When Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) partnered with Synagogue 3000 to bring Next Dor to New York City, they turned 180 degrees from the previous traditional way of thinking about 20/30s engagement. Recognizing that people in their twenties and thirties generally do not move back to Westchester, WRT reached out beyond the local suburbs to New York City in an effort to commit to a population that may never enter the doors of WRT.
The creation of Next Dor NYC made two loud proclamations:
First, to the scores of 20/30-year-olds that grew up at WRT and are now living in the City - “We care about you, we want to hear your story and, even though you are not living in immediate area, we are there for you.”
Second, to the liberal Jewish world - “We recognize the importance of actively and creatively engaging our 20 and 30-year-olds and we are devoting our money and our efforts to reaching any young Jewish person (not just WRT alumni) in New York City.”
For me, as the WRT/Next Dor Rabbinical Intern, the immense blessing of the work is in the realization that Next Dor NYC has become my Jewish community. Even as a rabbinical student who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (one of my teachers called it the nicest ghetto in the history of the Jews) and in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I did not have a strong Jewish community. Furthermore, I never felt empowered to shape and mold the community I desired. I loved hosting Shabbat dinners for my friends and enjoyed the relationships that I built as a rabbinical student, but I never connected to a community that I could call my own.
Enter Next Dor NYC. Next Dor NYC exists with the belief that solid, meaningful relationships are at the core of Jewish life. We believe that our monthly “Shabbat Brunch and Learns” (usually 3-7 people) in cramped apartments are as successful as our Chanukah Party (70+ people). We make every effort to lower the barriers of access to Judaism while not skimming over the richness found within Judaism. We actively encourage the participation of interfaith couples. We create events and programs that cater to the city lives of 20/30s (our brunch program starts at 11:30.) And, we certainly advocate that there is no right way to be Jewish. Most importantly, we attempt to be a resource for individuals to engage in arenas where Judaism can have meaning in people’s lives.
So far we have developed two neighborhood clusters; one in Brooklyn (Park Slope) and the other on the East Side of Manhattan south of 42nd street. The majority of the Next Dor NYC team had no other Jewish connection in the City. For many, a Next Dor Shabbat is the first Shabbat they have had been to since high school. For some in interfaith relationships, the Next Dor events are the first Jewish experiences a couple has had together. For others, Next Dor is an opportunity to have serious discussions on the pressing issues of 20/30s Jewish life.
Next Dor NYC is not in competition with other Jewish groups in New York. We have the blessing not to have to compete for numbers and we strive to work with all like-minded Jewish organizations. Recently, we teamed up with three Brooklyn synagogues for a communal Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration and we’ve reached out directly to synagogues all across the country asking for names of their unaffiliated 20/30 somethings who may be living in New York. We strongly believe we are “all on the same team” and know that by working together we can create stronger, more vibrant Jewish communities.
This isn’t to say we haven’t had our troubles. We certainly have taken our lumps– especially in the beginning, where we seemed to put the “cart before the horse” with ideas and visions coming before people. After these initial road blocks, we recommitted our efforts to making sure that each and every one of our activities centered on building personal relationships with individuals. We also constantly try and learn from our failures and to continue to grow and flourish as a young organization. We believe that we can be a “synagogue without walls,” a place where sacred community can develop and be nurtured while being entirely created and driven by those in their twenties and thirties.
Who knows the future of Next Dor NYC? My hunch is that we will see the establishment of more “Next Dor Clusters” throughout the area - specifically one in Queens, one in lower Manhattan and one in Westchester. There is a movement to continue to partner with other like-minded suburban synagogues with large populations in the City to create an entire network of 20/30s in New York City. We have already begun to partner with Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey for different Shabbat worship opportunities. There are plans to begin social justice projects, to broaden worship avenues, to introduce High Holiday services, to begin a young family program, and to continue to build core leadership teams going forward. In all of these endeavors, we hope to continue to build solid relationships where the best of Jewish life and experiences can flourish in community.