris & Nicky and head for Soho in our Jimmy Choo walking shoes. I think my neighbor may have gone to yeshiva with the bouncer, so he’ll probably let us in.

  • Conserva-Chickie wrote:

    I think my neighbor may have gone to yeshiva with the bouncer, so he’ll probably let us in.

    Sometimes I miss New York.
    But just sometimes, and it passes…

  • Conserva-Chickie, I’d be so in for that plan (of course, without the Jimmy Choos), but they don’t open till the fall. Plus, there’s the whole Pesach thing…let’s wait on it, OK?

    CK, glad your Zionism (and Canadianism) hasn’t blinded you to the occasional charms of NYC. Frankly, I think you would be an excellent bouncer for such an establishment.

    And one last word from me on this shul: the minute Paris Hilton says, “Judaism? That’s hot,” I’m going new religion-shopping. Or to prepare for the apocalypse.

  • The experience I had with the Chabad shaliach was in Tokyo, which has two Chabad shlichim: the Moschiach guy and (at least publicly) the non-Moshiach guy. They each had their own Chabad house.

    I am also ambivalent about Chabad. I owe them a lot, and they do important work, but there’s just something about them.

    But then, I am a mitnagid. Rebbe worship just isn’t my thing.

  • It’s too bad Chabad does kiruv and not Belz. I’d much rather hang out with fur wearing, knee high sock sporting Chassid, than a BT chabadnik with his spotty beard and ramblings of the Rebbe.

  • Josh,

    Responding to Belz the way you would a nice pair of legs, or fresh baked Rugalach is weird.

  • Esther wrote: CK, glad your Zionism (and Canadianism) hasn’t blinded you to the occasional charms of NYC. Frankly, I think you would be an excellent bouncer for such an establishment.

    I’m sorry. But there is no guestlist this shabbos. Please step out of the line sir. I said PLEASE STEP OUT OF THE LINE SIR.

    I can do that… 😉

  • See? I knew it. You’re a natural. 😉

    Lizzie’s PowerGirls ain’t got nothin’ on you.

    So, does this mean you’ve agreed to work the fall opening of Club Shabbos? (Yeah, right…)

  • Just call it “se7en”. We hip types love single- word names that are spelled strangely. And “Nusach Moby.”

  • I heard this Matisyahu finally. I apologize that I had him confused
    w/ all the others. His lyrics are original. If you like that
    sort of thing. I would say that I would go to see him perform if it was close by.

  • Sounds a little strange that an orthodox shul is
    financed by a seller of very-non-kosher shaving products for men…

    They will probably have to erase the “for men” from the labels of the shaving cream samples they
    distribute with the tickets…