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2019 Annual Assessment

Elements found across such successful initiatives –
religious, social, text-learning, social justice, environmental and other forms – include:

  • Emergent communities and other Jewish start-ups often form around a leader and their vision, brand, or style and do not seek to cater to or build consensus among a range of ages, tastes or opinions in an existing community.
  • Many are independent of established denominational or national movements. They question the benefits of belonging to a national denomination and stress nimbleness as an advantage.
  • Many of these initiatives seek depth and authenticity through reengaging with Jewish texts and traditions. Within religious start-ups such as independent minyanim and the JEN communities, services are highly musical and participatory, but at the same time mostly in Hebrew. The JEN communities, for example, employ significant thought to make the services accessible to new comers, while being authentic, and without “watering down” the experience. Text study, lectures, and social programming are approached with similar thoughtfulness.
  • To make services more participatory, opulent sanctuaries are eschewed, and prayer books are often designed by each community according to their needs – fully translated and transliterated; some have done away with printed texts altogether and use electronic screens instead.
  • Some communities employ unique membership and payment models. While most have some form of membership, they realize unengaged and younger Jews are put-off by the common membership practices of most synagogues. Most employ a hybrid “Chabad” model, in which all are welcome for services, but “members” or “partners” have access to the rabbis for life cycle events. Sixth and I in Washington DC has membership system and asks participants to register and pay for each event on their community website. The past decade has shown that making such changes significantly affects turnout and the overall funds raised. 11
  • Perhaps by their nature, but crucial to their success, many of those involved in such endeavors are charismatic, entrepreneurial and talented young leaders.
  • On the branding and conceptual level, we see names reminiscent of start-ups, often evoking a sense of informality, youth, creative energy and intimacy.
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