Creating Community through Minyan: Havurot in Jewish Day Schools

by Cynthia Peterman

“Hurry up, hospital
Mom. I don’t want to miss Minyan!” “Best part of my morning!” How many Jewish day school educators would love to hear our students talk about t’filah this way? These were comments I often heard from my students during the more than 15 years I led the Havurah minyan at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, dosage
MD. What factors account for its ongoing success? These are primarily three: engaging students in community-building; meeting adolescents’ spiritual needs; and, providing opportunities for experimentation and leadership.

The havurah in America serves as a model for this student-centered minyan with its strong emphasis on community. Havurot are by definition non-hierarchical and egalitarian, often run without rabbinical guidance or with rabbis as equal members of the community. Decisions are made by consensus of the community in a democratic process. More informal than typical synagogue services, the havurah service often emphasizes joyous singing, discussion, and alternative paths to spirituality in the form of meditation, guided imagery, and drumming. Individuals come together for important moments in their lives (spiritual, life cycle) into a community that is both voluntary and has a shared purpose (often with a strong social action component). Often havurot experiment with creating new rituals or developing new approaches to existing life cycle rituals.

For teens, creating a sense of belonging to something with a higher goal is critical to their psycho-social development. Our students live in a society that too often values individuality over community, “my needs” over and against “yours.” This is an opportunity to learn and practice how to be a caring community. It has become common in today’s literature on adolescent development to talk of the “Five Cs” (i.e., Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring). A havurah is an ideal laboratory in which to practice and develop these characteristics.

The Havurah minyan (grades 9-12) functions as a community of equals, from the youngest student to the oldest. In an atmosphere of z’man kodesh, a goal of the Havurah minyan is to start each day with calm reflection, a sense of holiness, and a respect for community – our own and the greater world in which we live. At the beginning of the new school year, the emphasis is on welcoming new members and bringing them into the community. Older students mentor younger students, veterans mentor new members. Community meetings are held regularly to take the “pulse” of the community. Are we meeting the needs of our members? What are we doing well? What could we be doing better? The role of the faculty advisor is to model compassion, warmth, creative leadership, and spiritual growth. However, the service leaders are the students themselves.

The development of student leadership takes time and resources. The Havurah minyan maintains its own library, a collection of books on spirituality, meditation, as well as a resource box full of ideas for leading creative services. Students are encouraged to sign up to lead in pairs, often with someone who is not a friend, to encourage cross-grade fertilization. Allowing students to assume leadership is very important to developing their creativity and their confidence. Students who are reticent to participate in minyan in September often become active leaders by mid-year under the tutelage of older and veteran students. These relationships also move beyond the minyan, bridging the grade level divide as friendships are fostered that last throughout students’ school years.

Giving leadership over to students requires extra effort on the part of the faculty member. It is more time efficient to be the teacher-director in the front of the room, telling students what to do, than to be a facilitator and coach. Sometimes teachers fear the risk involved in giving leadership to students. Distributing leadership among students, at the heart of today’s educational emphasis on student-centered learning, requires thoughtful planning, supportive coaching, and being able to step in if a student needs help. Though this requires more work on the part of the teacher, the reward is in the faces of the students who – at the end of a wonderful morning minyan – smile with pleasure at their own success.

Student leadership also develops character and fosters creativity. Following the model of havurot, the Havurah minyan encourages experimentation in the service, while maintaining respect for Judaism and for the values the community has set for itself. This may be the first place a student experiences guided meditation during davenning, or a drumming circle on Rosh Chodesh. The flexibility of the Havurah minyan allows for students to engage in God-talk with one another, something that rarely, if ever, takes place in a standard minyan. The Havurah siddur, constructed over many years by students, combines standard prayer, student-created prayers, z’mirot, and poetry. The variety of material in the siddur gives students choices for leading services that make davenning different and unique, another key to the minyan’s success.

Each important moment in the life of a Havurah member is celebrated, or mourned, by the community. At the end of each morning we sing Mi She’Berach for family and friends who are in our hearts that day. Birthdays are celebrated, Shabbat and hagim are special days, and new rituals are created for important communal events, such as when the seniors leave the community. This reminds us that when one member of a community of daily worshipers is impacted, the entire community is affected.

As the havurah continues to grow in popularity in America as dynamic, alternative Jewish community, it will offer a unique educational model for t’filah programming in Jewish day schools for students who are looking for a supportive peer group and a a place to grow Jewishly.

