Hesed: Caring, Connections and Community is one of the core values in BJ’s Community Covenant, reflecting our belief that the foundation of community is connection and relationships. We know that it takes all of us to make this a reality, especially in a place as large as BJ– and especially during challenging times.

That’s where the BJ Havurah Initiative comes in. Every year, BJ members step up to create havurot: small, self-organized groups based around shared interests or demographics. In these spaces, members can come together to build and deepen relationships, learn from one another, and co-create micro-communities within BJ. In past years, more than 400 members have participated in this initiative, deeply enriching their connection to BJ and to Judaism.

More than ever, this is a time to build and deepen the relationships that can bring both comfort and joy into our lives. We are currently inviting BJ members to propose ideas for this year’s havurot and to learn more about becoming a havurah leader.

If you have an idea–or even an inkling of an idea!–for a havurah, please fill out this form by August 16, 2024. If you want to learn more about this initiative and what it means to take a leadership role, read on!

What’s a Havurah?

A havurah can be pretty much anything you want it to be. Want to gather with wine lovers? Host virtual Shabbat dinners? Study Jewish texts on Tuesday evenings? Sit on a bench schmoozing with other parents while your kids have fun at the playground?

Whatever the structure and content, all we ask is that havurot:

  • Meet at least 6 times between November and June.
  • Be intentional about building relationships and community among your members. (we’ve got resources to help you!)
  • Have a leader (or co-leaders).
How will this work?

Once we launch registration, all BJ members will have a chance to sign up for a havurah of their choosing. We will finalize the havurot in October, and then havurah leaders will work with their members to schedule gatherings and start meeting! (Based on the number of participants who sign up for each havurah, the nature of the havurah, or other factors, we may need to consolidate or tweak havurot.)

What’s the role of the havurah leader?

A havurah leader does NOT have to host, cook, teach, or facilitate every aspect of the havurah’s activities! The leader’s job is to get the havurah off the ground, keep the wheels turning, and communicate outside of havurah meetings so people stay connected in between gatherings.

BJ will provide guidance to help you start your havurah and keep it going; pair you with an experienced havurah ‘mentor’, if you want one; and offer resources and workshops.

I know people do things differently when it comes to Jewish practice. How will the havurot handle this?

We ask that all havurot follow a few standard practices regarding Shabbat and kashrut observance, and will make these guidelines clear to everyone who joins a havurah.

Can a havurah include people who are not BJ members?

At this time, participation in a havurah is a benefit of BJ membership.

I have an idea for a havurah! What do I do? 

Fill out this form by August 16. After the High Holy Days, all BJ members will have a chance to sign up for a havurah of their choosing, and we will finalize the havurot in October. (Based on the number of participants who sign up for each havurah, the nature of the havurah, or other factors, we may need to consolidate or tweak havurot.)  Once registration is complete, it’s up to you to work with your havurah members to determine a schedule and location for gatherings and to organize activities.

This sounds interesting but I’m not sure I’m ready to jump in. Is there someone I can talk to about this? 

Absolutely. Rabbi Shuli Passow oversees the havurah initiative and is here to answer your questions, talk through ideas, and explore what leading a havurah could look like for you.

I’ve never done something like this before. Is this really for me?

Yes! We will help you learn the skills and practices that foster community-building and group formation. On Monday, October 28, at 7:00 PM Shuli will lead an initial on-line training for leaders, addressing topics such as building relationships within your havurah, troubleshooting problems that may arise, and general best practices. Throughout the year, you’ll have opportunities to check-in with Shuli, and to connect with other havurah leaders for peer support.

Ready to jump in? Fill out the havurah leader interest form by August 16, 2024!

Please note that because space is limited, we may be unable to match everyone to their first choice. Participation in a havurah is a benefit of BJ membership.


BJ Creatives

Calling all creatives! This havurah is for members who draw, sculpt, sing, write, paint, photograph, make music, or create. We will share our work with each other, and explore how we might create something beautiful together.

In-person events

Havurah Leader: Linda Marshall

BJ in Verse

All BJ writers—from the aspiring to the published—are invited to explore and express their Jewishness (in the broadest sense of the term) through writing. Havurah members will share their creative works drawn from or inspired by their experience as Jewish community members. Ideally, these contributions will spark questions and discussion while furthering our relationship with the rituals and traditions of our faith. 

In-person and online events

Havurah Leader: Steve Dicker 

BJ Walks

BJ Walks is for members who love exploring New York City. The group meets monthly on a Sunday for a 2-3 mile walk through a neighborhoods in any of the five boroughs to explore the area’s history and/or architecture. All walks are reachable by subway. Havurah members will also learn how to lead these walks; everyone will lead one during the year. 

In-person events 

Meets monthly

Havurah Leader: Ilene Richman 

Biblical Hebrew

Join a professional academic linguist for a deep dive into Biblical Hebrew. We will work through Oden Lambdin’s book Learn Biblical Hebrew to develop greater comfort, familiarity, and reading fluency with the Hebrew of the Tanakh, and we’ll see how it differs from other varieties of Hebrew. No prior knowledge is required, and materials will be provided. 

