Hevria’s Next Level Has Arrived: Join Us

Another year. Another transformational experience at Hevria.

Last year, I wrote to you about the growth Hevria was experiencing.  I wrote about our dream of one day launching a “Hevria House” where we’d be working full time on building out a creative community here in Brooklyn.  I wrote about how we were hoping to pay our writers better.  I wrote about how we were hoping to continue growing our online offerings.

A year later, it is almost unbelievable to see how much we were actually able to do.  We increased the pay for our writers (although they still deserve so, so much more).  HevriaCast has become a regular fixture of our site, with an ever-increasing diversity of contributors. Neshamas has continued its beautiful, quiet growth, with writers regularly putting their souls out for the world to hear despite the pain and vulnerability of the experiences they’re sharing. 

But perhaps the most fascinating experience has been watching Hevria’s in-person community’s growth.

This year, we got a small grant from UJA that was just enough to allow us to start doing weekly events.  In other words, we went from doing one event a month to four events a month.  To put it more clearly: we quadrupled our work.

This led to a lot of changes here in Brooklyn.  We have built out our own leadership group.  We have people who are now regular volunteers, giving with their hands and hearts in such utterly beautiful and selfless ways.  And we have moved all of our events into our home.

The result? Something that we never imagined would happen so quickly: a full-fledged community is being built here in Brooklyn.  One that has begun to mirror our online community in its vibrancy and the dedication of its members.  In fact, the community grew so quickly and became so alive that we decided to actually launch Hevria House rather than wait for some big grant or donation to allow us to build our ultimate dream.  Rather, Rivka and I have come to realize that the dream is happening right in front of our eyes.

We don’t need to build a house to create the community.  The community is here.  And one day, we are sure, it will build the house.  But until then, there is already a house now completely dedicated to our community.  Our little two bedroom in Brooklyn has become Hevria House, and it is now open at least once/week to the Hevrians of Brooklyn.

What We’ve Done In One Year

Here are some of the things we’ve done this year:

  1. Continued our creative farbrengens, which are the core of our programming.  They are the epitome of what we do: a place where all the creators are on the same level, and where the audience is also the creators.
  2. Expanding creative farbrengens for the audiences that most need an even safer environment to share their hearts and souls.  We now have a monthly women’s creative farbrengen run by Brooklyn leaders Laura Melnicoff and Rivka.  We have also experimented with one queer creative farbrengen which was, perhaps, one of the most inspiring nights of my life.
  3. Variety shows.  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  These are something else.  In the beautiful Luminessence space, and then in our home, we have now had everything from a Hasidic bagpipe player to a ventriloquist to a vaudeville magician to a mad scientist.  The energy at these events is beyond gorgeous, and I am so grateful for what we have built with this.
  4. Classes.  First, there are Rivka’s figure drawing classes which have been so successful and so in-demand that she has now started an open studio to allow for more space for our creatives.  Then, there are our unique classes run by the various amazing people in our community. Everything from a creative meditation class to a synesthesia class to, soon, a death cafe.
  5. Shabbat.  We have experimented with this, and have even gone so far as to have one Friday night where people prayed in our home and then ate and shared their hearts with each other.  We are beginning to host more as well, but the point here is that we are starting to see that the potential of what we have to offer may be bigger and grander than even we had thought at one time.
  6. A retreat.  Over the summer, we brought 16 Hevria members to a beautiful home in Connecticut and spent three days immersed in Jewish creativity. It was utterly beautiful, and I cannot wait for the next retreat.

This was all in one year.  In just one year.  It is almost unbelievable to look back on all that and to see how much has changed in so short a time.  Even crazier?  The expansion of Brooklyn Hevria has inspired communities to grow, expand and follow our model in their own locales.  We now have an Uptown Hevria House (run by Hevria writer Emily Zimmer) which has just begun offering regular creative farbrengens and a Cleveland Hevria House (run by Hevria writer Rivki Silver) which has had so many creative farbrengens that it has already begun to explore things like variety shows and more.

In other words, in one year, we have gone from dreaming of one day hoping to build a Hevria House with regular events to a full-fledged Hevria House with multiple others rapidly being created in other locations.

Which brings us to the the next stage of our dream: turning Hevria from a fledgling online and in-person community to one that is established and growing in more locations.  Our mission is to be the home for creative Jews, and since creative Jews are everywhere, it is our job to be everywhere.  I sincerely believe we will be one day.

So here are our plans for the coming year:

What’s Coming

  1. I am leaving my job at Clal, which has been incubating Hevria for the past few years.  They have been supportive in ways that it’s almost beyond imagining, including allowing me to do some of my work while working for them.  In so doing, they have essentially given Hevria the biggest grant we could have hoped for at this stage by allowing me to use my work time to grow Hevria.Since we have grown so much in the past year, I now have had a choice to face: either begin to drop some of my work for Hevria so that I can continue on as a full time employee or double down on my commitment to Hevria. The answer is obvious, even if the question of my being able to pull this off is up to Hashem and our supporters.  Will Hevria finally become my job?  What I do know is that beginning April 1st, I will have at least begun the steps towards that dream by leaving Clal and either working freelance until we have raised enough for me to take on that commitment, or hopefully having raised enough in the interim to make that happen immediately.This commitment will open us to changes that I am extremely excited to announce.

