Alana Grace. I assume this is not what she was wearing to servicesThe title of this post is admittedly a little disengenuous. I guess the idea of an independent minyan being associated with dirty hippies exists because many of the first such minyans were Carlebach style affairs run and attended by young Orthodox neo-hippies wearing various hippy style accoutrements like vintage flowing skirts, beaded necklaces, scarves, big-ass knitted kippahs, crazy sometimes dreadlocked hair, and in a contemporary touch, various visible piercings.

The hippies, bathed or otherwise, are still there, but the independent minyan movement represents one of the more dynamic developments in Jewish life. Faced with traditional services that they either didn’t understand or felt were less than fulfilling, the founders of various independent minyans have started their own services as a way of connecting to their Judaism in a manner they perceive to be more relevant. Such minyans span the religious/ideological gamut – from naked sabbath services, to egalitarian minyans equipped with a “Trichitza,” to more traditional Orthodox services.

Usually such minyans are spearheaded and run by younger individuals on shoe-string budgets. But not anymore! Taking a cue from the new generation, septuagenerian Billionaire Philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, 77, held “post denominational” Yom Kippur services at his Upper East Side apartment house. The by invitation-only service was even attended by Chelsea Clinton and her Jewish boyfriend.

What led Bronfman to create his own service? “I can’t stand most services… They’re just so boring.” That’s understandable I guess. He and his brother Charles were amongst the first Jews to attend private and ritzy Trinity College in Port Hope, Ontario. Their father Sam Bronfman, founder of the Bronfman dynasty, had to negotiate the matter of the boys’ Church attendance with the headmaster. Not having had the benefit of a complete Jewish upbringing, it’s no wonder Edgar was bored by all that synagogue stuff he didn’t understand.

Unlike most independent minyans that started off after a spliff-fueled conversation over a potluck vegetarian meal, Bronfman’s minyan began during lunch with Reform Rabbi Darren Levine, at the (decidedly unkosher but hella expensive) Four Seasons restaurant. The service, led by Levine included interactive dialogue, a new prayer book and lots of music. They even had a musical director, Daniel Leanse, who sang accompanied by an accoustic guitar as well as a pianist and a cellist. Half way through the service Leanse was joined by 19 year old up and coming pop singer Alana Grace (pictured above).

Well… it’s not my kind of service, but what the hell, when you’re that rich ($3 billion) you can do whatever you like. At least I am pretty sure there were no dirty hippies in attendance. Kol Zimrah beware! There’s a new game in town and it has limitless resources!

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Yom Kippur minyan, starting off with a non-kosher lunch on Yom Kippur?

    I’d like to coin the term “sinyan.”

  • No no… the idea for thee minyan took place at lunch, which I am pretty sure didn’t happen on Yom Kippur.

  • Timely, as I just did an article last week in the LJC about indie minyanim. Didn’t know about this one, though…

    I did have a similar thought though, that it might be better to have more explanation so that people think about what they’re saying when they utter Al Cheit, Ashamnu, and the 13 midot of G-d four hundred times in 24 hours.

  • Great post, I’d love someone to use this as a starting point for why independant and liberal have become associated with hippie. Is it so hard to believe that there are Jews out there would who like an independant minyan that uses traditional nusach where people come conservatively groomed and dressed?

  • Well, as long as your charitable organization is gonna unabashedly self-serving…

    Its just too bad certain members of Edgar’s organization don’t read this blog. That way being aware of existing, grass-roots minyan efforts, the staff member could educate Edgar and appropriately direct funding and support to an entire network, rather than mimick them with these internal, infernal apings of what young people already know and do…

    Oh, wait, there IS one of those staff people lurking about… Probably how Edgar REALLY got the idea in the first place…

  • I feel kind of funny about this one. The evilness of money and all that. I am seeing people do this all over. They don’t like a decision that is made in the main Synagogue, so they start their own shule, w/ no Rabbi of course.

    Really they objectify the Rabbi or other people in to objects of hate.

    God is crying.

  • Are there any “naked sabbath services” in real life, or is this just a blood libel intended to paint independent minyanim as a bunch of out-there loonies.

    And in addition to people sporting the hippie aesthetic, Kol Zimrah has plenty of conservatively dressed folks too. We’re a big tent.

  • BZ, I’ve never been to Kol Zimra(been meaning to try it at some point). But the description I’ve heard from people that have gone is crunchy.

    You also ignored my comment about nusach. I associate a constant use of Carlebach and other new new-age tunes with neohippies.

  • hmmm. we use carlebach tunes often – not always – not because we’re hippies, which we most certainly are not, but because it doesn’t carry any baggage for either reform jews who grew up with NFTY summer camp melodies, for orthos who grew up with traditional shul melodies, or for anyone else. it’s emotionally neutral for all of us, and engaging for all of us, which is why we enjoy using it so much. fuck, if i found out that using it made people start composting and voting for Ralph Nader, that would be an interesting discovery, but like i’ve said before, the Mission Minyan is a pretty freaking diverse crowd of people, and there is not much hippie vibe at all.

  • Number of Kol Zimrah services BZ has been to: 56
    Number of Kol Zimrah services AviBenJakob has been to: 0

    So I think I might have some idea what I’m talking about.

    Yes, KZ’s aesthetic leans crunchier-than-center, but there are also people there wearing suits and ties. Trust me on this one. They may not stand out as much, but I think that’s the effect they’re going for.

    We do use occasional Carlebach melodies, but also a mix of other music. As I see it, all-Carlebach-all-the-time is a fashion don’t, like wearing a whole outfit of one color. (We also steer clear of the hagiography that has sprouted around him. Holy brothers and sisters, gevalt.) We generally throw in enough of a mix that people from Reform backgrounds think we’re Orthodox and people from Orthodox backgrounds think we’re Reform.

    Yes, KZ does have more of a “hippie vibe” than the average independent minyan, and I’m not apologizing for that, but the logical corollary is that the average independent minyan has less of a “hippie vibe” than KZ does, so if you’re looking for something different, you can probably find it. And if you can’t find it, start it.

  • One time I took had a distant chassidic (not a BT, and not Chabad) cousin over for shabbos at his request. He wasn’t impressed with the West Side scene, which wasn’t particularly surprising.

    But he actually loved Ramat Orah (a left-wing MO synagogue) Friday night. I was shocked. He briefly started clapping during kabbalah shabbat, declared it “leibedik,” and approved preferred it vastly to the mainstream MO synagogue I took him the next day, which he demanded we leave before he risk “catching a cold.”

    People will surprise you, I guess. Especially the interesting ones.

    Perhaps “independent” thinking is something that only an individual can achieve on his or her own. No matter what denomination, no matter what the religious level.

  • Kol Hakovod to Bronfman. My opinion of him has radically changed. By the way, why does money always enter the equation. He has his head screwed on straight- with or without money.

  • Interesting approach.
    A small group in Toronto held monthly Shabbat and several years of high holidays for ‘people who do not base their Judaism on theology yet find value in ALL of the texts”. I would be interested in seeing the machzor you used.

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