Forum for the Future: Bar(chu) Hopping
by Josh Nelson

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Age: 34

Profession: Jewish musician and producer

Jewish Childhood Experiences: I’ve had a strong Jewish identity since childhood. Every family member was involved in our vibrant local Jewish community on the south coast of Massachusetts—teaching in the religious school, advising youth programs, serving on the education commission, and accompanying services on an old-school 1950s Allen electric organ. In my religious school music class, the organist (an elderly, Christian Frenchman named Michele) played with great intention and an openness of spirit and heart that floated a song through the air. That was where I first experienced the relationship between God, music, and the human soul.

Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: I don’t pay dues to a congregation, but as a Jewish musician I visit many synagogues each year. Often, I rush to a shul straight from an airport, drop my things, and head for the sanctuary. I seek (need) moments of quiet reflection before leading prayer, and I spend time seated near the entrance as I await the congregation. When the first congregants walk in, rarely, if ever, does a single person even say hello. It’s a hard thing to get over….That said, I do believe I will find the right fit someday.

I have also often felt uncomfortable with the worship options available to me. Starting in my mid-20s, I wanted to experience powerful, meaningful communal prayer without pretense, pomp, and a holier-than-thou attitude. I longed for prayer experiences in and of the moment—ones without an alternative agenda or expectation of my doing or giving.

In response, I’ve spent the past seven years developing The WAREHOUSE, an alternative Shabbat worship experience aimed at unaffiliated and/or disconnected 20s and 30s Jews in major metropolitan areas. Taking over a bar on Friday nights, we deliver a worship service offering all that was missing for me back then: connection, community, spirituality, warmth, and a contemporary, open aesthetic that reflects the participants’ own.

I am truly optimistic about the Jewish future. I see an undeniable undercurrent of faith and communal connection in this generation. After our events, participants speak of transformation, of a real feeling of connection they thought was lost or had never before experienced. And the very fact that the Jewish community is having these conversations—looking at our challenges in new ways—is the best indicator of our ability to change.

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    Union for Reform Judaism.