Third Independent Minyan Conference - April 23-25, 2010 Third Independent Minyan Conference - April 23-25, 2010

On April 25, Mechon Hadar held the public portion of its third independent minyan conference, a unique event which brought together the shared wisdom of independent minyan leaders, clergy, volunteers, and Jewish communal professionals dedicated to building vibrant Jewish communities.

Empowered Judaism: How to Build Vibrant Jewish Communities
Practical skills workshops with leaders from independent minyanim, synagogues and Jewish organizations

When: Sunday April 25, 2010, 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Location: Central Synagogue, 123 East 55th Street, New York, NY 10022


11am – 12pm: Sessions

Prayer with a Purpose: Clarifying and Communicating Your Minyan's Vision
Shawn Landres, Jewish Jumpstart (Los Angeles, CA)
What is your minyan's vision for itself and the world around it? Does your minyan have a mission? This session will offer a hands-on opportunity to reflect on and clarify your community's purpose.

Keeping our Torahs Kosher
Jen Taylor Friedman
How we can use basic techniques and the Internet to keep our sifrei Torah kosher. Take-away techniques and a vision for the future

Sweet Singers of Zion: Training Effective Prayer Leaders
Elizabeth Sacks, Central Synagogue (New York, NY)
How can we train those in our community to become and grow into effective prayer leaders? We will explore how to help sh'lichei tzibbur have a better understanding of themselves as a prayer leaders, gain skills for leading any service, and ultimately create a meaningful prayer environment for themselves and the kehilah.
Worship Workshop Guide

Bikkur Cholim: How to Visit the Sick
Mimi Lewis and Avi Strausberg, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
In this session, we will share experiences and address some of the issues that come up when visiting the sick. Who are the "cholim"? What role does Judaism or prayer play in these visits? How do you approach one who is sick?

Expecting the Unexpected: Gabbaing on the Fly
Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
What happens when you discover that the Sefer Torah  is invalid in the middle of an aliyah?  How about when your 10th person walks out in the middle of kaddish?  We will examine these questions and others (including your own) as we attempt to perfect the art of smooth gabbaing in even the most unexpected circumstances.
Listen to Expecting the Unexpected

Minyanim and the Law - Not from Sinai
Marcia Eisenberg, Esq.
We will cover some basic incorporation proceddures, governance issues and IRS information which is specific to religious corporations.

Mara d'Atra? Considering the Role of a Posek in an Empowered Community
Micha'el Rosenberg, Ft. Tryon Jewish Center (New York, NY)
Classically, one of the main roles a rabbi would play in a Jewish community was answering questions and resolving disputes about Jewish law. But if our goal is to empower Jews, then the image of an authority-figure who answers the questions of a community and acts as the ultimate authority in determining the ritual practice of the community is, to say the least, out of step. What then, if anything, is the role of rabbis, poskim, and scholars in Empowered Jewish communities? How should the interplay between individuals, communal leadership, and rabbinic/halakhic/scholarly authority look in an Empowered community?

Pedagogy and Minyanim
Amanda Pogany, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY) and Altshul (Brooklyn, NY)
This session will focus on hands-on, easy to apply, basic pedagogic concepts.  This session is useful if you teach a shiur once in a while, or everyday! Topics will include:  planning a shiur, creating a source sheet, time management, setting goals, etc.

12pm – 12:30pm: Brunch/Welcome to additional participants

12:45pm – 2:00pm: Practical skills workshop 1 (8 options)

Creating Meaningful Tefilot In Suburban USA: One Model - Room 601
David Schuck, Pelham Jewish Center (Pelham Manor, NY)
This session will explore the process through which a suburban synagogue is working to transform the synagogue Shabbat experience into a meaningful prayer and study experience.  The session will explore both the visionary aspects of the process as well as the practical strategic thinking involved.
Presentation on Kehillat Shabbat

Joey Weisenberg's Spontaneous Jewish Choir; Bringing a Melody to Life - Room 602
Joey Weisenberg, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
In this class, we will focus on learning one old Jewish melody, studying its musical mechanics, and bringing that melody to life collectively with beautiful harmony and rhythm.

