Category Archives: Eldridge Street Synagogue

From Moscow about Love: identity Talk in the Park

What part of your life would you change for love?

Why would you  change your beliefs and identity?

How do you know if what you changed for is ‘real’?

 I meet M. in NYC’s Bryant Park where as ‘The Coach is IN:  A Talk in the Park:  people present situations and needs.  I  ‘coach’ success strategies to help them resolve conflict, improve communication, and  focus careers.
I think of it as my new conversational journey:    
M. and her friend L. huddled over their MAC’s debating ‘to be or not to be coached’at the table next to me.  Insinuating myself into their conversation,  I had myself two new ‘clients’.  (like Peanuts’ Lucy, I charge a nickel so “clients” must be in “air quotes”)
M. and L’s  friendship begun on a bus to Boston  has lasted through time and distance – a fact that speaks volumes about them both.  Interestingly, both had relationship questions but at different ends of the ‘love’ spectrum.…ch-is-in-vol-5/

M’s in a relationship and she’s scared.  Fear is causing a conflict:  internally.   

This fear has evolved in the last year – it wouldn’t have been relevant before.  A Moscow Jew,  she has been learning and becoming involved with Judaism (it sounded like through Chabad).

One of Moscow’s synagogues: Choral Synagogue

Friday nights find her in Shabbat Services these days.  Her beliefs, life style and identity have changed.  She now works for a Jewish organization, taking young people to Israel on Birthright/Taglit trips.

The Friday we spoke would be the first Shabbat not spent in a synagogue in a year.  She wondered how she would feel, already missing the sanctuary services offered.

M’s complications:  love and religion.  She’s dating a young man from her synagogue, a man she was friends with for months.  They like each other – a lot.

Her fear is NOT about whether the relationship will last. (she knows it’s a real possibility).

Remember her conflict is internal.  It’s about her changing at her pace. Her boyfriend is more observant, observing dietary laws (kosher) and the Sabbath (Shabbat).  For them to be together she would have to be equally observant.  Now she  attends Shabbat services,  but is she ready for more?  What does she want?  She’s not sure.

Her fear:  being told what or how to do things.  She doesn’t want to change for the wrong (read:  not her) reasons.  This tug-of-war wraps pulls at her mind  and emotions:  she loves shrimp but might  be willing to be Kosher.  He can keep Shabbat, but she may still want to see a Saturday movie with her friends.

Optimistically she questions: Perhaps he’ll change and meet her half way?  She knows the answer.

As her afternoon coach, I can only offer strategies to understand and then

Me with my coaching sign in Bryant Park!

communicate her needs.  Providing a framework to sort through her thoughts and feelings, I leave her to do the hard work.

While M’s story is not unique, I’ve heard  50 shades of it since my conversational journey last fall,  amazement at this movement’s magnitude continues.  

Throughout Eastern Europe, Jews are exploring  long hidden, forgotten, ignored Judaism.   Throughout Russia young people are exploring (all) religion, dealing with the ‘usual’ debate over who is ‘legally’ Jewish.   A generation after the fall of communism  people have the freedom to ‘wake up’ and stretch their beliefs.  Religion, and faith can be explored and expressed.

I’m reminded again how easy it is to take my Judaism, my freedom to believe, for granted.   My fear:  how easy it is to store aspects of my identity until they’re needed or wanted.

M. is strong and determined.  She’ll maintain, grow and develop her identity, discovering  who she is and who she is meant to be.  I hope I can do the same.

One bit of (ironic) news about Eastern European Jewry heard while docenting at  Museum at Eldridge Street:   A., an Israeli-German woman living in Hamburg, shared  all (almost) synagogues in Germany are Orthodox!  Before WWII, Reform Judaism began there.  

New Jewish congregants are moving into Germany from ‘the East’.  The only reform synagogue is the Orienenburger Synagogue, http://www.jg-

The Orienenburger or Neue Synagogue in Berlin is home to a beautiful and welcoming egalitarian service (just be sure to get on a list to get in!). The beautiful facade is all that is left of the synagogue which was destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938. Germany has a GROWING Jewish population, only recently publishing a Jewish newspaper for the first time since WWII!   is egalitarian. The  Cantor and Rabbi are women, lead beautiful and welcoming services.    I attended several services here when visiting Berlin,  services which felt like ‘home’.


