2011 Minyan Conference

On November 4-6 2011, Mechon Hadar held its fourth Independent Minyan Conference in Washington, DC along with participants from nearly 50 minyans.  For the final portion on Sunday afternoon, the event was open to the general public in order to bring together the shared wisdom and experience of successful independent minyan leaders, clergy, volunteers, and Jewish communal professionals.
Below is the complete schedule of sessions from the conference, including recordings and resources from selected sessions.

Friday, November 4

5:15pm - Welcome

5:45pm - Candle Lighting

5:45pm - Minhah, Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv

  • Traditional Egalitarian minyan (mixed seating) led by conference participants
  • Rosh Pina (Partnership Minyan)
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat

7:15pm - 7:45pm Breakout groups

Led by Dina Epstein, DC Minyan

7:45pm - 9:00pm Dinner

9:15pm - 10:15pm Case Studies

Led by Adena Philips, Public Sector Strategy
In this session we will use a case study method to examine critical issues in minyanim. In small groups, minyan leaders from around the country will present case studies on topics ranging from engaging volunteers, developing leadership, welcoming new members, relating to other established institutions, and expanding programing. The method of case study analysis allow for also be a take-away of how to solve practical problems.

Case Studies presented by:

  1. Monica Woll, Madison Minyan (presenter); Yaeli Bronstein, Minyan Nahar (facilitator)
  2. Naomi Stein, Minyan Hadash; (presenter); Steven Katz, Kol Sasson (facilitator) 
  3. Charlie Paradise, Altshul (presenter); Ben Rosen, Madison Minyan (facilitator)
  4. Ariana Berlin, Brandeis Traditional Egal Minyan; Shalom Steinberg, Atlanta Chevre Minyan (facilitator)
  5. Dana Kresel, Kehilat Hadar (presenter); Aaron Resnick, Rosh Pina (facilitator)
  6. Rebecca Gross, Minyan Chaverim (presenter); Eitan Levisohn, DC Minyan (facilitator)
  7. Josh Rosenberg, Minyan Tikvah (presenter); Viktoria Bedo, Brandeis Trad Egal (facilitator)
  8. Sydney Levine, Minyan Tiferet (presenter); Leora Perkins, Cambridge Minyan (facilitator)
  9. David Hain, Rosh Pina (presenter); Adena Philips, Public Sector Strategy/Darkhei Noam (facilitator)


10:15pm - 11:15pm Oneg

10:30pm - Building the College Community You Want

Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar
A special discussion for college track participants.


Saturday, November 5

9:15am - Shaharit 
A number of local minyans are meeting this morning:

  • Rosh Pina (Partnership minyan) 9:15am at GW Hillel 2nd Floor
  • DC Minyan (egalitarian, separate seating, 10-10 minyan) 9:15am at DC JCC Community Hall, 1529 16th Street, NW
  • Minyan Segulah (egalitarian, mixed-seating), 9:15am at Tifereth Israel Chapel, 7701 16th Street, NW (entrance on Juniper Street)
  • Traditional Egalitarian Minyan at Adas Israel Congregation, 9:30am at 2850 Quebec Street (at Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street, NW)


12:45pm - 2:00pm Lunch


2:00pm - 3:15pm Panel Sessions

Imagining a Sustainable Normative Jewish Future

  • Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar
  • Respondents:
    • Sally Mendelsohn, Minyan Shachar
    • Evan Hochberg, Minyan Tiferet

A number of minyanim were founded out of a longing for a Jewish community that is normative and intensive in its practice of mitzvot; that includes men and women at the heart of those communities. This session will provide a forum for taking this quest to the next step. How do we take the microcosms we created on prayer and Shabbat experiences and expand them into a full model of lived commitment that touches all areas of our lives.


The Future of Pluralism in the Jewish Community: Frameworks and Vision

  • Shira Stutman, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
  • Ben Dreyfus, Minyan Segulah
  • Rebecca Ennen, Jews United for Justice/Segulah

A number of minyanim were founded primarily in order to bring diverse individuals and populations into the same shared space. Their general framework has been built around respecting the autonomy of individual members and practices, and resisting any broad ideological commitments that would potentially exclude some participants. These dynamics have led to some incredibly creative ways of thinking about communities, boundaries, and canons of mutual respect. This session will focus on some of the achievements of this model to date and thinking through next steps and ramifications for taking this to the next level.


3:30pm - 4:00pm Minhah

  • Traditional Egalitarian
  • Partnership Minyan


4:15pm - 5:30pm Sessions

Prayer in the Talmud: A Transformative Encounter in Time and Space

Joe Septimus, Darkhei Noam

Embark on a journey of analysis, imagination, ideas, interrelationships, and approaches to individual and communal prayer. We will study a rich Talmudic text from Masechect (Tractate) Berachot about tefila (prayer) and supporting texts in Torah and Midrash. Our exploration and analysis will reveal how the Talmud moves us to personal transformation utilizing not only the informational content of the text but also through the text’s underlying interior developmental structure and movement.


