Founded in 1999, The New Shul is a progressive, independent, creative community in Greenwich Village exploring meaningful ways to experience Jewish life and ritual in the 21st century. We have nearly 150 households and over 100 students in our vibrant and creative religious school, a place where families learn together and parents are partners with teachers in passing Judaism to their children.
The New Shul offers adults a path home to their Jewish heritage, where questioning is not only tolerated but encouraged, where men and women can open new doors to their spirituality through learning that excites the mind and ignites the soul. Ours is a community where heart and hand are united, where people rise together to face the challenges of trying to heal a broken world.
We invite you to join us in our ongoing work to build a context for Jewish community that is joyous, meaningful, and relevant to our contemporary lives.
Amy Eichenwald Golding
Executive and Education Director
The New Shul was co-founded by Holly Gewandter & Ellen Gould, close friends & theatre collaborators.
Here are their stories about why — & how — they did it.
by Holly Gewandter, co-founder
In the beginning Nancy and I were just looking for a place to send our daughter, Haley, to Hebrew school. Then I said, “If we're going to do this, let's find someplace that we'll get something out of, too.” Seemed reasonable until we started looking. We couldn't find it. Not downtown. So I said to my closest friend and collaborator, Ellen Gould, “How hard do you think it would be to start a shul?”
Many of you know the story. You received the invitation and came to that first Friday night Shabbat service at HUC. None of us quite knew what to expect. But people came. Jen Krause, a rabbinic student who had committed her considerable talents to help create what was to become The New Shul, led the service with Ellen, a gifted singer and actress, playing the role of cantor. When we first sat down, I looked around the chapel and wondered if it would work. Then Ellen started chanting/teaching an old Hasidic nigun, and within moments something amazing happened — we sounded like a community that had been praying together for years.
We had another service and then another. People came back and brought their friends. The idea of starting a downtown shul that was inclusive, warm, welcoming, intellectually stimulating, and community-based seemed to be extremely appealing. I heard everyone's stories, and many of them had a common theme — alienation. People had been damaged by traumatic Hebrew school experiences, bored by uninspired services, turned off by the politics that seemed to be an inevitable part of institutional religion. Still, there remained a longing, either expressed directly or more subtly revealed through a desire to "send the kids to Hebrew school" or “have a place to go for the High Holy Days,” to somehow reconnect with their Jewish selves.
On April 19, 1999, about 30 people sat in my living room and decided to form The New Shul. We would proceed thoughtfully — no one wanted to end up with another synagogue that was the punch line of a Jewish joke (i.e., two Jews, three opinions). Instead of an elected board, typically a breeding ground for backbiting and resentment, we agreed to create a self-selected Va'ad that was open to anyone who was willing to take on the commitment of attending meetings and working on projects. Decisions would be made by consensus. At all times we would strive to be grassroots and community-driven rather than institutional and rule-bound. It wouldn't be easy, but the idea of creating a context for Jewish community in downtown Manhattan had broken through our shared skepticism and, like a weed pushing its way out of a crack in the sidewalk, stubbornly refused to yield to common sense. When we found Niles Goldstein, a maverick rabbi, writer, explorer, and intellectual who was looking for a community like ours, we immediately knew he was “the one.” Together we embarked on the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and communal adventure of building a Jewish community that was truly a reflection of the needs and values of its members.
Five years have passed since then, and our achievement is truly astonishing. Our Shabbat services are filled with song and discussion, encouraging the active involvement of all who attend. Holidays and festivals have been explored and re-envisioned, and though not every event has been an unqualified success, each one has had elements of real beauty and engagement. Most importantly, our efforts have been motivated by a genuine desire to understand and experience our Jewishness through participation in a Kehillah Kedoshah, a Sacred Community.
