Judaism Unbound Episode 111: Unaffiliated Affiliation - Debbie Bravo


Dan and Lex are joined by Debbie Bravo, spiritual leader of Makom NY: A New Kind of Jewish Community, located in Nassau County, Long Island. [1] They discuss how and why Makom NY's outside-the-box model has succeeded in engaging many of Long Island's Jews who have not otherwise connected to institutional Jewish life in the area.

 Image Credit: Jewish Journal

Image Credit: Jewish Journal

(0:01 - 17:40): To begin the episode, Bravo introduces Makom NY. [2] She explains the qualities it shares with traditional congregational communities, along with attributes that differentiate it from those synagogue models. She then looks at the counter-intuitive combination of Chabad and the Reform movement, two institutional settings that have influenced Makom NY in a deep way. [3] She also explores the question of how one can be grounded in a denominational home-base, while still creating a context for inter-denominational pluralism. Continuing, she opens up a conversation around synagogue closures, asserting that such moments need not only be an end-point -- they can constitute the rise of something new as well.

(17:41 - 30:03): Dan and Lex offer some thoughts on synagogue closures as well. Lex draws on the 90s pop hit "Closing Time," and its famous line "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," while Dan asks whether Judaism could apply its modalities of grief and mourning, when people die, to the realm of institutions, when they close their doors. [4] Bravo also takes a look at the balance between top-down, staff-driven programming, and bottom-up, congregant-driven programming. She then envisions a broader Jewish institutional future, where communities with non-traditional models like Makom NY would materialize all around the country.

 Image Credit: MakomNy.org

Image Credit: MakomNy.org

(30:04 - 45:41): Bravo identifies two key constituencies that she works with -- families with children younger than B Mitzvah age, along with families that she terms "Jewish empty-nesters" (with no children who are younger than B Mitzvah age). She compares and contrasts the ways in which programming is most likely to engage those two groups. She identifies a few concrete examples of Makom NY programming that helps to elucidate ways in which it differs from many other Jewish settings, including elements of its High Holiday observances that are distinctive when compared to what one might encounter in other Jewish settings. To close the episode, Bravo talks through Makom NY's relationship to nearby organizations that initially perceived it as a "competitor" or a "threat" to their institutions. [5]

[1] Learn more about Debbie Bravo at RabbiBravo.com.

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[2] Check out Makom NY's website by clicking here.

[3] For a piece exploring Chabad's strengths, and why they might be applicable in Non-Orthodox contexts, click here.

[4] For more on the idea of death and burial, as applied to Jewish institutions, see Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I.

[5] Bravo wrote a piece in eJewish Philanthropy that cites the importance of avoiding the perception of "competition" to traditional institutions. Read it by clicking here.