Want to start your own indie minyan? Are you too cool for shul and need an alternative? Here’s my list for how to start your own synagogue.
You need the skills to lead Shabbat services, holidays, to facilitate Torah study, to give sermons, and all the other things a rabbi can do. With a certificate from Darshan Yeshiva, you’ll have those skills. Darshan Yeshiva allows you to train independently as a Darshan, a lay Jewish leader. You can also train through our guided program, providing you one-on-one training with a rabbi.
Start A Facebook Fan Page
Get a Fan Page on Facebook and start hunting down like-minded people in your area. A synagogue with only one person is kinda sad. So before you do anything, make sure that there are people interested in what you want. Don’t be surprised if Liberal Christians, Muslims and other random people fan your shul-in-progress. Some people just love friending Jewish profiles. Chalk it up to Philo-Semitism.
It also helps if you already have two or three friends who are as hardcore about this as you are. I am a firm believer in keeping things small and streamlined. Plus, these friends are the people who are each going to invite another friend. Random Facebook blasting really only gets you so far.
Build Your Core
Invite your fan page over for coffee and dessert. Use this time to discuss issues of what they want out of a community (events, prayer times, halachka, minhagim, etc).
Very important: you came up with the idea, which means that no matter how much delegation of authority you do, you will ultimately always be the leader. If you don’t want this position, then do not go any further.
Find A Cool Space
If you have a nice house, then you can always take a spare room, an attic, or some place like that and build one out. I’m a big fan of flex or mixed-zoned locations, so if you have any interest in moving, why not find a place like a loft or condo that is in a heavily commercial area. That way, you can live there, and people will have plenty of room to park. Think Chabad on this one.
Craigslist is a great real estate tool, especially if you are like me and rent.
Make A Budget
The great thing about an indie minyan is that it doesn’t have the financial needs that shuls have. But here are a few things to think about:
Tools For Shuls. You’ll need kippot, siddurim, Shabbat stuff, Havdalah stuff, etc. Can you get these from other people? Often people will have kippot left over from weddings and bar mitzvahs, so that is a likely option. Know someone who collects Judaica who could loan a few things? What about a bibliophile who has some awesome Jewish books? Start with what you have, then work on your Amazon wish list.
Of course, independent minyanim can always get copies of the OneShul community siddur at cost (around $3/book), including free shipping. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can make that happen.
Have a vision. Does your indie minyan need to rent a rabbi twice a year for High Holidays, or are you just getting together for a lay led Shabbat? Are you going to start a Hebrew school? Side note: old folks make great Hebrew teachers. Retired Jews are an amazing educational asset to our community that are under appreciated).
Once you have these issues worked out, build a budget. Then take whatever the total is (whether it’s $200 or $200,000) and add 10% to it. Call this line item “innovation”. Every good company or organization pads their budget by 10% for development of cool projects, or bold initiatives that may or may not work out.
Start Having Events
Havdalah is a great event to have as a fundraiser and community builder. You can fundraise on Havdalah, people can bring food, play instruments, kids can play games and watch TV if they are bored. And in my experience, Havdalah is the most underrated Jewish event, which means that even if you live in a community with a thousand synagogues, you’ll still be the only game in town as far as Saturday night Judaism.
Potlucks are a great thing as well. Frankly, I think all good religions appreciate potlucks. They are free, which is awesome as well…and people have fun swapping recipes.
Also, have a tzedakah box by the door for collecting donations.Don’t be afraid to ask for money, if you need it.
Build Your Shul
Asher Meza of BeJewish.org has a great video on how he and a rabbi in Richmond built a shul in the rabbi’s attic. Home Depot, EBay, and Amazon made that place happen! Check out this video below…
Get Online — Even More Than Now
OK, so maybe I’m a liberal kook, but streaming your events online is about the best thing you can do, ever. Again, OneShul can help you with that. It’s not hard if you stay organized and have internet upload speeds of at least 1.5MBPS. Heck, even FrumSatire is talking about how Orthodox minyanim need to go online!
Grow, Grow, Grow!
Don’t allow yourself to think that ten people is enough. Maybe your indie shul will only have ten people for the first year, or three years, or five years even. But keep growing! Keep flyers with you in your bag/purse. Put them in JCCs, bookstores, community centers, wherever Jewish folks can be found. I suggest putting them in the token kosher section of your major grocery store chain (the staff will throw them away, but why not??)
Help Us, Help You
OneShul is an indie minyan. We know what we’re talking about. So send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot you in the right direction.