In-person and online events

Havurah Leader: Taylor Jones

Connecticut Connections

Develop and enrich connections among BJ members living in Connecticut and nearby states who mainly connect with BJ online. This havurah hopes to provide an opportunity to enhance and reflect on BJ’s core values and to create a supportive community. We hope to engage both online and in person in a way that’s responsive to the needs of the havurah’s members.

In-person and online events

Havurah Leaders: David Bilmes and Linda Lager, and Sally and Ira Henowitz

Downtown Havurah

Members of this havurah live in downtown Manhattan and gather together to stay connected to the BJ community despite the hurdle of living farther away from the synagogue. This havurah began before the pandemic and has shifted several times to ensure health and safety for all. Depending on the conditions, we will meet for Shabbat meals in person or in online gatherings.

In-person and online events

Meets monthly

Havurah leader: Marcy Einhorn

Fun and Games

Connect with other BJ members who love party games like Charades, Pictionary, and more. This havurah will meet for games, laughter, and new friendships one afternoon a month. Members will rotate leadership and can bring any of their favorite games to the event.

In-person events

Havurah Leader: Carol Gelles

Heschel Havurah

At each meeting of this havurah, one participant will share a teaching from the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, generating a space for learning and spiritual reflection through our discussion of the text. We will decide together whether to meet on Shabbat afternoon or a weeknight.

In-person events

Meets monthly

Havurah Leader: Bernice Todres

Jewish Foodie Schmooze

Connect with each through food by sharing recipes, tips, and creative experiments. Don’t be shy about discussing chocolate in Sephardic haroset or asking about eco-kashrut! A schedule will be decided at the first meeting.

Online events

Meets Friday evenings; Saturday afternoons

Havurah Leader: Sandy Coy 

Kabbalat Shabbat Winter in Pelican Cove, Sarasota, FL

Gather with others in the Sarasota area to attend BJ’s Kabbalat Shabbat services on Zoom together and then enjoy a dairy potluck dinner. We’ll also explore other gatherings and ways to connect with BJ members in our region and as well as in New York City. 

In-person events

Meets monthly

Havurah Leader: Sharon Cohen

BJ Dog Lovers Havurah

Take walks together, meet in dog runs, and discuss the care and support of your dog in this havurah for dog lovers.

In-person and online events

Havurah Leader: Judith Love 

Northwest Bronx Havurah

The Northwest Bronx Havurah is for BJ members who live in Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil, Kingsbridge, and surrounding areas. We’ll connect with others in our geographic region to celebrate Shabbat together. The group will determine the meeting schedule.

In-person and online events

Havurah leaders: Les and Pamela Judd

Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamares (1869-1931) – Life and Thought

This havurah will read and discuss selected writings of Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamares, a scholar who greatly opposed Jewish nationalism and deemed it contradictory to the ethical and spiritual purpose of the Jewish people. Through our discussions, we will explore the ideas of Jewish nationalism, Jewish identity, and Jewish distinctiveness. 

Online events

Havurah Leader: Morty Miller 

Shabbat Study Group

This havurah will gather on Zoom one Shabbat afternoon a month to discuss Jewish texts or the rabbi’s D’var Torah from that morning so that members from all over the country can share Shabbat and connect with each other through learning and thoughtful conversation.

Online events

Meets monthly on Shabbat afternoon

Havurah leader: Marie Sevy

UES Shabbat Meal Havurah

Get to know your fellow BJ members on the Upper East Side in this havurah. Join other neighborhood folks to share a Shabbat meal either Friday night or Shabbat lunch, and build a sense of community for BJ members on this side of Central Park. We can pick dates that work for most.

In-person events

Havurah Leader & Co-Leader: Ariela Noy, Reuben Loewy

Virtual Shabbat Dinner

Connect with others who want to celebrate Shabbat with other BJ members but aren’t ready to join others for meals indoors. This havurah will be split into clusters of three households that will have dinner together on Zoom to allow for intimacy and conversation.

Online events

Meets on Friday nights, exact cadence and dates TBD

Havurah leaders: Suzana and Alan Caro

What is Home? Israel, Palestine, and Levant

In this havurah, we will read poems, short stories, memoirs, and personal essays by authors from around the world whose origins are not European. These readings will serve as a springboard for discussing our sense of identity and notions of home, our relationship to Israel/Palestine, and our experiences as American Jews or Jewish Americans.

In-person events

Havurah Leader: Susan Miller  

Yiddish Havurah

This gathering of Yiddish lovers will practice conversing in Mamme Loshon. Language skills should be above beginner level (knowing a “bill”) so members can learn a “bis.” 

In-person events

Meets Monthly on Sundays

Havurah Leader: Michael Pertain

Shabbat Together

This havurah is an intimate and stimulating collection of BJ members who meet monthly in each other’s homes to celebrate Shabbat.  Our gatherings typically include a Shabbat meal, Shabbat rituals, an opportunity to attend BJ services (usually online) and a discussion on some topic of Jewish interest.

In-person and online events

Havurah Leader: Leslie Verter