    In a meeting with our most active members, we began to enumerate the pillars of needs that all spiritual creative communities must have to fully serve their members.  This coming year will be all about fulfilling those needs.

  2. The first pillar: sharing.  This is our biggest strength, from our variety shows to our creative farbrengens to our blog to Neshamas, our work has largely been about creating platforms for our creative members to be heard.  This work will continue to be expanded this coming year with the following initiatives:

    1. More creative farbrengens in more locations. We have already begun planning a creative farbrengen in a suburb of New York for those who have left their Hareidi communities (which will hopefully become a regular affair).  We will also continue growing our offerings in Brooklyn, from queer creative farbrengens to womens’ creative farbrengens to (soon to come) men’s creative farbrengens.  This work, it seems, will be our most important.
    2. Launching an online initiative that allows for anyone to share their writing (something like a Jewish Livejournal/Medium).  We love having guest writing, and we love Neshamas, but the more we can help our members use their voices, the better. If you are interested in this initiative please contact us.
    3. More Hevria Houses. We are working very hard to bring one to Los Angeles at some point, and are always looking for other locations.  I have no doubt that in the next year we will, at the very least, double our locations.
  3. The second pillar: creating.  This came up repeatedly in input from both our online and in-person community.  People need help with more than sharing. They also need help with the actual process of creation.  And so that is why we are planning to launch:

    1. At least one studio space in Brooklyn that will be shared by members to help facilitate creativity.  We are not sure about the exact location, but there has been enough interest that we are sure we can find a place nearby that will be dedicated exclusively to creating a space dedicating to creative expression.
    2. An accountability program, both online and in-person.  One that matches Jewish creatives who are trying to grow with each other so that they can feel accountable to creating more and more deeply.
    3. A space to help people share creative resources (both physical and skills).  In the words of Jeremy Borovitz, our Brooklyn leader, a “creative gemach.”  It has yet to be seen what this will look like, but I cannot tell you how excited I am about this idea.
  4. The third pillar: education.  Creating is great.  Sharing is great.  But growth is a necessary aspect of a creative community.  Which is why education is so important.  Here is what’s coming:

    1. More classes by more people.  We have only begun to scratch the surface of discovering what we can do with this beautifully talented group of creatives.  There is still so much more to be done.  Coming up?  A Jewish death cafe run by New Yorker contributor Kelsey Osgood. A niggun class by our leaders Laura Melnicoff and Elie Benhiyoun. And so much more.
    2. More classes by Rivka and myself.  At the retreat, I led a number of classes, and I have been developing a fear-based writing workshop that I have shared in multiple locations, but the beauty of making Hevria my job will be that I can finally commit to bringing this work into our community on a regular basis.  Rivka will also continue to expand her visual art classes, and my gosh, I could go on, but you’ll just have to see!
  5. The final pillar: community. Yes, community has been a part of what we’ve grown in so many ways, but the idea of having grown a culture of creators together is different than finally, simply bringing them together and allowing them to interact on their own terms.  That’s why this final aspect is perhaps the biggest key to Hevria’s next level of growth.  Here’s what we’re planning:

    1. Shabbat! Thanks to our largest grant to date (thanks to UJA), we are partnering with Congregation Kol Israel in Crown Heights to renovate their kiddush room into a space also made for creatives that will allow us to create a space for multiple creative uses, but which will first and foremost be a place where we hold a monthly “creative Shabbat” similar to what we did in our home.  Our dream, in so many ways, is to finally build a place that is the Nachlaot of the United States: a place for out-of-the-box Jews to fully realize their spiritual selves while also communing and connecting with each other.
    2. Social events.  Run by our the various leaders of our community, we will begin to launch more and more social events here.  Things like bar meetups, dinner parties, and more are all coming to Brooklyn Hevria (and beyond).
    3. Hevria House becoming a true home for creative Jews.  That’s ultimately what this is all about: truly creating a home for creative Jews at all times, and in all ways.  We are taking the steps to make that happen, but it can only happen with your help.  Which brings me to…

Help Us Make It A Reality

Of course, all of these things are just plans.  Dreams.  Strategic, yes.  Planned, yes.  But we need your help to make it happen.  This is a partnership.  Something created together with each other.

There are, of course, so many ways you can help.  Volunteering, helping us get the word out about our work, connecting with us, or simply participating.

But this is also the time of the year that we ask for your help in growing Hevria to its full potential.  We’re doing that by requesting a small donation, anything from $10/month or more, to help us make this a reality.  While grants have been a beautiful engine of growth for us, almost all such contributions tend to be short-lived and unsustainable.  The way we’ll truly make ourselves stand on two feet is with your help.

I have purposefully left this part to the end.  I wanted you to get a full picture of where we are going and how we are building in order for you to see what you’ll be investing in.  So, thank you for reading.  And if you are interested in helping us, we would be beyond thankful for your contribution.  All you have to do is go to this page (our new donation page, hurray!), and contribute what you can.

And (bonus!) if you are near Brooklyn and you donate to Hevria, you can come to our annual creative farbrengen fundraiser, happening this Thursday, January 17th!

Thank you so much.  Whether you are giving or simply reading, you are why we do this work.  And we’re so beyond grateful for you.

With all my love,

Elad