I don't usually pepper my speech with Hebrew phrases like Kehillah Kedoshah — in fact I know very little Hebrew. But what we have created in The New Shul is inadequately conveyed by any English words that come to mind. When I look around at services these days, I no longer wonder if the people in the seats will coalesce into a cohesive group — it's happened. The signs are everywhere. Unasked, at the end of a service, three people start packing the prayerbooks back into their boxes and schlepping them up the stairs behind the altar. A group of children spontaneously comes to the front and leads the Oseh Shalom in sign language. A parent dies and a stream of New Shul members shows up to help make a minyan. People come to services Saturday morning because they know one of our kids is becoming a Bat Mitzvah and they want to be there to welcome her into adulthood. A woman reluctantly goes on our first annual retreat only because of her husband and is so moved by the experience that she volunteers to join the Va'ad.
In the beginning Nancy and I were just looking for a place to send our daughter, Haley, to Hebrew school. Then I said, “If we're going to do this, let's find someplace that we'll get something out of, too.” Seems like it's working out.
by Ellen Gould, co-founder
A few years ago, Holly and I saw an ill-fated musical based on the Torah. The idea was great, some of the songs truly affecting, but on the whole, it didn't work. At intermission, I whispered, “Should we stay for Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, or make our Exodus now?”
I still love theater, but like many liberal American Jews, I made my exodus from the synagogue a long time ago. The idea is great, some of the songs truly affecting, but on the whole, it doesn't work.
I suppose it's not surprising that Holly and I would be meshugge enough to tackle the worship challenge. After all, we figured, theater had its roots in religion, and as theater people, we were interested in reclaiming elements of early ritual. In fact, when Holly and I first played with the idea of starting a synagogue, we joked about doing, “Repertory Shabbos” — one Hasidic, one Sephardic, and, of course, an Ancient Temple complete with animal sacrifice. “That one,” I kidded, “would be standing-room only.”
No, I am not advocating a return to animal sacrifice, but I am left with the inevitable question: Why is it that theater is still the powerful child of early religious ritual, while modern worship is a pale prodigal? Could a theater model be a helpful guide for its lost siblings? I pored over my old textbooks looking for answers. “Theater is a collaborative art. Everyone involved is responsible for the outcome: actors, director, musical director, and audience — each role must be filled before the whole can be more than the sum of the parts.” OK. Got it. The rabbi and cantor are the actors and the congregation is the audience. Then what?
Ironically, I found the first hint of a real answer in the writings of the mid-19th century Hasidic mystic, Rebbe Elimelech. Elimelech, like so many of the ecstatic Hasidim of his time, had an extraordinarily rich religious inner life. What did he know that most of us don't? As I read his notes on "preparation for prayer" I was astonished to find an implicit structure almost identical to Stanislavski's performance theory. And then it hit me. The primary problem in modern worship is that the congregation thinks of itself as the audience. But we are not the audience — we are the actors! The rabbi is our director and the cantor, our musical director — each teaching, coaching, and inspiring us to play our parts brilliantly.
So how do we do that? Here are some suggestions from Rebs Stanislavski and Elimelech: Bring our lifetime of experience to the theater (shul); Do our warm up (preparation for prayer) with vocalizing (niggunim) and concentration exercises (silent meditation); Define and focus our objectives (have the proper kavannah / intention) as we interact with the script (siddur). But the action (mitzvah) of performance (prayer) must not be taken for the purpose of “having an experience” (d'vekut / cleaving to God). Our task is simply to take the action (fulfill the mitzvah) with commitment (heart, soul, and mind).
I can hear all my acting teachers echoing the wisdom of the great rebbes. "Remember, your job is just to do the work. The seasoned actor knows that when the objective is to go for a feeling, the result is bad acting. If the scene calls for weeping, the actor who tries to be sad ends up merely posturing. But when the same actor explores and inhabits the circumstances of the script, the tears will likely come. Authentic feeling is a by-product of taking the action, pursuing the objective. The actor's overriding objective is to “encounter” the script. Just as no two actors experience a script the same way and few actors experience it the same way twice, exploring the text of prayer means being willing to open up to what is below the surface — the subtext, the hidden, the unexpected. “The holiest time,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “is when the heart surprises the mind.”
