NEW YORK — Michelle Reyf isn’t really a synagogue-goer. Until recently, the 28-year-old, who works for a Jewish nonprofit, was perfectly happy to get her spiritual fulfillment at Buddhist prayer services and meditation retreats.
Synagogue did not appeal to her for a variety of reasons — she found the crowd to be older and the atmosphere to be impersonal. And as someone who identifies as queer, she felt distanced from the traditional values she encountered in many Jewish spaces.
But in January, a friend invited her to attend Shir HaMaalot, an independent minyan, or prayer community, in Brooklyn. There, Reyf found a place that had some of the very same qualities as the Buddhist community she was a part of and that she had not found in traditional Jewish settings.
“It feels like finding a home, and it feels like I’m not a bad Jew for wanting different things than we’re being offered in most synagogues and Jewish communities,” said Reyf, a senior digital organizer for the Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc.
“I thought maybe Judaism isn’t for me or maybe I’m just not doing it right or maybe I’m different or there’s something wrong with me that I don’t feel like I fit in wherever I go. And then I came to Shir HaMaalot and I was like, ‘These are my people,’” she told JTA.
Shir HaMaalot — a volunteer-led, nondenominational minyan that defines itself as a “traditional-egalitarian havurah” — meets once a month in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, often in space rented and subsidized by a local Reform synagogue, Union Temple of Brooklyn. Following a musical Shabbat service, participants join together for a vegetarian potluck meal. There is no rabbi, and community members take turns leading the services.
Reyf is part of a cohort of millennial Jews finding spiritual fulfillment at independent minyanim rather than in the traditional synagogue. Though the groups vary in prayer style, customs and demographics, many…