European perspectives from the Eldridge Street Synagogue

‘I’ve never been in a mosque!’ may not be what you would expect to hear inside a synagogue, even the synagogue-turned-Museum at Eldridge

Synagogue (now also a Museum) at Eldridge Street

Street ( in NYC’s Lower East Side.  But last Sunday, my tour (as docent)  was transformed into magical conversation as early 20th century Jewish immigration history blended with 21st century European.

My four Swiss  and Swedish, non-Jewish, guests battled the weather on this blustery cold Sunday for a trip far from the maddening crowds of midtown.  Why?  Why visit this synagogue/museum, and invite discussion ?  Granted, it’s a beautiful, inspiring source of immigrant (Jewish) history, and  (optimistically) a certain destination for traveling American Jews.  Interestingly, I often guide  non-Jewish Europeans interested in  historic and  Jewish sites.

Touring a synagogue, they said, was a welcome treat.  Zürich and Stockholm (as in much of Europe) synagogues are barricaded.   Jewish history, and especially the Holocaust are

Orthodox Zurich SynagogueSynagogan Stockholm

topics of regular dicussion – in the news and studied at school; visiting a synagogue and talking with Jews,  seems  a natural part of this education.

We found ourselves, having that rare conversation: open and honest, intimate, yet anonymous (names seemed unnecessary) between Jew and non, American and Europeans.  A seeming gift as my quickie 20-minute overview expanded into an hour-long discussion of religious and global  sociopolitical issues.

What did they want to share?   Discussing religious – and immigrant issues in Europe today is complicated:  both countries claim large and growing Muslim populations – typically, they said, not discussed.

Yet my ‘guests’ wanted to talk about this issue and more.  They want to visit synagogues, mosques.  Our conversation reminded me how present Jewish history is where Jews are largely absent.

The three Swiss visitors told of  millions of unclaimed (Jewish) dollars quietly ‘absorbed’ by banks, until loudly – and scandalously –

Sign from a kosher restaurant in Zurich


Zürich, with Switzerland’s largest Jewish population ( 18,000, Wikipedia) , has a sizeable, easily identifiable Orthodox population.  With twelve synagogues ( Google) there are Kosher supermarkets while others have  aisles of kosher food.  A fan of (kosher) red horseradish sat in front of me.

Our Swedish conversant had taught in a school with a Jewish ‘half’. Stockholm’s Jews, ‘blend in’.  Few are identifiably Orthodox.  With no ethnic registration in Sweden, the halakh-icly (Jewish mother) Jewish population is estimated (Wikipedia) around 20,000.  Neutral during WWII, a further search found  anti-Semitism a growing problem in Malmo, Sweden’s 3rd largest city (an interesting, yet scary read)(

Jewish humor! Cartoon found on the website of Stockholm’s synagogue Adat Jeshuran

I asked if there was a public Menorah at Chanukah/Hanukkah like  in Zagreb (with 1,500 Jews) .  Laughing, they questioned the Ch vs H pronunciation – the guttural Ch rumbled easily from their European throats.  No, there is no visible celebration. The Swiss woman  saw her first  ‘Festival of Lights’ notice here in NYC, ten years ago.

In my post ‘Holiday Lights in Zagreb’ notice the picture of ONE small corner of ONE decorated window acknowledging Chanukah, and, the identity challenge for Jewish and Muslim kids who don’t celebrate Christmas.  The Swedish woman shared  (some) Muslim’s had Christmas trees for their kids – a gesture of belonging.  (Check out the post ‘A promised Krakow story’ about Slawek’s experience.)

Up in the women’s section, the two men and two women naturally sat on either side of the aisle .  Naturally, as one man said, the men and women sat separately (like Orthodox Jews)  in his small town Swiss Church.

Religious similarity?   Do excuses for war cause humans to search for differences?

There was competition for which country was changing more due to immigration:  Sweden:  1 in 8 is an immigrant.  Switzerland:  1 in 7.  As diversity increases, does tolerance?

How do we broaden our tolerance, make it part of Homo sapien DNA?  Can teaching respect drive hate crimes to extinction?

Classroom learning is a good start.  But is there any substitute for open, honest, face-to-face conversation like the five of us shared?  Our conversation was another reminder that people want to talk and learn about issues of religion and identity.

My challenge:  searching for ways to safely carve out time and emotional (listening) space for conversation.

Wishing you a week filled with unexpected and open conversation!