Rab­bi Elie Kaun­fer is the author of Empow­ered Judaism: What Inde­pen­dent Minyan­im Can Teach Us about Build­ing Vibrant Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ties. He’ll be blog­ging all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

It’s strange to write a book about inde­pen­dent minyan­im when you don’t even attend one anymore.

Inde­pen­dent minyan­im are those grass­roots, all-vol­un­teer-led Jew­ish prayer com­mu­ni­ties that have popped up with force across the Unit­ed States, Israel and Europe over the past decade. In 2000 there were three of them; now there are more than 70. I wrote about them in Empow­ered Judaism: What Inde­pen­dent Minyan­im Can Teach Us about Build­ing Vibrant Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ties.

For eight years, since I co-found­ed Kehi­lat Hadar -– one of the flag­ship inde­pen­dent minyan­im –- in 2001, the minyan was my Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and spir­i­tu­al home. Even after I retired from the lead­er­ship in 2005, I would attend the minyan’s ser­vices and learn­ing pro­grams, watch­ing the com­mu­ni­ty grow and mature.

Then I fell vic­tim to a force much more pow­er­ful than upstart Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty: New York City real estate prices. My wife and I had a daugh­ter a cou­ple of years ago, and all of a sud­den, our cozy 1‑bedroom apart­ment on 110th Street trans­formed into a night­mare of space needs. We couldn’t afford a big­ger place on the Upper West Side. So we did what Jews have done for cen­turies: we migrated.

Shun­ning the obvi­ous next-step neigh­bor­hoods like Park Slope or Riverdale, we moved up to Wash­ing­ton Heights. We even recruit­ed peo­ple to join us. But we didn’t start an inde­pen­dent minyan. Instead, we joined a syn­a­gogue.

The syn­a­gogue is by no means cut­ting-edge. It was found­ed in 1938. It has an old-school name: The Fort Try­on Jew­ish Cen­ter. It uses a sid­dur that was pub­lished in 1960. There is a rit­u­al com­mit­tee, a board and mem­ber­ship dues.

And yet, it’s not your aver­age syn­a­gogue either. It nev­er affil­i­at­ed with a denom­i­na­tion, and prides itself on being inde­pen­dent. Laypeo­ple read the Torah and lead the prayers. It is multi­gen­er­a­tional, with peo­ple in their 80s schmooz­ing with peo­ple in their 20s (many of whom are stu­dents at Kehi­lat Hadar’s affil­i­at­ed Yeshi­v­at Hadar) at kid­dush. They have hot cholent and hot veg­gie stew for the non-meat-eaters.

The syn­a­gogue hired a young rab­bi last year named Micha’el Rosen­berg; he received Ortho­dox ordi­na­tion in Israel but believes in equal par­tic­i­pa­tion for men and women. (When he lived on the Upper West Side, he used to dav­en at Kehi­lat Hadar). Tak­ing a page out of the inde­pen­dent minyan­im play­book, he only speaks for 5 minutes.

The syn­a­gogue isn’t per­fect. In fact, its main chal­lenge is space. It meets in the social hall of anoth­er syn­a­gogue, and the room is sim­ply too big for the num­ber of peo­ple who come. It’s hard to build reli­gious ener­gy with 60 peo­ple in a room built for 400. But every week there are new faces, and the com­mu­ni­ty is cer­tain­ly gain­ing momentum.

So what does it mean that one of the chief cham­pi­ons of inde­pen­dent minyan­im is a mem­ber at a syn­a­gogue? It demon­strates that the whole inde­pen­dent minyan phe­nom­e­non was nev­er an either-or propo­si­tion between minyan­im and syn­a­gogues. Peo­ple are look­ing for Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that works. If it’s in a syn­a­gogue, they will hap­pi­ly join a syn­a­gogue. It also shows that syn­a­gogues are being influ­enced by inde­pen­dent minyan­im. When the rab­bi knows the ethos of inde­pen­dent minyan­im from the inside, s/​he is unafraid to bor­row tac­tics that worked there for use in the synagogue.

The future of Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is not lim­it­ed to inde­pen­dent minyan­im or syn­a­gogues. In the ide­al, both minyan­im and syn­a­gogues will learn from each oth­er, and we will see a vari­ety of mod­els for engaged Jew­ish life.

Rab­bi Elie Kaun­fer, the author of Empow­ered Judaism: What Inde­pen­dent Minyan­im Can Teach Us about Build­ing Vibrant Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ties, is blog­ging all week in Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series.