Manhattan Jewish Experience is a synagogue located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It prays in a traditional Orthodox style with separate seating and a mechitza but is not affiliated with the Orthodox movement. It draws a younger crowd of mid-twenties to mid-forties. I would consider it an Outreach Minyan. It is a very kind and welcoming community mostly aimed at those who did not grow up with Jewish involvement.
Review by Jewishly:
Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE) is a synagogue located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It prays in a traditional orthodox style with separate seating and a mechitza, but is not affiliated with the Orthodox movement. It draws a younger crowd of mid-20s to mid-40s, and I would consider it an Outreach Minyan. It is a very kind and welcoming community mostly aimed at those who did not grow up with Jewish involvement.
As soon as I walked in Rabbi Josh welcomed me and asked if I would like a beer. He asked my name, and remembered my name throughout the whole evening. People in the community were welcoming. Before Friday night services began, we chatted and got to know each other. This was very nice but a bit awkward since it was not listed on their website. I showed up when services were listed to begin, but really they started about 45 minutes later.
While I am now aware that this is an outreach minyan whose goal is to have Jews marry other Jews and to become more observant Jews, I didn’t know that going in, which may be due to a lack of information on the website.
What drew me to this place initially was a recommendation from a friend. He said it was a bit like Hillel with a flair towards modern orthodoxy, but everyone was welcome. I was intrigued and wanted to try it out. Before attending I went on their website; it had no affiliation listed or any guidelines at all for the services or what they are about. This is fine but it was a very different story in person.
I showed up in pants with a v-neck tee shirt, and I was the only women in pants as I recall. There is a mechitza (where men and women pray separately) which was not listed on the website. I do prefer to pray with all women but I found it odd that it was not on the website.
When services began, I was surprised that that no women sang at all. I’m familiar with this tradition on the more Orthodox/Chabad side of things, but was surprised given how this shul presented itself.
I had befriended a regular in the community and proceeded to ask her about this. She said she thought the women in the community just didn’t know the tune to the songs (unlikely because I also did not hear her singing). I specifically asked her if the community subscribed to the idea that women voices should not be heard in this way and she avoided the question.
As I looked around, I realized a couple of women in the community wore sheitels or wigs. I am totally fine with this as my sister also wears one, but if you are trying to sell yourself as young, hip, traditional service (like Hillel), I think we are missing the mark here on a few things.
When I walk into a Chabad, I know exactly what to expect. Chabad is an accepting environment that doesn’t hide what it’s about. I feel completely comfortable in both a Chabad setting and an Orthodox setting, but something about MJE West had me feel uncomfortable. I understand the fear that if you lay it all out there, people will not come to services or want to be a part of the community. But this is a community aimed at adults, and adults have a right to know what they are getting into to make an open and truthful judgement based on that. When you hide who you are, there is a level of authenticity missing.
There are a couple of Synagogues that do a really good job of being more on the modern Orthodox side of things, for instance Chevra Ahavas Yisroel (http://chevraahavasyisroel.org/)
If I was going to redo the website and description, I would do it something like this: “We are a group of Jews from traditional backgrounds. We pray with women and men separate. We are shomer shabbat. We want to share with you what we love about Judaism. We are accepting and accommodating for Jews of all backgrounds, and we love and welcome anyone who is curious about Judaism into our shuls. Keeping with the traditions of Modern Orthodoxy is a part of our community, although we are not affiliated with this group. We encourage you to be a part of our community but please respect our traditional ideas.”
I think that the community of MJE has value in Jewish life. Ultimately they want to bring people closer to Judaism, but they may be more successful if they take a straightforward and open approach.
131 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024