Alternative Melodies for Shabbat

Reuven Kogel, Mission Minyan
Need new tunes for Shabbat? In this workshop we will explore alternative (and hopefully new) melodies for select hymns and songs sung on Shabbat - Lecha Dodi, Yigdal, D'ror Yikra. Some of the melodies are new, some are quite old, some are from the Sefardi tradition.

Melodies featured in this session are available at the Mission Minyan website.

Mastering the Fine Art of Giving a Dvar Torah

David Zvi Kalman, Minyan Tikvah
What is a dvar torah, and how do you deliver a good one? How do you adjust your content for your audience? What do you do if you have three minutes to fill, or twenty? What purpose does a dvar torah serve within the context of a regular service?

Together, we'll go over some helpful tips on how to give a great dvar torah, as well as some specific advice for particular congregational situations.

 Dvar Torah Resources


Gabbinical School

Hannah Hofrichter, Museum Minyan
Adam Levine, Cambridge Minyan 

In this workshop, we'll work on the practical aspects of being a gabbai during the Torah service, including the basic skills of calling people to the Torah and keeping the service moving along, the nuances of correcting Torah reading, and the incredible art of chironomy (hand signals). Beginners and experts are welcome.


5:30pm - 6:30pm Seudah Shlishit


6:35pm - Arvit

  • Traditional Egalitarian, Basement
  • Partnership Minyan, Second Floor


6:55pm - Havdallah


7:15pm - 8:30pm Panel Sessions

Have Independent Minyanim Abandoned Israel?: A Guided Discussion

Led by Zvika Krieger, DC Minyan
Most independent minyanim follow a "No Israel" policy when it comes to programming -- too controversial, no one wants politics from the pulpit, or maybe too reminiscent of our parents' shuls. But have these policies gone too far? Have our communities fallen into a lazy complacency? Are we missing meaningful opportunities to engage with such a central tenant of Jewish identity? Why, when Jewish communities around the world were celebrating the return of Gilad Shalit, did most of our minyanim ignore the occasion? This session will be a moderated discussion for minyan leaders to discuss the genesis and rationale of their policies relating to Israel, and to engage in a dialogue about whether our approach to Israel is a sign of enlightened progress or ripe for reevaluation.


Lay-Led Ethos vs. Rabbinical Guidance: What are our Core Values?

Joe Septimus, Darkhei Noam
Jason Rubenstein, Mechon Hadar
Deena Fox, DC Minyan

For many of our communities being lay led is not just a budgetary predicament but the organizational structure of choice. Operating as a lay led community can enhance each member’s engagement and responsibilities within the community. We will explore, in theory and practice, the power and possibilities of furthering the lay led model.


Independent Minyan Schools? New Models for Education

Jessica Lieberman, Founding Group of DC Hebrew Language Public Charter School
Pam Edelman, Zamru and Lippman Kanfer Institute
Sacha Litman, Measuring Success


Sunday, November 6

8:00am - 8:40am Shaharit

8:45am - 9:15am Breakfast

9:15am - 10:45am Open Space generated session


11:00am - 12:00pm Sessions

Fostering Musical Diversity in Independent Minyanim: Where to Find New Melodies and How to Introduce them into the Liturgy

Reuven Kogel, Mission Minyan
In this session we will discuss aspects of musical diversity in independent minyanim: Where do most of our melodies come from? What are their musical qualities? How to match melodies with liturgical pieces based on the mood and rhythm of the text? Where to find new melodies? How to introduce them? Musical ideas will be illustrated with well-known and lesser-known melodies, some of them found in online sound archives.


Leadership Transition in Minyanim: Strategic Planning for the Future

Orlee Turitz and Robert Killip
In this session we will deal with the critical issues of leadership transition that face the volunteer-led minyanim. Using tools from strategic planning for non-profits, we will explore ways to focus on key elements that will make this transition smoother and help ensure the ongoing viability of the minyan. We will use a case-study method with Washington Square Minyan.


Service Leading Workshop: Constructive Strategies to Strengthen Quality of Communal Prayer

Yael Richardson Kalman, Minyan Tikvah
In this workshop we will discuss strategies for innovative yet accessible methods of leading davening. We will address questions of how to prepare in advance to lead services; how to introduce new elements into an established congregation; how to adjust davening to suit the community’s mood; how to utilize body language as guiding indicators for the congregation; how to create an intimate space for prayer.