Multiple Minyanim in a Shul: How Can It Work Well? - Room 603
Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Ansche Chesed (New York, NY)
In this session we will explore the complex issue of hosting multiple minyanim in one synagogue community. How do multiple davening options affect a community spirit, for better and worse? What can the role of the rabbi be in fostering this atmosphere? What are some predictable pitfalls of this arrangement and how can they be best avoided? How could this serve as a potential model for cooperation among minyanim and synagogues nationwide? We will explore some of the practical lessons from Congregation Ansche Chesed, an established synagogue with decades of experience with multiple minyanim.

Space and Sound in Davening - Room 501
Ezra Weinberg and Shira Wallach, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (New York, NY)
Join us for a conversation on how to best utilize space and sound to create an environment conducive to prayer. In our exploration, we will use a "sound bath" activity, study excerpts from Rambam's Mishneh Torah, and sing together.

Demystifying Fundraising: Starting from the Grassroots - Room 604
Lani Santo, American Jewish World Service and Altshul (Brooklyn, NY)
Participants will explore the concept of grassroots fundraising, gain confidence in their ability to engage in grassroots fundraising, and understand why this is an important part of strengthening an independent minyan.

he Foundations of Social Media: Tools, Skills and Mindsets for Success Online - Room 902
Lisa Colton, Darim Online and Charlottesville Minyan (Charlottesville, VA)
As Clay Shirky writes in his famous book Here Comes Everybody, the age of social media means “organizations no longer have a monopoly on organizing.”  Today’s tools are cheap (if not free) and amazingly useful for organizing our community, delegating administrative tasks, and helping us achieve our goals.  Come learn the wisdom of the social media revolution, how you can put it to work for your needs, and what’s working well for other minyanim.  Come to share your work, get your questions answered, and walk away with a toolbox full of goodies.

Minyan Decision Making: Balancing Rules and Rigidity, Informality and Anarchy - Room 503
Stefan Gottschalk, Tikkun Leil Shabbat (Washington, DC)
Let's have a realistic discussion of the different approaches a minyan can take to decision making. 
We can share stories and views about choosing decision making processes; communicating, documenting and delegating; dealing with disputes; and how to suggest and implement changes to decision making processes.

Shabbat Together: Creating Excellent Family Services – Room 504
Beth Kalisch, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (New York, NY)
Join us as we think through new approaches to family services. Using the model of "Shabbat Together" at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, we will explore a number of options and possibilities.

2:15pm – 3:30pm: Practical skills workshop 2
(8 options)

Starting With A Blank Slate: Creating Your Educational Program From Scratch - Room 902
Lisa Colton, Darim Online and Charlottesville Minyan (Charlottesville, VA); Pam Edelman, Zamru (Princeton, NJ)
Minyanim are in a unique position of being able to create an educational program for children and families that embodies their communal values, and is designed to serve the needs of modern families. Join us to learn from the experience of two communities who have done this, and to discuss the opportunities, challenges and guiding principles that can help minyanim and other Jewish educators design successful models for our communities. Bring your questions, case studies, ideas and an open mind.

Let the Sound Resound - Room 501
Miriam Margles, Danforth Jewish Circle (Toronto, ON)
This is a workshop in sound, song and silence, voice and vibration.  The session will combine exercises that open your voice, attune your ears, deepen your breath and stir your joy, while learning original liturgical melodies by Miriam Margles (you might know her three-part composition of Ilu Finu).  This workshop is equally for those who are comfortable singers as well as those who feel vocally challenged.   

Building Singing Communities -
Room 602
Joey Weisenberg, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
As a followup to the Spontaneous Jewish Choir class, this class will focus on strategies for developing singing and music in your communities, and how to take the greatest advantage of the musical potential that's already present.
Listen to Building Singing Communities

N'ran'nah: Making the Most of a Bentcher - Room 601
Barry Walfish, National Havurah Committee; Miriam-Simma Walfish, Mechon Hadar (New York, NY)
Come join us as we introduce a brand new bencher, Lchu N'ran'nah.  Together we will see how a bentcher can be not only a repository of blessings and songs but also a dynamic educational tool. We will do an in-depth study of one zemirah, looking at the author's sources and use of language and thus come to appreciate how the authors used the zemirot to articulate fundamental teachings about the nature and meaning of Shabbat.

