New City Minyan is getting an assist in its dreams of growing up from the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. It has been accepted into a program called Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator in the diaspora. Hakhel is a collaboration between Hazon, the American Jewish environmental organization, and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. Hakhel offers advice and networking for representatives of the communities.
“More and more millennials and young people are moving away from traditional institutions,” Aharon Ariel Lavi, Hahkel’s founder, said. “On the other hand, communities are the most important component for developing Jewish identity.”
Hence, the Jewish community’s need to nurture communities.
The New City Minyan joins 120 communities that have been enrolled in Hakhel’s three-year incubator process.
“An intentional community is a group of people who share three main things,” Mr. Lavi said. “They share space and time. They meet in real space periodically and frequently, which distinguishes them from virtual communities or WhatsApp groups.
“Second, they share a vision and values, something that goes beyond just being nice friends and nice neighbors.
“These create a platform for the third component, the mission. Some communities opened up a Hebrew school. Some opened up all kinds of social projects. As a community, they use their power as an organized group for the betterment of the society around them.”
What distinguishes these new “intentional communities” from a traditional synagogue?
“One key difference is we try to keep our communities very small and intimate, between 50 to 100 people,” he said. “We have no aspiration to get to 500 members.
“The other difference is that our communities are not necessarily organized around religion in a specific sense. The New City Minyan is organized by religion, but not only by religion. He’s trying to incorporate more ideas about how Judaism can be more inclusive.
“There are some of our communities organized around organic farming or culture. There’s a community in Melbourne that revolves around preparing food and delivering it to Holocaust survivors. Religion and tradition and the holidays and Shabbat are always there, but it’s not necessarily the axis the community revolves around.”
Among the most ambitious communities are several that aim to set up Jewish co-housing. “It’s not a kibbutz in the sense that everyone shares everything, but you don’t need a big living room every day. Why not build one big dining room for all of us?”
What advice does Mr. Lavi have for people who are thinking of starting their own intentional Jewish community?
“Start small,” he said. “Gather three or four of your best friends, people you think are the most relevant. Take time to develop a vision and only then expand. It’s a mistake to grow very rapidly. You can have an event and have 50 people in the room and it seems like a success, but if you have 50 opinions in the room you can’t make any serious decision. Start with a vision.”
Before coming to Hakhel, Mr. Lavi had founded an Israeli organization for local intentional communities.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said of building such communities, “but it’s not a hundred percent intuitive. We have a whole training program on how to become better community builders. Statistically, out of 10 communities that start, only one or two are going to succeed. The rest — when they collapse, it’s very painful.”