People often ask me what it's like to do the same play over and over. "Isn't it boring?" I tell them, "if the script is layered and complex, the director and musical director inspired and inspiring, the company of actors committed and supportive, if I don't let myself 'phone it in' but give it all I have at that moment… it's like prayer."
The Rabbinic Chavurah
The Rabbinic Chavurah is a radical new program in synagogue leadership with this principle at its core: that our community will flourish by the wisdom(s) of a plurality of voices rather than one. We believe that a multiplicity in perspective gives rise to the abundance of discourse and more holistic learning.
Coordinated by our Core Rabbi, Zach Fredman, the Rabbinic Chavurah brings rabbis and wisdom teachers from diverse fields with various arena of expertise to share their approach within the vision of The New Shul.
Arnan Raz is a music educator, Hebrew teacher and a Jazz musician. Originally from Merhavia Kibbutz, Israel. Arnan holds a degree in Music Performance from The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Arnan has been teaching Saxophone and Music in several schools around Israel such as Boyer School (Jerusalem), the prestigious MATAT camp of music and many others.
In New York, Arnan is also a music and Hebrew teacher at the Sephardic community center in Brooklyn. In addition, he is a Jazz performer that preforms his own music, along with many different musicians.
Joshua Mikutis is a second year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He studied History, Religion, and Russian at Haverford College. Over the past two years, Joshua worked as an Immigration Paralegal for the New York Legal Assistance Group-- first as an AVODAH Corps Member and then as a grant handler. In his first year in Jerusalem, he worked as a T'ruah Rabbinical Student Fellow and helped plan a trip during Pesach to assist Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union. He spent the summer working at a World Union for Progressive Judaism outside of Minsk, Belarus.
Sarah Zell Young is a passionate Jewish Educator and Artist. She combines Traditional Text study of Biblical and Talmudic sources with contemporary history of the Jewish body with an emphasis on social justice. She is passionate about reimagining Jewish ritual and empowering her students to integrate creativity and ownership into their personal practices. Sarah recently received her MFA from Hunter College with course work in psychology and education. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of design with a degree in Sculpture and also studied gender studies at Brown University, and Hebrew at Tel Aviv U. Sarah was an arts fellow at the Drisha Institute for Jewish education from 2010-2011. Sarah has exhibited work, lectured on ideas and taught both nationally and internationally. Most notably she was Artist in Residence in 2012 at Brandeis University at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute. Sarah Currently Sarah is a AJWS global justice fellow and has worked for the past year on the streets of new york providing services to the homeless.
Anielle Fredman is a graduate of Vassar College, where she studied religion, music, and education. Nowadays, she spends her time in various educational settings with Jewish children. In addition to teaching at The New Shul, Anielle works with Bar- and Bat-Mitzvah students in preparation for their personal ceremonies. During the week, she works at the NY Psychiatric Institute/Columbia researching child development and trauma. Anielle plans to eventually go back to school for a degree in child psychology. She is thrilled to meet the new 7th grade BMA class and to begin our collective journey weaving together our own personal threads of Judaism and identity.
Megan Sass is storyteller, musician, and teacher. She is a member of Storahtelling/LabShul, and also works with Temple Emanu-El, SAJ, and The JCC in Manhattan. She has worked as a song leader at several summer camps, including Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, IN, Passport NYC at the 92nd St. Y, and Camp Yomowha with The Washington Heights Y.
Rabbi Zach Fredman is at the cutting edge of Jewish meaning-making and creativity. He serves as rabbi and music director at the New Shul, a downtown community renowned for its dynamic programming, which seeks to envision how ancient and modern wisdoms can create a place for thriving Jewish investigation and congregation.