Expanding "Egalitarian:" Making Minyanim More Accessible - Room 504
Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, Minyan Tikvah (Philadelphia, PA)
In this workshop, participants will explore the differing needs of their participants and how to make davening and other minyan activities comfortable to people from a variety of backgrounds.  Bring a particular story from your minyan or an issue you'd like to discuss, or just come prepared to brainstorm strategies for making all of our communities more welcoming.

"Supporting the Mourner: A Guide to "Being There" for Community Members Suffering a Loss" - Room 603
Steven Exler, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (Bronx, NY)
This session will discuss the critical role the community plays in mourning and offer guidance on how to be there in the right ways for others in mourning.  Topics include presence at funeral and burial, visiting during shiva, the year of mourning.  Text study, roleplays, and discussion.

Empowering an Existing Community:  Early Lessons on (In)(ter)Dependence between KICKS and Congregation Kehillath Israel -
Room 503
Jacob Cytryn and Rachel Silverman, KICKS (Brooklin, MA)
How can existing synagogues and those considering starting a "new" prayer community work together?  Less than two months ago, Congregation Kehilath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Brookline, MA, welcomed KICKS (Kehillath Israel Community Kabbalat Shabbat) as its regular Friday night davening.  The experiment, though in its earliest stages, has reenergized the synagogue in a new way and captivated the excitement of different demographic sections of the local community.  Though in its earliest stages, the KICKS experiment is promising, and this session will provide a forum for learning together from both opportunities seized and mistakes made.  We will workshop challenges and strategies from the perspectives of synagogue professionals, synagogue lay leaders, prospective independent minyan founders, and participants in both settings.

Hilchot Pluralism:  Theory and Practice of Pluralistic Jewish Communities
Ben Dreyfus, Segulah (Washington, DC/Silver Spring, MD) - Room 604
Every community has some areas on which it takes a firm stand, and other issues on which it seeks to be pluralistic, accommodating multiple practices and identities.  What does it mean to be pluralistic, and how do we implement this in our communities?  We will explore the theory of Jewish pluralism, and share pluralistic practices developed in our communities.
Related: Hilchot Pluralism on Mah Rabu (by Ben Dreyfus)

3:30pm - 4:00pm: Closing with Shai Held, Mechon Hadar
Listen to Closing with Shai Held


David Schuck is the rabbi of the Pelham Jewish Center in Pelham Manor, NY. He is also a faculty member in the rabbinical school at the Academy for Jewish Religion where he teaches Professional Skills. Before becoming the rabbi of the Pelham Jewish Center, Rabbi Schuck worked as the rabbi of the Conservative Minyan at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel; as a chaplain at Columbia University’s New York Presbyterian Hospital; as a teacher at the 92nd Street Y Derech Torah program in New York City; and was a Jewish Service Corps Educator in Bombay, India through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Joey Weisenberg is a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar in charge of all musical programming. He is a mandolinist/guitarist and currently performs with bands including Romashka, The Amazing Frozen String Quartet, others including his own ensembles. Joey also works as the Musical Director at the Kane Street Synagogue. As a teacher, Joey leads his “Spontaneous Jewish Choir” workshops, teaches for institutions including Klez Kanada and the Jewish Theological Seminary, and teaches private instrumental lessons to a variety of students.

Jeremy Kalmanofsky is the rabbi of Congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side.

Ezra Weinberg is the current Marshall T. Meyer Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.  He graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and was ordained in June 2009.  Born in Scranton and raised in Philadelphia, Ezra was raised Reconstructionist, Conservative, Renewal and as a Labor Zionist.  He lives on the nexus between the old havurah movement and the new independent minyan movement.   He has experience as a community builder and as a ba’al tefilah in many different settings both in Israel and in the US.    

Shira Wallach is a first-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary where she is also earning an MA from the cantorial school in sacred music. Shira is the cantorial intern at Bnai Jeshurun. She graduated from Barnard and List College in 2008 with degrees in Psychology and Bible, and then worked for the Masorti movement in London. Shira also learned at Yeshivat Hadar during the summer of 2007.

Lani Santo is a senior program officer at American Jewish World Service (AJWS) where she founded and oversees AJWS’s World Partners Fellowship. Lani is board member and alumna of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. She graduated from Barnard College and will soon complete her MPA in Nonprofit Management at NYU’s Wagner School for Public Service.  Lani sits on the steering committee of Altshul. 