Leading a Tisch: Choreographing Spontaneous Joy

Adam Szubin, DC Minyan


How To Speak with Presence

Sarah Gershman, Greenroom Speakers
Whether you are giving a dvar Torah, presenting at a community meeting, or making an announcement, your ability to speak publicly is vital.Learn how craft and clear and focused message, and use voice and body to make that message stick. All participants will have opportunities for practice and feedback.


12:00pm - 12:45pm Brunch/Welcome to additional participants


12:45pm - 2:00pm Practical skills workshops 1

New Models of Jewish Education Based on the Independent Minyan Framework

Yoni Engelhart, Sulam/Washington Square Minyan
We will explore how the ethos of independent minyanim can inspire innovation in Jewish education to help meet the challenges facing families and institutions today. Specifically, we will examine a new model in Boston that finds its way between the day school model and the contemporary Hebrew school.

 Watch this session


How To Speak with Presence

Sarah Gershman, Greenroom Speakers
Whether you are giving a dvar Torah, presenting at a community meeting, or making an announcement, your ability to speak publicly is vital.Learn how craft and clear and focused message, and use voice and body to make that message stick. All participants will have opportunities for practice and feedback.


The Independent Minyan and Community-Based Learning

Ben Freedman and Sophia Krentzman, DC Beit Midrash
Come and learn from one of the country's longest running learning groups affiliated with an independent minyan! This session will explore the details necessary to start or strengthen a preexisting community-based learning group. Topics will range from the practical to the philosophical with an emphasis on how to run a community learning group (such as structuring the classes, finding volunteer teachers and funding food). Feel free to come prepared with questions or suggestions to make our time together as productive as possible.


Political Action... by Jews? For Jews? Of Jews?

Rabbi Jack Moline
What are the benefits and pitfalls of introducing political activism into a community organized around prayer? How can a community decide between directly political and other forms of advocacy? What modes of organizing, decision-making, and advocacy are important and effective? And what voice should a Jewish community - on any scale - have in the public sphere of debate? Rabbi Jack Moline has dedicated the last several years to organizing the Conservative movement around activism, and has worked closely with several recent US presidents.


Bringing a Melody to Life: Joey Weisenberg's Spontaneous Jewish Choir

Joey Weisenberg, Mechon Hadar
In this class, we will focus on learning one old Jewish melody, studying it's musical mechanics, and bringing that melody to life collectively with beautiful harmony and rhythm. We will learn a method for absorbing a new melody and an approach to singing nigunim.


Pulpit Rabbis and Minyanim: What IM’s Can Learn from Shuls and What Shuls Can Learn from IM’s

Rabbi Nissan Antine and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf
How do pulpit rabbis relate to the independent minyan phenomenon? Are multiple minyanim in a shul a model for the future, or a draw on the community? What could a hybrid approach look like? Rabbis Gil Steinlauf and Nissan Antine both had experience in minyanim before becoming rabbis, and now are shul leaders with unique approaches to these questions. Please bring your thoughts and ideas to this session as we hope that it will be full of dialogue.



2:15pm - 3:30pm Practical skills workshops 2

Movement and Prayer

Rabbi Esther Lederman and Rabbi Danny Zemel, Temple Micah
We will share our experiences working with Liz Lerman, an innovative teacher and MacArthur “genius” who has helped our synagogue develop new ways of thinking about prayer through the use of our bodies in movement. We will provide examples of how we have worked with Liz over the years, particularly during our Yom Kippur services. We hope to use some of the time to generate discussion of how prayer can move beyond the words.


Demystifying Fundraising: How does fundraising become a part of the culture of an organization?

Mindy Schachtman, Mechon Hadar
How do you make philanthropy a part of the culture of your community? How do you shift those that simply attend your programs to both attend and donate? We will have a discussion on how to start or strengthen fundraising efforts in their organization.


Expecting the Unexpected: Gabbaing on the Fly 

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Mechon Hadar
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.


Sustainable Business Models for Prayer Communities

Daniel Chiat, Measuring Success
As community leaders in independent minyanim, we are passionate about our desire to build Jewish community. Are we stepping back to ask ourselves whether the programs and priorities we emphasize in our communities actually bring the results we seek? Daniel Chiat, an analyst for Measuring Success who is currently working with New York and Montreal-area synagogues, will be presenting an overview of how data-driven analysis can be applied to serve our Jewish values and our communal priorities. Throughout the session, we will work with a common dataset that can be used to assess the health of our synagogues; explore ways of aligning vision and values with data; and gain appreciation of the role of community leaders as guiding data-driven decision making in our independent minyanim. We will also briefly explore how to best use data currently on hand and identify data to be collected.


Building Singing Communities 

Joey Weisenberg, Mechon Hadar
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.


3:30pm - 4:00pm Closing