In 2011, Zach founded The Epichorus – a band seeking to return Jewish prayer music, to the sounds of the Arabic east and North Africa. With traditional Arabic instruments, a Sudanese master songstress, and a heavy dose of global percussion they are creating a new sound in world music carrying listeners at once to a Tunisian marketplace in festival season or a yoga class in the village. They released their debut album "One Bead" in Spring 2013.
Zach has worked in diverse roles for some of the finest institutions of New York. For StorahTelling, B'nai Jeshurun, CLAL, and Romemu. Zach has served as Service Leader, Program Coordinator, Music Director, Rabbinic Fellow, Midrashic Archivist, and Teacher. Zach was named one of The Jewish Week's 36 Under 36.
Beginning with his undergraduate studies in “Conceptions of God” at NYU’s Gallatin school of individualized study, Zach has taken pointed interest in the wisdoms of world religions. In 2009, Zach participated in Auburn seminary’s program for Protestant/Jewish seminarians, which culminated with a ten-day trip to Israel/Palestine. He is comfortable teaching Buddhism and Sufism alongside Midrash and Jewish text. Zach was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2013.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom in St. Louis, Missouri. He is from Detroit, Michigan. He is a writer and musician who integrates story, poetry, and music in an incantational performance art form, producing seven CDs to date, the most recent Book of Healing. He founded One Life – Whole World Project, serving the underserved: addictions outreach, prison project, and mental illness support. He recently finished an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. His work can be sampled through two websites: www.stonegoodman.com and www.neveshalom.org.
A former psychotherapist, Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman, MSW was ordained in 2011 by The Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic, nondenominational seminary. She is the founder and director of Rimon: Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality in Great Barrington, MA. Rimon is an outreach organization that offers transformative programs and services that open heart and mind, to seekers wherever they may be on their spiritual journeys.
Rabbi Kaya has served as volunteer chaplain in local hospitals and nursing homes and officiates at life-cycle events. Also, a co-founder of The Berkshire Minyan in 2006, she continues to participate in the leadership of services at this independent egalitarian minyan in Great Barrington.
Prior to her work in the Jewish community, Rabbi Kaya worked as a Professional Feng Shui Consultant, having trained with several Feng Shui masters throughout the U.S. Her senior rabbinic thesis addresses the reenvisioning of synagogue space based on an understanding of ancient universal principles of sacred space applied to the design of the wilderness Tabernacle.
Rabbi Jonah Geffen serves as Rabbinic Director at J Street. He spent two years singing, davening, meditating and teaching as Rabbinic Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. For nearly ten years Jonah has dedicated himself to teaching and promoting the cause of peace as refracted and understood by the Jewish tradition. He served as Senior Coexistence Educator for Kivunim, was a Senior Educator for the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution’s Rodef Shalom program, and has been a trip facilitator and leader of the Peacemakers’ Beit Midrash with Encounter. Jonah attended Young Judaea Year Course, was a Kollel Fellow at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. Jonah received his BA in History and Jewish Studies from Indiana University, an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and received an MA in Jewish Studies and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Shir Yaakov is a rabbi, singer, composer, designer, producer, teacher and Aba. Shir Yaakov blends ancient and emerging wisdom to create a spiritual cultural Judaism that is contemporary, alive, and innovative. Shir Yaakov holds non-denominational rabbinic ordination, and works in formal and informal educational settings as a rabbi, teacher, and musician. Whether as Romemu’s Creative Director, lifecycle officiant, stage artist performing with The Epichorus or Darshan; in synagogues,yeshivas, and intentional communities around the world; and in Jewish, multi-faith, and non-affiliated spiritual contexts, Shir Yaakov weaves a tapestry of Kabbalistic wisdom, contemporary songwriting, and deep personal spirituality. He has recorded and released four albums of original music. As a spiritual leader, he facilitates ritual in a variety of contexts, from Chabad houses to multifaith, LGBTQ, & permaculture communities.