Lisa Colton is the founder and president of Darim Online, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Jewish organizations succeed in the digital age, and is a founding member of The Charlottesville Minyan. She is a alumna of Stanford University, Livnot U’lehibanot and Pardes.

Stefan Gottschalk
lives in Washington DC.  He is a member of the Tomchei Tikkun (Coordinating Committee) of Tikkun Leil Shabbat.  He has participated in Independent Minyan and Synagogue life in Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York.  He is an attorney and a CPA and gives companies tax advice.

Beth Kalisch attended the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, receiving numerous academic awards, among them the most appropriate Stephen S. Wise Memorial Prize in Homiletics. Outside of the classroom, she served as the student rabbi for congregations in New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and the Former Soviet Union; as an educator at URJ summer camp; and as a chaplain intern at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. A former Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, she also participated in rabbinical student delegations with the American Jewish World Service and Encounter, in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s Rabbinical Student Fellowship for Leadership in Public Life, and in the KAVOD Tzedakah Fellowship.

Ben Dreyfus is a Ph.D. student in physics education research at the University of Maryland.  He was a founder of Kol Zimrah, an independent minyan in New York, and is now an organizer of Segulah, an independent minyan on the DC/Maryland border.  He serves on the board of the National Havurah Committee, and blogs at Mah Rabu ( and Jewschool (

Rachel Nussbaum founded Kavana in 2006. She was a recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Bronfman Youth Fellowship, and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2004.  In 2008, she was named on Newsweek Magazine's list of the "Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America." Rachel's passions include teaching rabbinic texts (particularly Midrash), serving as a pastoral counselor, leading spirited and musical prayer services, and challenging people to see Judaism as a catalyst for change.

Pam Edelman is the Co-Founder of Zamru, a Princeton, NJ-area independent minyan focused on musical, meaningful prayer, and Co-Founder of Yerusha, a pilot program for a revolutionary alternative to Hebrew school.  Pam's marketing experience includes programming and fund-raising for non-profit organizations, and performing brand management functions for Kraft Foods, where she created and implemented marketing plans concentrating on products for children and their parents. 

Miriam Margles
is a composer of Jewish liturgical music, a dancer and poet. She facilitates workshops integrating Jewish text learning, social justice and creative exploration, particularly addressing issues of difference and conflict.  Miriam served as the Associate Rabbi at Kehilat Lev Shalem in Woodstock, NY and is co-founder of Encounter, fostering understanding through face to face encounters between diverse North American Jewish leaders and Palestinians in the West Bank.  She is an alumnus of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem and the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.

Miriam Steinberg-Egeth is one of the founding members of Minyan Tikvah in Philadelphia and a past participant in Cambridge Minyan and Minyan Tehillah.  When she's not a volunteer Jew, she's a professional Jew, working as the director of the Jewish Graduate Student Network.

Steven Exler is Associate Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale - The Bayit.  He was a Wexner Graduate Fellow during his rabbinical training at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah.  He is a runner and enjoys cooking.

Barry Dov Walfish is the Judaica Specialist at the University of Toronto Libraries and a scholar of Medieval Judaism. His particular interests are the history of biblical interpretation and reception, Jewish liturgy, and the Karaite Movement in Judaism. He is co-editor of Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil and the main editor of the bencher L'chu N'ran'nah.

Miriam-Simma Walfish
teaches Talmud at Yeshivat Hadar and the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City. She was closely involved in the production of the new bencher "Lchu N'ran'nah" (, and enjoys teaching and learning new melodies for Shabbat zemirot.

Rachel Silverman is less than a month away from being ordained as a rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary, from which she also holds a masters in Jewish education. She is a recipient of the Legacy Heritage Rabbinic Fellowship, and serves a small congregation in Sharon, MA. Rachel is active in the Washington Square Minyan and is a founding member of KICKS (Kehillath Israel Community Kabbalat Shabbat). She is, perhaps, most famous for creating the "real men marry rabbis" t-shirts, of which hundreds have sold worldwide.

Jacob Cytryn is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish Studies and Education at Brandeis University and a Wexner Graduate Fellow.  He is also the year-round Program Director for Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  An active participant at both the Washington Square Minyan and Congregation Kehillath Israel, Jacob is also a founder of KICKS (Kehillat Israel Community Kabbalat Shabbat), all of which are located in Brookline, MA, where he lives with his wife Tamar.

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