Pride of Place

Following the successful Hanukkah event at of Or Chayim and A Wider Bridge, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz highlights the work of Or Chayim, a monthly Shabbat gathering in New York that aims to offer a ‘unique traditional and Orthodox space’ for members of the community proves unexpectedly popular.

10606237_693021243237_5387027521747342241_nWhen Oliver Rosenberg (in the photo) moved back to New York last February, after a year-and-a-half hiatus in Los Angeles, he immediately got to work on two startups. The first was Prealth, a mobile app that allows consumers to compare costs of doctors’ visits and offers helpful health-care information. The second was Or Chayim, an independent monthly minyan (prayer quorum) for traditional and Orthodox lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews, which concluded the year with a special Shabbat Hanukkah celebration last Friday, co-led by Arthur Slepian and Tyler Gregory from A Wider Bridge, and Shai Doitsh and Anat Nir from The Aguda, Israel’s National LGBT Task Force.

For Or Chayim’s first event in February, which he advertised on social media, Rosenberg said he hoped for about two dozen attendees. Instead, more than 50 people showed up in the events room of his apartment building on the Upper West Side, where the minyan continues to gather. Each month, Or Chayim consistently attracts between 50-75 participants, who daven a traditional service and then nosh on cholent and kugel, followed by a kosher catered dinner.

“I don’t really know what the magic ingredient is but I feel like he found it,” said Jared Arader, a regular attendee, of the community that has been created by Rosenberg.

More than 200 people have attended Or Chayim Shabbat events to date, and the group boasts over 400 followers on social media. The popularity of the minyan suggests that Rosenberg has tapped into an under-served niche in the city’s Jewish community, which has surprised even him.

“I’m shocked by how successful it’s been,” he told Haaretz.

The past decade has seen extraordinary progress in LGBT inclusion in the American Jewish community, mirroring increasingly widespread acceptance in the country. Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues have led the way, with the Conservative movement coming around in recent years as well. Though the insular world of the ultra-Orthodox remains largely impenetrable to this momentum, some modern Orthodox communities have taken steps to open the door to LGBT individuals.

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