Ancient Need in a Modern City

By Samuel Bruce | Issue Date: September 2010

Samuel Bruce. Photo: Denise Waxman

Before moving to New York it never occurred to me that one could be alone in a place with 8 million people. After arriving, however, the concept became all too real. From youth group and NFTY to Hillel and Alpha Epsilon Pi, I have always sought out the Jewish community to make connections. Finding a shul with other young adults was the next logical step. Thanks to Tze’irim, B’nai Jeshurun’s 20s/30s group, I quickly became a regular at BJ and a member not long after.

On the Tze’irim Photo Scavenger Hunt, May, 2010What sets Tze’irim apart is that we are not merely a presence within the BJ community but also a force. I found other synagogues at which 20- and 30somethings might occupy a table for a kiddush, but Tze’irim goes far beyond that. Most shuls say, “Welcome,” but BJ and Tze’irim ask, “How can we be more welcoming?” There is a recognition here that every individual has a different set of interests, so an effort is made to accommodate them. We have done everything from Shabbat meals to bar outings and Torah lessons to hikes. Another great thing about the events is that they are a communal effort. Anyone in the community is welcome to contribute an idea, collaborate in planning, or take the lead in an effort. Just recently Tze’irim held a meeting in which dozens of people contributed to the planning for coming months. There is an executive board to help provide some direction, but Tze’irim is, to its credit, very much a bottom-up organization.

I have been occasionally asked if Tze’irim is a singles group or, on a couple of occasions, why it is not a singles group. There are murmurs within the zeitgeist that progressive Judaism is facing a crisis of a declining birthrate and an increasing intermarriage rate. The extent to which this is true is a topic for another time and place, but I can definitively say that Tze’irim is doing more for the Jewish community than an offline version of JDate ever could.

Young Jews do not only need spouses, and Judaism does not only require that we have Jewish babies. Judaism depends not only on the relationship between the individual and G-d but also on that between the individual and the community. This can be a struggle for my age cohort in any place, let alone New York. Most of us are in the midst of establishing ourselves in the world—moving more from place to place and job to job than previous generations. Here, many if not most of us have uprooted ourselves from the communities we knew in order to come to the city. Regardless of whether we moved from a different neighborhood or a different continent, the entry into careers and independent adulthood has left us in unfamiliar territory, and we all need a community for support.

I found just that at BJ and within Tze’irim. I constantly meet new people with a fascinating variety of backgrounds, interests, and styles of observance. I have made friends here with whom I feel a closeness that belies the relatively short time we have known each other. Like BJ, Tze’irim is a warm and accepting community serving an ancient need in a modern city.