Niles Elliot Goldstein is Rabbi Emeritus of The New Shul, where he served as its spiritual leader from its founding in 1999 until 2009. Prior to The New Shul, Niles was a senior fellow at CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a program officer at The Steinhardt Foundation, and the assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in New Rochelle. He is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the New York Board of Rabbis.
Niles is the author or editor of nine books, including the award-winning Gonzo Judaism: A Bold Path for Renewing an Ancient Faith, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Forward, and Moment. He has been featured and interviewed in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Report, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, The Jewish Week, and Beliefnet, as well as on domestic and international television and radio.
Niles served as the voice behind "Ask the Rabbi" on the Microsoft Network. He is the national Jewish chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. Niles holds an honors B.A. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania and received an M.A. and his Ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Niles teaches across the country and abroad on issues in mysticism and spirituality, values and leadership, the environment, and on new models for religious life in the 21st century.
From the beginning, Ellen Gould's mission as Musical Director/Cantor has been to make the New Shul a singing community. "We don't have a choir, we are the choir."
Says Ellen, "I don’t need the attention of a solo singer –- I’ve been a performing professional for most of my life. My goal is to share with the community the joy of full-throated and full-hearted expression of the spirit that can only come through the use of its own voice."
In the world of theater, Ellen is best known for her double Emmy award-winning musical "Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories." Her many other performance credits include leading roles in productions from Lincoln Center to The Public Theatre, as well as featured roles on HBO, PBS-TV, and NPR. Her writing credits include "Confessions Of A Reformed Romantic," "Seeing Stars," "The Glass House," and "Blessed is the Match" -- all of which received New York productions.
Following the Off-Broadway run and national tour of "Bubbe Meises," Ellen continued to perform the show for Jewish organizations and synagogues throughout the U.S. This experience renewed her interest in Jewish communal life. It also raised the question -- "why can't modern ritual be as transformative as theatre?" In 1999, Ellen co-founded The New Shul (with long-time friend and musical collaborator Holly Gewandter) where she continues to work on the answer.
A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Ellen is a graduate of Brandeis University, has an MFA in Acting from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and was the recipient of a Fulbright-Hayes fellowship in ethnomusicology.
Amy became the Executive Director of The New Shul in June 2003 and has served as its Education Director since 1999, in charge of the religious school and the family life and community education programs.
Amy is a dynamic and innovative educator who brings a passion for Jewish life and rare sense of commitment to all her endeavors. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland in 1998 and did significant post-graduate studies at Teachers College at Columbia University and at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 2009, Amy completed a year-long advanced-masters course at The Institute for Not-For-Profit Management through UJA and Columbia University. Her experience includes working with the special education district in New York City as part of her Americorps*VISTA fellowship and teaching at various schools both in Maryland and New York City.
Amy has played a leading role in program development and event planning for The New Shul since her arrival. In bringing her passion for Jewish life and commitment to our community to her position as Executive Director, she plays a dynamic role in helping The New Shul achieve its goal of creating a vibrant Downtown Jewish congregation.
Amy lives in Chelsea with her husband and their two children.
Bonnie Streigold is a graduate of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary and currently serves as Hazzan(Cantor) at Or Olam - East 55th Street Synagogue. Bonnie has taught Hebrew school for close to a decade and joined our team here at The New Shul in 2012 as a teacher, and last year she became our Assistant Director of Education. Bonnie has a deep love for music, education and Judaism. She spends her time tutoring kids for their B'nai Mitzvah, teaching adult education classes, leading services and helping The New Shul educators with their visions.
“The great leaders are like the best conductors- they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players” – Blaine Lee
Deena Spaner is finishing her last year as a dance major and religious studies minor at The New School for Liberal arts located in the West Village. Her passion for Jewish studies started at a young age and has been enriched by her experience at college and her recent trip to Israel. Deena has been dancing for 9 years and believes that dance can be used as a tool to express ideas and concepts to their highest potential. She is an advocate for the intelligence of the mind and body as one entity and how it is used to deepen understandings of cultural and social backgrounds.
