As Different as Sour Cream and Applesauce, and Yet…

It is the season of latkes, which means you will hear many arguments over which condiment is the best to accompany your latkes – sour cream or applesauce. They appear to be as different from one another as two things can be, and yet, they both compliment the latke and make it taste delicious.

So it is true of two new Jewish communities. From the outside, these two stories seem as different as two worlds could be, and yet, they have such similar missions and visions and ideas about how to create positive, engaging and tasteful Jewish community.

Meet ‘The Beis’, a traditional Jewish community in Washington Heights (upper Manhattan), the fastest growing Jewish community in the greater New York City area. Launched in summer of 2014, it is led by Rabbi Hart Levine, a graduate of Yeshiva University and a member of the Orthodox Union.

Now meet ‘Makom NY’, a liberal Jewish community on Long Island, where 80 percent of Jews are unaffiliated, and the Jewish population is upward of quarter of a million Jews. Launched in summer of 2015, it is led by me, Rabbi Deborah Bravo, a graduate of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

By appearance alone, we are very different. We come from different styles of Judaism, we appeal to very different populations (20-somethings at the Beis and primarily families and empty-nesters at Makom), and we are in very different geographic settings (urban versus suburban). And yet, when folks from Makom NY met folks from the Beis as part of a cohort of new Jewish Intentional Communities through Hakhel, under the umbrella of Hazon, it became very clear that we shared more similarities than we could imagine.

The Beis Community began when a bunch of Jews living in a big city felt like their neighborhood should feel more like home. They sought to create a more intimate community with a sense of spirit and inclusion, and the key word is community. They wanted to embrace their values and allow them to speak to a broader audience. Makom NY began when a group of Long Island Jews from varying backgrounds came together, seeking deeper connection to Judaism by lowering barriers and focusing on relationships and community. In many ways, we could each use one another’s mission statements in defining the other.

Both communities value creating a home, and welcoming all kinds of Jews and non-Jews into the big tent that is their community. Both communities are spiritual communities, helping to bring prayer to those who know how to interface with prayer and those who are ‘prayer-novices’. Both communities are literally ready to stand on the street corners, sit in the local diners to meet people where they are, and invite them in to these new communities. And both communities are all about human connection, focusing on connecting people with people.

So does it matter that one group is primarily 20-somethings in NYC, led by a traditional rabbi and one group is families and adults on Long Island, led by a liberal rabbi? No, it really does not.

Recently, we all attended Hakhel’s 4th annual Jewish Intentional Communities Retreat, and it was so clear we spoke the same language. From the outside, people might think we look very different, but on the inside, we are two Jewish communities seeking to bring people closer to Judaism, Jewish community, learning and culture. Just like latkes – be it sour cream or applesauce – both make the latkes taste great.

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