An Oasis of Shabbat: MINYAN TLV
Oz Fishman and Lipaz Ela are the co-founders of MINYAN TLV, a Tel Aviv-based organization that builds communities and Jewish experiences that are diverse, creative, and speak the language of now. Tammy Cohen, OneTable’s Vice President, Growth, sat down with Oz to explore what inspired MINYAN how they’re providing tools to help people make Judaism their own, and their recent Shabbat dinner in partnership with OneTable and Asif Culinary Institute of Israel.
Tell me about your background and how you came to co-found MINYAN TLV.
I was born in Tel Aviv and when I was a year old, we moved to the United States. I grew up in the American Jewish community, between BBYO and Ramah. I worked in the Jewish philanthropic world and in the design world for most of my career. When I’m not working on MINYAN TLV, I’m a lecturer and researcher in Urban Design at Bezalel in Jerusalem.
I moved to Israel six years ago for a job and discovered that like Jewish life in America was this wellspring of so many different special expressions of what it means to be a Jewish person in the world, both for people with intersecting identities and also for people that just want Judaism to feel fun and interesting and have a sense of belonging. I couldn’t find that in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was this incredible expression of a very non-religious understanding of Judaism. I wanted to create space for the complexity that it comes along with.
We had so many fun, interesting, creative friends that were looking for a sense of belonging, for a home, and that were looking to get to know themselves, and we wanted to create a framework for that.
A year and a bit ago, we hosted our first Shabbat dinner. 10 strangers, each one of them a leader in their own creative fields. We came together, starting with an opening meditation that led into a really joyous Shabbat experience that included kiddush and delicious food and learning Parshat HaShavuah [the Torah portion of the week]. A few months later, we grew to 20 people.
Last week, we had our 13th Shabbat dinner of people that are coming to celebrate a different kind of Jewish life here in Israel: one that is flexible and interesting and edgy, and knows how to be both traditional and innovative; that knows how to preserve our culture and also how to move it forward. And one that can feel like home, but everybody can bring their whole self to the table.
That Shabbat dinner is one of many experiences MINYAN puts together, including havdalah experiences and holiday celebrations. We have a Beit Midrash that runs in wine bars and coffee bars across the city. The idea is to take the most creative people we know, give them all the tools they need to make Judaism on their own, and see what they can make.
You had a Shabbat this past Friday at Asif in partnership with OneTable. How did that come about?
When we heard that the GA [the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly] was coming to Israel, we were really excited about the opportunity to bring serious, influential Jewish leaders to sit with people like me who are like creating culture in Tel Aviv, who are making the city happen.
The team at Asif has built out this incredible culinary institution that knows how to both take the best of the best of what exists here in Israel, with regards to culinary culture from many, many different backgrounds — Jewish and not Jewish — and write it in like a really beautiful sentence. We wanted to create what we call an oasis of Shabbat, especially in this time in Israel, a moment in which people can just sit down. What if we actually take [Shabbat] rituals and we celebrate the existence of the rituals, and elevate them to a point that they feel so powerful and meaningful and that everything is extremely tight, extremely nice and extremely pleasurable.There was no more logical partner to create like a beautiful culinary experience than Asif.
OneTable is a natural partner because OneTable is Shabbat, at the end of the day. On a personal level, Aliza [Kline, OneTable’s President + CEO] is a very serious professional hero of mine because of her ability to take something that can feel so banal and mundane and to create it into this most beautiful celebrated thing out there. Aliza is also on our Advisory Board. And I don’t think that it would make sense for us to have a Shabbat dinner for young people, including Americans, and OneTable is not providing like the ritual infrastructure for that.
A lot of what we do is to position Shabbat as a fundamental right of every Jewish person to take a break and to gather and to be with people that they love.
How does your background and expertise in Urban Design inform the work you do at MINYAN?
What essentially an urban designer does is to think about the many different levels of the way that society functions and to know how to make physical space to support them, to nurture them, and to create the infrastructure for a society. When I think about creating meaningful experiences at MINYAN it’s actually pretty much the same logic. If we think about Jewish ritual as the connective tissue of what it means to be a Jewish person and a member of a Jewish community — planning a city and planning a dinner is actually not that different.
You create the circumstances for connection and for meaning to be developed among people. A city is not a building, it’s not gonna sit there static. People have to be in it, they have to play with it, they have to let it happen — it’s the same way you plan a dinner. You can design everything down to the tiniest detail but there’s a good chance something will change, and it’ll be amazing whatever happens.
The Big Table, a nonprofit organization that harnesses the power of food to create Jewish community and build connections between Israel and the Diaspora, generously supported this event.