Cynthia Peterman is the  Executive Director of The Jewish Teacher Project. The original post can be read here.

February 5, 2013   No Comments

Leadership Roles: Religious and Spiritual Authority

By: Benjamin Maron

When starting a new havurah or minyan, salve or getting involved in Havurah Judaism for the first time, link many of us are asked by our peers – both synagogue members and unaffiliated Jews alike – how these communities can function without a professional leader, usually a rabbi, in charge.

There are several ways to explain this model, the most common being that with enough knowledge, resources, and support, any of us can lead a community in prayer, any of us can offer a thought-provoking d’var Torah (word of Torah) or text study, any of us can contribute to life-cycle events. In a paper [PDF] presented to a conference of rabbis, Mitch Chefitz framed the history of rabbis’ roles in Jewish communities as learners and teachers of the tradition through study of Talmud and later the Shulchan Aruch, the rise of mysticism, the broadening of religious authority, and the transition of communities led largely by rabbis to other forms of leadership. The paper also addresses the significant changes in religious and spiritual authority from changes such as the proliferation of siddurim (prayer books), the formations of “communities that are sustained by niggunim [songs without words],” JDate, and “Jewish leaders … being tacitly ordained from below rather than from above.” How does this apply to us in the Havurah world? What can we learn about how our members are resources for community leadership? What is, and what should be, our model of religious and spiritual authority? Where might we need leadership, knowledge, or resources not available within our communities, and where might we find people or information to guide us?

Read the paper “Religious and Spiritual Authority in the New Jewish Paradigm” [PDF] in full… and feel free to share thoughts, and any answers to the concluding questions, in the comments.

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.

December 28, 2009   1 Comment

Policies and Guidelines

By: Benjamin Maron

Many havurot and minyanim have their policies or guidelines available on their websites, viagra dosage as handouts available at services, patient or as documents that are sent to new members of their email lists.

Looking through them, one can get a feel for the variety of models that our communities use for governance, membership, services, and more. Feel free to peruse the following examples, discuss them in the comments below, and make use of them as guidelines for your own community.

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.

December 26, 2009   2 Comments

Financial Structures

By: Ben Dreyfus

(Note: most of the information in this article is specific to the United States. People in other countries should research their own country’s laws and regulations. Even in the United States, page this is not professional legal advice and was not written by a lawyer.)

Many havurot/minyanim (even some of the largest ones) begin in someone’s living room. And some minyanim/havurot, cialis 40mg if they stay small enough, sick can stay there for years. And it’s possible to sustain a fully functioning havurah or minyan with no ongoing expenses: the community meets in participants’ homes, the food is potluck, the siddurim (prayer books) are bring-your-own and/or donated, Torah is not read (e.g. for a Friday-night-only community) or a Torah scroll is borrowed, etc.

But what happens when your minyan or havurah reaches the point when it needs to incur significant expenses? This happens most frequently when a community becomes too large to continue meeting in homes, and needs to rent space for services and other activities. This necessitates a more formal financial structure, so that many participants can chip in toward the community’s expenses and make tax-deductible contributions to the community. Here are some options:


This option means that the havurah or minyan doesn’t have to go through the incorporation process itself, but finds an existing nonprofit 501(c)3 organization to become its “fiscal sponsor”. People can then make tax-deductible contributions to the sponsoring organization and designate these contributions for the minyan or havurah. The sponsoring organization keeps the havurah or minyan’s funds separate from its own funds, and the minyan or havurah can spend these funds. This often requires the havurah or minyan to pay some percentage of the donations it receives to the sponsoring organization in exchange for this arrangement. More information about different types of fiscal sponsorship can be found here (and on other pages it links to).


In order to open a bank account for your minyan or havurah (rather than using someone’s individual bank account for the havurah or minyan’s finances, or going through a fiscal sponsor), you’ll need to incorporate. The bank will ask for a copy of the incorporation papers when you open the account. There are several ways to do this.

The actual incorporation happens at the state level, and the laws in each state are different. You will most likely incorporate in the state where your community is located. Many states have a category called a “religious corporation” or something similar. For further information on this process, look up your state’s incorporation requirements. This will often require submitting the names of your board of directors, a set of bylaws, and a fee on the order of $100. To avoid reinventing the wheel, it may be helpful to talk to other havurot or minyanim in your state that have already gone through this process.

