In the Jewish communal world, there is an ongoing conversation about how to activate uninvolved Jews.
But the conversation has to be reframed. I believe that many people want to be involved, and for different reasons are unable to gain access to the Jewish ritual and communal space.
Likewise, I believe that many people want to connect to Torah, to prayer, to learning, to community – which all are present at the arguable peak of the Jewish week: 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. What if that time frame doesn’t work for everyone? (Nothing works for everyone!)
I grew up secular, and when I wanted to become involved in Jewish ritual and communal life, Saturday mornings didn’t work for me. Waking up early to go to services was far from second nature, and if I woke up at 10 a.m., it felt like I already had lost my shot. By the time I got dressed and arrived, services would be over, and I was too intimidated to join everyone in the social hall if I hadn’t been in the building earlier.
It took time and a lot of resolve for me to go regularly to shul – synagogue – on Saturday mornings. I wish I hadn’t needed so much resolve â€¦ and my experience makes me wonder who isn’t yet making it through the door.
Acknowledging a high barrier of entry
While Friday night services are lovely, I think the heart of the Shabbat service is on Saturday. We remove the Torah from the ark; we read the weekly Torah portion; we hear a d’var Torah, or sermon; we sing and pray more than we do on Friday nights – it’s a longer service – and after services, we eat, and hang out. It’s a pretty sweet setup, if you’re into that kind of thing. But it’s all over by noon.
We have a great “product,” and for many who are already fully immersed in the rhythm of Jewish ritual and communal life, the timing works. For others, though, the timing creates a high barrier of entry. Whether it’s families with young children, those new to ritual life, interfaith couples, or simply professionals exhausted from the work week – the reality is that Saturday mornings can be a tough sell.
If only there were an additional point of access: a service that has a lower barrier of entry, but that still has the same elements of Shabbat morning; a service which could be someone’s entire Shabbat experience, a stepping stone to increased involvement, or an extra cherry on top. That service exists. It’s called Mincha.
We already have an afternoon service
When a Jewish community offers a Mincha afternoon service on Shabbat, it’s usually an insider affair. As intimidating as entering a synagogue on a Saturday morning can be for someone new to ritual life, going on a Saturday afternoon is basically inconceivable – in part because synagogues don’t really market the Mincha service to newcomers. For those more involved, the intimidation factor has more to do with social norms: Overall attendance is much lower, and while there may be activities between Mincha and the subsequent evening service, the whole experience is not as socially abuzz as in the morning.
It’s a shame for both sides of the spectrum, because Mincha is a great service at a later time. It has a Torah reading, which sets it apart from Friday night services. Depending on the needs of the community, Mincha can stand alone as a meaningful Shabbat experience, or it could be followed by learning or eating, then leading into the evening service and the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat. Either way, we have a significant opportunity to approach the Mincha service as an additional entry point to Jewish ritual and communal life.
The Mincha Minyan will be a network of communities committed to increasing access to Jewish ritual and communal life, beginning with regularly creating and promoting robust Mincha services on Shabbat. Each community can approach the Mincha service according to its needs, whether it’s creating an experience similar to its Shabbat morning, or offering a different kind of service, aimed for a specific profile.
Every week we create a “palace in time,” as Abraham Joshua Heschel famously described it. Every week, there are people who want to enter but have difficulty doing so. Let’s increase access to Shabbat by opening the doors to our palaces – our synagogues and other Jewish communal spaces – more often, and at more hours. The Mincha service is a good place to start.