Creating Community During Covid — The Story of the Twenty-Somethings Minyan
After living at my parents’ house for six months, I, like many others my age, excitedly moved to Washington Heights this past August. As a young undergrad moving into her first apartment, there were many parts of living independently that I had to figure out, not least where to daven on Shabbat. Connected to that was finding a place that would feel like my community.
Washington Heights is blessed to be home to many minyanim, and in an attempt to find my place, I hopped around different shuls and minyanim, and yet I still did not feel like there was one minyan I could call my own. Therefore, I was very excited when, on Oct. 30, I received a text saying that some people were planning on having a musical Kabbalat Shabbat on our roof, but were looking for a minyan. With messages being passed around asking if men would be able to join, it was only two hours before Shabbat that the minyan was actually confirmed. With all the uncertainty of whether the minyan would actually happen, the final gathering, about 40 people, was a surprising success.
Inspired by the popularity of the impromptu minyan, the Twenty-Somethings Minyan (TSM) was born. Recent graduates Bella Adler (SCW ‘20), Ariella Etshalom (SCW ‘20), Miriam Schloss (SSSB ‘20), CJ Glicksman (YC ‘20) and Sophie Ostrow (SCW ‘20) make up the original visionaries and informal board who run TSM. The idea for the minyan came out of conversations held in shared car rides to Salanter Akiba Riverdale High School (SAR), where some of the founders work together.
The board members are familiar with running religious programming for the YU community, whether as members on the board of the Beren Campus Torah Activities Council (TAC), being an RA or a Stanton Fellow. Living in Washington Heights newly graduated, compounded with the social struggles resulting from COVID-19, Etshalom expressed that the group saw “a need for young people to be able to socialize in some kind of communal way, and it seemed the best option to do that would be through Tefillah.”
Now, six months later, TSM has grown into a fully functional minyan. Sign-up forms are sent out every Wednesday night on the TSM Whatsapp group at exactly 7 p.m.; within two minutes the form is closed, though a waiting list is kept open. Moving from the aforementioned roof, the minyan is now held on the fifth floor of the Shenk Shul. On Thursday evenings, the board members set up the minyan, seating as many people as possible, with roommates sitting in pods while all others sit six feet apart. Attendants are notified of seating with a card of their name on a chair, in addition to a confirmation text that is sent out. Currently, the record for the most number of seats set up is 73.
Much of davening is musical, with someone davening Mincha, and someone else doing Maariv and Kabbalat Shabbat. Afterward, a community member will say a dvar Torah, alternating between men and women each week; per TSM “shtick” rules, the dvar Torah must include a song lyric.
As of now, TSM only meets Friday night, but there has been other programming created in order to make TSM into more of a community. So far, TSM has run a Tu B'Shvat Oneg in a Bag, a mishloach manot drive and a chessed event. TSM also participated in a community-wide Yom Hashoah and Yom Haatzmaut celebration run by the Y of Washington Heights and Inwood. Although programming is currently restricted due to COVID-19, Etshalom expressed that bigger events are being planned for TSM as life begins to return to some normality. “We would love some shabbatonim and community meals, shiurim and plan on offering more programming, not just Tefillah, that build up our community,” she said.
As the name suggests, TSM aims to service the “twenty-something” demographic living in Washington Heights. Members include current Yeshiva University undergraduates such as Yaakov Weider (YC ‘23), who told The Commentator that he enjoys attending as “it’s so great to be at a minyan with amazing ruach but also to be able to see friends and make new friends which has definitely been harder in a Covid era.”
Other attendants include recent graduates such as Sara Schatz (SCW ‘20), who said she appreciates TSM because it “provides a uniquely warm atmosphere in the heights.” Elaborating further, she explained “As someone who is very community-oriented that graduated college virtually, it was quite isolating in the beginning of the year finding my place in Washington Heights, a new neighborhood for me. TSM, which is comprised of both old and new friends, helped with this transition exponentially.” TSM is open to all undergraduates, graduates, YU affiliated and not, and even non “twenty-somethings” attend.
While creating a new community is challenging at the best of times, making one in the midst of a global pandemic is even more so. The success of TSM, despite the challenges, is a testament to the power of what can happen when a group of individuals comes together for a common cause.
Reflecting on what she learned from this experience, Adler commented, “I learned that we can create a warm space even in a densely urban area. I learned that young professionals need community and that communities need people to step up. I learned that especially during times of transition, uncertainty, and world chaos, recent grads are looking for Jewish connection.” Going further, she concluded, “Now, perhaps more than ever, people are looking for meaning, they are looking for a “chevra”, and they are looking for spaces to find each other. What a blessing it is that together, we can create those spaces.”
Editor’s Note: Anyone interested in joining TSM is encouraged to reach out to Ariella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Caption: TSM has helped create a community during a time of crisis
Photo Credit: TSM Facebook page