Because Jewish

Because Jewish curates one-of-a-kind Jewish happenings with artistry, honesty and prayer. Collaborating with renowned musicians, and offering a host of gatherings, Because Jewish is committed to serve anyone who is open to being reached. Because Jewish is reason enough.

Location: New York , NY
Year founded: 2015


Since Rabbi Dan Ain's founding of Because Jewish in May 2015, the community's cultural and spiritual offerings have touched over 500 New York-area individuals seeking vibrant connection points in which our religious perspectives can be in genuine dialogue with artists, musicians, and our everyday lives. 

A former attorney, Rabbi Dan is a preacher, connector, and an innovator who for the past decade has been curating Jewish offerings around New York City at the 92nd Street Y, as Director of Tradition and Innovation, as rabbi of The New Shul, and now as rabbi of Because Jewish. A Conservative rabbi, he is a CLAL Resident and was ordained at The Jewish Theological Seminary.

Fiscally sponsored by Clal - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Because Jewish views highly curated music and artistry as a way to open up genuine dialogue and transformative experiences around Judaism and spirituality. Breaking away from expectations about what constitutes Jewish music and prayer, Because Jewish reaches a diverse population of Jews, interfaith families, and the spiritually curious in part through its exploration and use of a wide variety of unexpected musical styles in unconventional venues, and high profile musicians and artists. Because Jewish welcomes people into its community through creative channels, and then invites them to take part in a deep and personal Jewish experience.

This platform for Jewish engagement among a growing number of young, disaffected people is precisely the emerging model of Jewish connection that is needed in the community Because Jewish serves. Far more than an arts and culture project, Because Jewish curates authentic experiences that reach out beyond a single definition of Judaism to welcome those from all backgrounds to know each other in the context of Jewish ritual and prayer.

At the core of Because Jewish's offerings are:

* Saturday morning services for adults and families are held at the ShapeShifter Lab, a white-brick jazz venue in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. The morning service includes Torah reading and prayer accompanied by live jazz musicians in an informal, come-as-you-are setting where people are welcome to bring a cup of coffee to their seat, rearrange chairs, and make the experience their own. These monthly services attract a high number of interfaith couples and unaffiliated Jews who are interested in an experience that resonates and challenges adults while remaining kid-friendly. Childcare is provided by a Jewish educator so that parents may immerse themselves in moments of prayer and meditation.

* Korban Shabbat, a loose, free-form mix of Chabad, Renewal, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox and newly created Kabbalat Shabbat rituals is held once each month on Friday night. No two Korban events are the same; each Shabbat is determined by the artistic and prayerful offerings brought by those present. The community of people that Korban Shabbat attracts – ranging from the unaffiliated to the formerly Hasidic – meet in unexpected locations like a back-alley warehouse in Bushwick. Many share one commonality: a disaffection with other forms of Judaism, and a yearning to find a new path toward spiritual engagement. The music-infused service connects with people who are looking for more experimental, experiential ways to worship.

* The Friday Night Jam a speaking series at (le) Poisson Rouge in the East Village, provides an opportunity for music-loving, festival-going Jews to gather for a conversation about religion and ritual with their favorite rock stars after Kiddish and HaMotzi. It is an example of the way that Because Jewish infuses “secular” spaces and activities with meaningful conversations on Judaism and spirituality, and opens up new ways for the religious “nones” to connect to Jewish identity on their terms.

* High Holiday services feature blues musician Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery, and this year included a sold out Rosh Hashanah at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg and another capacity crowd for Kol Nidre at Roulette, an avant-garde music venue in downtown Brooklyn. Jeremiah’s unique blend of Ashkenazi cantorial wailing and Piedmont blues makes the service unlike any other in New York. In spring 2016, Because Jewish will also add a Passover Seder to its offerings.

Saturday morning and Korban Shabbat services are intentionally held just once each month – an outgrowth of the human-centric design thinking that informs Because Jewish decisions. For the New York community Because Jewish serves, a once-per-month commitment reflects the reality of busy lives that involve travel, family, and occasionally, interest in other Jewish communities. Because Jewish does not position itself in competition with synagogues or minyanim; rather, it simply exists to help people to pray when and where they can. The musical emphasis of Because Jewish is also a highly curated one. Keeping services limited to once per month allows for a careful crafting of the experience that keeps things fresh, improvisational, and surprising.

Because Jewish is deeply and increasingly involved with partners who leaven our influence in other spheres, both in and out of traditional Jewish spaces and communities. Because Jewish also partners with Relix, a music magazine, to produce the Friday Night Jam series; venues like Brooklyn Bowl, (le) Poisson Rouge, and ShapeShifter Lab, which challenge what we think of as Jewish spaces; and Jewish outlets like 70 Faces Media (where a Because Jewish podcast is currently in production) and the JCC of Manhattan, for an artistic and thought-provoking Passover Seder in 2016.

Because Jewish seeks to be an additive presence to the alternative Jewish communal space in response to existing and emerging community needs. These needs were most recently documented in the 2011 Geographic Profile led by UJA-Federation of New York. The survey indicated that in Brownstone Brooklyn, where a majority of Because Jewish participants reside, 43% of Jewish residents identify as secular or having no religion, the highest such rate of identification in the eight-county New York City area. In lower Manhattan, only 30% of the growing population of young Jewish adults belongs to a synagogue. The percentage of lower Manhattan respondents who said they feel part of a Jewish community, 13%, is the lowest in the eight-county area. With these statistics in mind, Because Jewish adds a new option to the communal landscape and reaches out to those interested in Jewish spirituality through its deep commitment to curating dynamic experiences.

Funding would provide Because Jewish with essential support in its first year. As an emerging community initiative, Because Jewish participants have already shown tremendous commitment to the model’s success through their contributions of both time and money. Nevertheless, there is still a significant financial need to cover the costs of Because Jewish’s outstanding leadership, its use of appealing and surprising spaces, the musicians and artists who lend their time and talent, and the ticket subsidies that make it possible for everyone to attend High Holidays services, regardless of income. Financial support at this critical juncture in Because Jewish’s formation will ensure that it continues to explore the creative use of its core unique elements – highly curated musical experiences and meditation in unusual venues – to inform and enhance Jewish spirituality.

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