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Seating Pilot (FALL 2023 / 5784)

Since the founding of Washington Square Minyan over 18 years ago, the community has had a policy of separate seating for men and women (without a Mechitzah). The Minyan has traditionally drawn people from a range of different Jewish backgrounds and practices. The founders of the minyan wanted to create a space in which a range of people from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable (appreciating that the composite of practices—fully egalitarian participation with separate seating—likely isn’t optimal for everyone in every way). Over time, some community members have expressed increased discomfort with separate seating. We held a series of “community conversations” in the spring of 2022, and one specific takeaway from those meetings was that it is time for us to revisit the Minyan’s seating configuration. We are appreciative of everyone who participated in those conversations, as well as those who have continued to engage in respectful dialogue around this topic—both informally as well as more directly with members of the WSM leadership team.

While many of us think of WSM’s Tefillah space as having two separate-gender sections, we in fact have always had three distinct domains: a davening space for men, a davening space for women, and an all-gender ritual space at the Bimah, where anyone can be present when participating in the Torah service or when leading Tefillah. We would now like to experiment with extending this “mixed ritual-leadership space” beyond the Bimah, to create three distinct seating sections for the Kahal (community): men, women, and mixed.

The Vaad has come up with the following plan to help guide our community over the coming months in considering the issue, centering the values of transparency, open-mindedness, engagement, reflection, and learning.

Step #1:
Hold a community Zoom session with Rabbi Ethan Tucker to talk about his article Good Fences Make Good Neighbors on September 10th from 7:30–9:00 pm. The goal of this learning session is to help us frame the issues that have historically been central to the topic of seating, and to seek to understand how the traditional texts might speak to our contemporary reality, and how we can use them to frame our experience of seating in shul. The zoom session will also include an opportunity to ask questions of Rabbi Tucker. Please register for the session by clicking here and we will send you Zoom information. We plan to record the session, so please register even if you are not able to attend the “live” zoom session, and we will send you a link to the recording afterwards. You may find it helpful to read Rabbi Tucker’s article in advance of the meeting. A summary of the full essay, as well as an audio recording, are available here.

Step #2:
Experiment with four Shabbatot this fall, where we pilot a three-section seating model: one section for men, one section for women, and one mixed section. The goal of these Shabbatot is to complement the intellectual learning we do with Rabbi Tucker with an experiential component, and to provide a forum for community members to reflect informally with each other (over Kiddush and lunch) about how the different seating configuration feels in practice. These dates are: 10/28 (followed by a community lunch), 11/18, 12/9 (followed by a community lunch), and 12/30. Please mark the dates on your calendar and plan to attend at least one (if not all!) of the “pilot” Shabbat services.

Step #3:
Solicit input from our community about their experience during these four pilot experiences and any other input they want to provide. Everyone will be welcome to share feedback with members of the Vaad. In addition, official Minyan members will be invited to respond to a more formal survey to help the community leadership understand where folks stand at that point. [Please click HERE to join WSM or renewe your membership for 5784, if you have not yet done so.) Note that we do not envision this as a “vote” per se, but rather as a way of gauging where we, as a community, are.

We hope that some degree of consensus will come from this process of learning, experimenting, and discussing. After these months of engagement we may feel ready to make a decision, and we may not; we will decide our next steps based on community feedback. The values that are paramount in this process are those that informed the founding of the minyan, that continue to define who we are, and that reflect what is so important to so many of us: seeking to create a space that respects a diversity of practice and opinion, while striving to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible. We hope you will all join us in this endeavor from a place of openness, generosity of spirit, and patience.

f you have any questions or comments about this process, please email seating@wsminyan.org, which will go to the WSM leadership team. Please also feel free to reach out directly to any member of the Vaad.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Tue, July 16 2024 10 Tammuz 5784