Raziel is an Israeli native who was born in Jerusalem and grew up in the performing arts community. Dancing was the focus of his childhood, arriving to the US in the late 90's with a tour of Dancers, Raz has performed on Disney World great adventure stages and when he arrived to NYC he pursued acting. Since then Raz has been featured in low budget films as well as writing and making music. You can find him these days focusing on the release of his debut album ONE. In 2004 Raz joined The New Shul faculty and has had the pleasure of working with children in formal and informal education.
"I take my passion for the performing arts and apply it when working with kids, bringing textbook to life. I believe that each child has his/her own voice and I encourage him/her to find it"
Fortune is a video and performance artist and Hebrew teacher. She holds a BFA from The School of Visual Arts and studied at Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem, Israel. Jewish identity and the role of woman in Judaism are key subjects in her art. Fortune has exhibited and performed at: Culturfix, Recession Art, Muchmore, Bazaar, NYU Gallery, Figment and The Visual Arts Gallery.
Rabbi Zach Fredman
Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Rabbi Kaya Stern Kaufman
Rabbi Jonah Geffen
Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit
Niles Elliot Goldstein
Executive Director Interim Director of Education Rishonim and BMA Teacher Rishonim and BMA Teacher Rishonim and BMA Teacher BMA Teacher Rishonim Teacher BMA Teacher Rishonim and Teacher Rishonim Tefillah Leader
Amy Eichenwald Golding
Director of Education
Sarah Zell Young
Interim Director of Education
Rishonim and BMA Teacher
Rishonim and BMA Teacher
Rishonim and BMA Teacher
Rishonim and Teacher
Rishonim Tefillah Leader
Our style of religious observance is eclectic and defies easy categorization. We are an independent Jewish community that is progressive in our approach to traditional worship and wisdom.
Some Friday evenings, you'll find us welcoming in Shabbat at a pub in the Village, other times we'll be gathering on the High Line, or meditating on the beach. Our observances are done in search of greater connection—to ourselves and to our community.
We know no ONE way to accomplish this.
Our services are constantly in flux re-interpreting ancient prayers that no longer speak to us, only to return to them later with fresh interpretation. This reflects who we are and the unfolding nature of our existence.
We believe, fundamentally, in a Judaism that is rooted in joy, celebration and conversation. Our gatherings reflect this sensibility. Participatory music and dialogue, play key roles in the life of The New Shul.
Although we provide activities for younger children—so that adults can sometimes engage in more serious reflection and prayer—we often strive for events which are intergenerational in nature and feel. And we are as much in favor of excavating old, still-meaningful rituals as in creating new and innovative ones.
One of our defining characteristics is our "come as you are" attitude. This can be expressed in dress, in attitude, or in belief. At The New Shul, everyone is always welcome.
The New Shul offers the full range of Jewish life-cycle events for its members—weddings, baby namings, funerals, conversions, minyans for those sitting shiva.
The New Shul's unorthodox approach to community is exemplified by our governing body, the Va'ad. We believe that participation in decision-making by a self-selected group of community members (rather than an elected Board) reflects our grassroots origins and preserves our values of inclusiveness and communal responsibility.
Va'ad meetings are stimulating and productive — we brainstorm over drinks and dinner and try to achieve consensus through a process of respectful discussion. All New Shul members are invited to attend as observers, although active participation is limited to Va'ad members.
Any New Shul member who makes a commitment to be an active participant in the life of The New Shul and to attend one meeting a month for a term of two years is encouraged to serve on the Va'ad.
For more information, please contact Amy Eichenwald Golding at email@example.com
Current Va'ad Members
- Jeremy Davis
- Robyn Dietz
- Rabbi Zach Fredman
- Amy Eichenwald Golding
- Beverly Israely
- Kathi Jacob
- Linda Kahn
- Claire Lynch
- Marty Umans
- Maia Wechsler