The IRS recognizes a special category for “churches,” which are exempt from paying income taxes, and can receive tax-deductible contributions. Churches are automatically eligible for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status and are not required to apply for recognition as a tax-exempt organization. (However, you may still have to pay sales tax in your state or city.) Of course, this means that you are bound by the laws concerning tax-exempt organizations; for example, you may not endorse political candidates. See the IRS page [PDF] for more tax information about churches.


If your minyan or havurah does not qualify as a “church” (for example, if its primary programming is not religious services), you can incorporate in your state as a not-for-profit corporation, which is generally a similar process to the one described above.

To apply for 501(c)3 status, fill out IRS form 1023 [PDF]. This requires a fee of $300 (if your annual gross receipts are less than $10,000).

Even though 501(c)3 organizations are exempt from paying income taxes, you may have to fill out IRS form 990-EZ [PDF] each year and report on your organization’s income and expenses if your gross receipts exceed $25,000 per year. (The full form 990 is required if your gross receipts exceed $200,000 per year.) The form 990 is considered a public document, and you will be required to make it available to donors or anyone who requests a copy. The Guidestar website is a good place to learn more about how to maintain your havurah or minyan’s  public financial records and also to find information about other similar organizations or other non-profit organizations whose work you support.

Ben Dreyfus attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2002, and was co-chair in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors.

December 26, 2009   No Comments

Taking on Social Justice

By: Abby Bellows
This article was inspired by a workshop Abby offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

Many of our communities value tikkun olam (repairing the world), syphilis either reflected in actions taken by the community as a whole or in the professional and volunteer choices made by individual members.

Are there reasons to take on social justice work as a whole community?

Yes! There is a need for communities like ours (mainly of highly educated, purchase white voters) to be vocal in fighting poverty and other social dilemmas; we can experience a sense of fulfilment from helping and working alongside others; it can build relationships and unity within our own community; and some of us are excited to engage in something other than our jobs. Social justice is part of our Jewish tradition and it’s a great way to foster a positive image of Jews in our cities and counties, medicine where many of the oppressive landlords, employers, and officials happen to be Jews.

So what is social justice work?

It addresses the root causes of issues faced by “us” and “them,” developing relationships and leadership in the process.

What are the challenges of doing social justice work with your minyan or havurah and how do we deal with them?

  1. Some people don’t feel that they have relevant skills, or are intimidated by the scale of the problems. This evokes Ruth Messinger’s quote, “We cannot retreat into the convenience of being overwhelmed.” We can always start somewhere.
  2. There are diverse political perspectives within some communities. So when bankers and social workers can come together on good davening (praying), why cause rifts by divisive conversation? One response to this is to find and talk about the points we can all agree on (public education perhaps, or responses to homelessness).
  3. Some communities engage a lot of people who do this kind of work by day and aren’t looking to do more on the weekends and at night. They want their prayer community to be just that. This can be handled by identifying other people in the community who might be interested or who could engage through different modes than they do by day.

However another response to these challenges involves a paradigm shift. Instead of “doing” social justice, how can we integrate it into everything our community does?

An old model for thinking about social justice might have looked like this:

  1. a few people “do” social justice;
  2. they plan an event to “do” social justice (such as a food drive at Yom Kippur);
  3. they fulfil their obligation to “do” social justice;
  4. they have helped “others”.

Instead, a model for social justice could look like this:

  1. everyone is involved (those who set the dues structure use a sliding scale proportional to people’s incomes; those who organize the Kiddush (light meal after prayers) use re-usable dishes; divrei Torah (words of Torah) often connect to socially relevant issues, etc.;
  2. social justice is all of the time;
  3. social justice is continual;
  4. we are helping ourselves as well as helping others (this could look like working on issues that concern our lives – such as affordable rent, student loans, and healthcare – and also impact on our broader community). Motivate people through their personal narratives. Ask your havurah or minyan community what they struggle with and are excited about improving in our lives.

