Starting a New Havurah or Minyan
By: Benjamin Maron
So you want to start a new havurah or minyan.
Starting a new community can take a lot of work, energy, and effort, but can also be quite rewarding. The following guidelines can help ensure both that you are not too exhausted to enjoy the first meeting of your group and also that people show up and want to get involved further.
Why do you want to start a new Jewish community? Is there a type of davening (praying) that you would enjoy that doesn’t exist in your area? Do you want to start a group that meets for holidays and learns Torah together? Do you want to start a minyan or havurah with a focus on a specific theme, like social justice or families? Identifying why you want to start your havurah or minyan will help you “sell” the idea to others.
Once you have a vision for the type of havurah or minyan you would like to start, check in with your friends and extended network. If you see a need/void, do others as well? See if their ideas mesh with yours. Have a meeting, or three, to figure out the basics: how often you would like to meet, where you would like to meet, what type of services or programming you would like to offer, and who’s going to do what. Establish a core group of people who are willing to help you get the minyan or havurah off the ground, at least through the first few times it meets.
Create hype! Email your friends and networks, post on Facebook, create a Twitter account, post to listservs and email groups, create a website (this can be done for free as a blog (Blogger or WordPress, for example) or on Google Sites), and in general spread the word that your new havurah or minyan is starting. Don’t forget to mention the details for the first time it will meet (where, when, etc.), a few words about the new minyan or havurah, and encourage people to help spread the word as well.
At the first few meetings of your havurah or minyan, aim to impress. If your focus is on musical davening, find someone who is a truly talented song leader to lead the service. If your focus is on social justice, make sure the d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue) is passionate and exciting. If your goal is for family-inclusive services, make sure there are families and children who know the tunes you’ll be using and will sing loudly and can fully participate. Keep announcements short and succinct. And have a way for people to sign up so you can increase your volunteer base – either leave a sign-in sheet or have slips of paper with the minyan or havurah’s email address, website, or other contact information.
Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.