The religious service for teens is named for a commercial jetliner 747 because that’s when it begins. And the fellow who dreamed up the service promises not only a timely departure, but a delicious breakfast.
When Cantor Eric Wasser of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel came up with the idea of a biweekly morning service for Jewish teenagers attending Fair Lawn High School, he chose the name carefully, he said in an interview.
The teen minyan at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center will resume in the fall. Photo by Cantor Eric Wasser
The result was 747 Minyan, which just ended its second year and has had 10 to 1′ "regulars," most of whom are members of the FLJC. "The service had to be like an airplane: fast and roomy, and sort of exciting like going on a journey of Jewish identity," Wasser said.
According to Wasser, 747 Minyan took off despite a lot of skepticism. He was told by colleagues in the cantorate and rabbinate across the country that a biweekly religious program for Jewish teenagers from a public school in a Conservative setting would never fly especially if it started at 7 a.m. on a Friday.
"I was told it has never been tried," he added. "I was also told that I was crazy because the kids wouldn’t come to shul [that early] and certainly not to a [religious] service."
When he phoned parents of FLJC teenagers to invite their children, both boys and girls, to the services, the main objection he heard was that they didn’t want their children to be late for classes.
So he promised that the services would be finished by 7:47 a.m. Classes start at the high school, two blocks away, at 7:55 a.m.
Wasser came up with the following schedule: The service went from 7 a.m. to 7:’0, followed by a breakfast that included doughnuts, coffee, hot bagels, and scrambled eggs. From 7:’0 to 7:40 Wasser or the center’s new rabbi, Ronald Roth led an informal discussion on Jewish themes or related to a forthcoming Jewish holiday. By 7:47 the students were on their way to school.
"Guaranteed," Wasser said. "It was timed to the minute."
Wasser said he had to "edit" the service to stay within the timeframe he promised and to hold the teenagers’ attention.
"I recognize, and the shul recognizes, that to attract young people we have to think out of the box, and that the world is changing all the time," Wasser said.
A number of congregants helped out. One went to buy the bagels. Also, the rabbi and Wasser’s 14-year-old daughter, Dania, helped set up the breakfast. Wasser himself woke up at 5:30 a.m. to make the eggs.
David Small, whose son, Harrison, helped make up the group, said, "The minyan is a great thing and gets the next generation together in a meaningful way."
Small, who drove his 10th-grader to the center, also attended the services, but sat in the back with other parents during the discussion. "We didn’t want to put pressure on the children to participate," Small said.
Harrison, 16, who is on the FLHS volleyball team, said, "The minyan has given me the chance to associate myself with my peers from the congregation, and to go to services on Friday, which normally I wouldn’t do, and to get a feel for how the service goes."
The lessons that follow helped to "enlighten me as to the state of my Judaism and strengthened it. And the scrambled eggs are great!"
Max Weil, 16, a sophomore, also said the services have helped him strengthen his Judaism, as well as helping him to feel connected to others and make new friends. He’s looking forward to the fall, when the service will resume.
Wasser, who is also a mohel, was born in Toronto. He joined the FLJC three years ago after serving as a cantor in a Chicago synagogue. He is pursuing a doctorate in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.