Dinner + Minyan = Dinyan by Nancy Brand
In the summer of 2012, I accompanied my friend and her husband, a clarinet player in a local Klezmer group, to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, where we attended Yidstock, a wonderful weekend Klezmer Festival. We all loved the concert, the enthusiasm, the merriment, the wonderful way it made us feel about our musical roots.
Recently, a friend and I were talking about our synagogue, Congregation Beth El, in New London, Connecticut. Our membership was down, not many young people were moving into the area, and some of the wonderful old-timers were now gone. We were proud of our synagogue’s commitment to daily morning and evening minyanim, but attendance was suffering. Both my friend and I had gained strength and comfort from the minyan when we needed to say Kaddish.
From this discussion, an idea was born. We formed a dinner group, which would meet once weekly and then go directly from dinner to minyan, hoping to round out the evening minyan. We decided on a day that was convenient to us, Wednesday. We chose a popular restaurant less than five minutes from the synagogue. But would it work? How would we get it started? Could it be sustained?
We each called a few friends, and lo and behold, we had our first dinner with minyan that same week. Each friend was encouraged to bring another and voila, we grew! We proudly call ourselves “Dinyanaires.” One woman volunteered to be a scribe faithfully sending out weekly emails to get a tally and make the weekly restaurant reservation. Attendance typically ranges between 4 and 12 women. We not only fill our stomachs, but we also fill our souls and know that we have made a difference. Word has gotten out that if anyone needs to say Kaddish, there will be a minyan on Wednesday.
Along the way, we have strengthened old friendships, started new ones, welcomed new-to-the area women, discussed major and not-so-major topics. A few dinyanaires can lead the evening service, and others have picked up more Hebrew and learned new melodies as we’ve joined in song and prayer. Our ages range, our backgrounds are not at all similar, some are more observant than others, but we all share the common bond of good food, good friendship, and good davening. In the blazing summer heat, we have given up trips to the beach, and when night falls early, we bundle up to face the ice, snow and winds. We attend because we like it. Come when you can. No pressure or guilt. Still at the restaurant, the waitress doesn’t even bring menus anymore because we always order the wonderful vegetarian pizzas and big salads, dressing on the side, please.
And now we are three years strong, boasting 30 members. It has been a wonderful experience and we are proud of what we have become: a strong group of average, yet very special women, who raise our voices each Wednesday evening and share a sisterhood, knowing that we are making a difference.
We urge you to start your own minyan group. You might try morning minyan followed by breakfast or evening minyan followed by dessert, or start with your book group or chavurah. Men, women, teens…have it your way. Trust me, you will be glad you did.
Nancy Friedman Brand has been a member of Congregation Beth El since 1967 where she has served in many capacities.
Themed Minyanim by Fred Ezekiel
A synagogue finds a creative way to increase minyan attendance while connecting members to each other.
Temple Emunah in Lexington, Massachusetts, has always been at the forefront of innovative programming. We were an early adopter of havurah groups, and we were the first to offer Me’ah classes. As a member for over 50 years, I have appreciated the wonderful opportunities that our synagogue offers, yet I have longed for a way that members could get to know each other better.
Our distinct and rich treasures are our individual members. Kathy Macdonald, who was looking for ways to increase minyan attendance, created our 10-for-10 program, in which every congregant makes a minyan ten times a year. One night, Kathy put together a coffee klatch after minyan for members who were moving away. That gave me an idea: We could offer gatherings around all sorts of ideas and subjects. The first, in June 2011, was for the many congregation members who attended MIT, have children at MIT or just want to know about MIT. The event drew over 70 people.
We followed our MIT evening with over 30 similarly themed events. The synagogue has many wonderful opportunities to hear brilliant lecturers; our Theme Minyanim are not that kind of gathering. Informal, low-stress conversation and people-to-people connections are the goals. One or more facilitators guide the conversation and every attendee introduces him or herself and talks about the chosen subject. As member Joelle Gunther says, “By attending our Theme Minyan, I feel connected to people with whom I had no previous connection. No matter the topic, I have learned something new and had much fun.”
The themes run from the practical to the downright campy. Nights have been arranged around colleges (Tufts, City University of New York, Brandeis), places (Springfield, Massachusetts; Chelsea), hobbies (Jewish books, Scrabble, Jewish heritage items), and work (a start-up night, software). A caregivers minyan provided support and encouragement to those who look after others.
At the other extreme, the notice of the “Davids” night declared, “We will schmooze … and talk about the trials and tribulations of growing up as a ‘David.’ All are welcome to join us, including every Tom, Dick, Harry & More!” In addition to the good many congregants named David who showed up, one member, donned in loin cloth, spear in hand, proclaimed himself to be Goliath.
One of my personal goals is to encourage members who rarely come to synagogue to host an evening. I convinced an avid gardener, who otherwise does not show up at services very often, to facilitate a gardening minyan, which he gladly did.
“Themed minyanim are a wonderful way to find connections among the members of the shul,” says Rabbi David Lerner. “Time and time again, we learn how vital it is that shuls find more ways for people to connect with each other. Coming together around a shared interest has been a huge boon to Temple Emunah.”
Fred Ezekiel, a mechanical engineer who joined Temple Emunah over 50 years ago, became a bar mitzvah for the first time in June 2015 at the age of 86.