Some examples of social justice in minyans or havurahs:

  • Fabrangen (in Washington, DC) has short term events, builds longitudinal relationships, goes to protests, and has a sliding scale for membership dues.
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat (in Washington DC) is an outgrowth of Jews United for Justice, and came with a stronger mission for combining social justice and Jewish prayer space. Every time they meet, they have a speaker from a local non-profit give the d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue), which includes information about the organization and direct ways to take action. In addition, they focus on their environmental footprint by washing dishes instead of using disposables.
  • Kol Zimrah (in New York City) is working on greening their community by using reusable dishes and asking members to “BYOdishes”. They are considering giving a portion of their fundraising money to tzedakah (charity). But they also recognize that for most members, this is primarily a davening community, and members go elsewhere for social justice.
  • Hadar (in New York City) has anxiety about higher rents in shomer Shabbos (keeping the commandments of Shabbat, including being able to walk to davening) neighborhoods. They have channeled their anxiety into working on housing issues, through direct service (volunteering in a homeless shelter and building with Habitat for Humanity) as well as through advocating for legislation that will regulate rent.

Abby Bellows has attended numerous NHC Summer Institutes, and was co-chair in 2008.

December 26, 2009   2 Comments

An Example of Minyan/Havurah Governance

By: Adina Rosenbaum
This article was inspired by a workshop offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute on havurah governance.

For a community to function, approved there has to be some group of people empowered to make decisions. Different communities use different governance structures, illness varying in the number of people involved in leadership, sale the authority they have, the amount they interact with the larger community, and the way they reach decisions among themselves. Below is one possible model for havurah or minyan governance, based on the governance structure of Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS), a havurah in Washington, DC that meets every third Friday night.

TLS has a coordinating committee of 13-15 members. Although having a smaller committee may be more efficient, having a 13-15 member team distributes the work so that members of the committee do not burn out, and allows participation of people with different skills and from different parts of the community in the group. At the same time, it keeps the committee small enough for its members to know each other well, for meetings to be manageable, and for everyone to be able to fit in an apartment living room (very important for urban communities). The committee members are responsible both for engaging in long-term planning and envisioning and for taking on tasks each time the havurah meets, such as setting up, cleaning up, greeting people, or leading singing. (TLS has a Google spreadsheet with the roles that need to be filled each time it meets that both members of the coordinating committee and others in the community use to sign up for those roles.)

Every year or so, the coordinating committee’s members choose to rotate off or stay on the committee, and any openings are filled through a short application process. Except for a few people who are in charge of specific logistical tasks, such as making sure the spreadsheet gets filled out or sending out e-mails about upcoming gatherings, all members of the committee are equal. The committee meets every few months, with committee members taking turns facilitating the meetings, and makes decisions at meetings based on consensus. Consensus-based decision-making generally results in issues being discussed at length, which can be time-consuming, but it helps ensure that all members of the committee’s voices are heard and that all members leave the meeting with some sense of ownership over the group’s decisions.

In addition, the committee has a bunch of standing subcommittees (including a holiday committee, a finance committee, and a davening committee) and creates other temporary subcommittees as needed. Temporary subcommittees have been created, for example, to think through TLS’s co-sponsorship policy, to create a historical archive of meeting minutes and policy decisions, and to do an initial read-through of applications. Figuring out what to delegate to subcommittees requires balancing the desire for the committee as a whole to maintain control over the direction and functioning of the havurah/minyan, with the recognition that some discussions are hard to have in large groups and that it is not a good use of everyone’s time for everyone to have to discuss every issue. The subcommittees are authorized to make some decisions, mostly related to the minyan/havurah’s day-to-day functioning, on their own. The Davening Committee, for example, can find people to lead services without having to check in with the full committee. Often, though, the subcommittee is authorized just to come up with a suggestion that must be brought back to the full committee before it can be implemented.

Because decisions can’t always wait until the next full committee meeting, the TLS coordinating committee has a system for making decisions that must be made quickly over email. When someone comes across an issue that needs immediate attention, that person decides the importance of the issue (with some input from others on the committee). If the issue is of minimal importance, the person whose attention it came to makes a decision on it, then emails the full committee to explain what happened, the choices that were made, and the values that informed those choices. If the issue is of great importance, the person to whose attention it came sends an email to the whole committee explaining the issue, setting out a question that needs answering, and providing a time-frame within which responses must be provided. After the stated time-frame, the person will make a decision based on the responses and send an email to the committee explaining the decision and stating that the decision will be implemented unless there is overwhelming opposition. This decision-making procedure allows decisions to be made quickly, without in-person meetings, but still provides multiple opportunities for members of the committee to weigh in and have their voices heard.

Adina Rosenbaum attended her first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2007.

December 26, 2009   No Comments