There was a reward at the bottom of the staircase: Local synagogue representatives were waiting, armed with free High Holidays tickets and factoids about their congregations.
But it would take more to bring the millennials, they knew. It would take a smile and the handing over an empty cup, with promises of forthcoming pinot grigio and prosecco. It worked.
On Aug. 23, Center City Kehillah, Tribe12 and Philly Groups for Jewish Grad Students and Young Professionals hosted a High Holidays Wine Tasting event at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH), and it wasn’t hard to discern the approximately 75 attendees’ favorite part of the night.
“The free wine tasting, obviously.”
“You can’t complain too much about wine.”
“The wine is flowing.”
Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, director of Center City Kehillah, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said a variation of the event has run annually since 2007, aside from 2017. Some people make long-term connections with synagogues, while others attend primarily to obtain High Holiday tickets.
There were a bevy of synagogues in attendance, including Germantown Jewish Centre, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Congregation Mikveh Israel, Mekor Habracha, Society Hill Synagogue, Mishkan Shalom, Kol Tzedek, the Little Shul, Jewish Children’s Folkshul, Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel and B’nai Abraham Chabad, among others.
Gaby Schwartz, who said she used to intern at NMAJH, was looking for a new synagogue and developed a good connection with Society Hill.
“They just seem very inviting,” Schwartz said. “They understand that times are changing. And they’re very youth oriented. I’m in my late 20s, so I’m looking for change, but I don’t have a family. So it’s a nice in-between.”
Mike Asaly was in attendance for a different reason. A recent transplant from New York, the Bryn Mawr resident made the rounds chatting with synagogue representatives and fellow guests, aiming to acquaint himself with the local Jewish community. Munching on cheese and crackers, he noted that his wife was on the other side of the concourse.
“We’re working the room. Divide and conquer,” he said, adding that it’s tough to meet fellow young people in Bryn Mawr because of the town’s high percentage of families.
While many of the synagogues offered free and discounted High Holidays tickets, Mishkan Shalom employed a different approach. The Reconstructionist congregation is ticketless for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, board member Marcy Boroff said, because of its commitment to welcoming members of all economic backgrounds. Instead, they offered three friendly faces and a raffle sign-up.
“Anyone can come. We do ask people for a donation, but we also realize for some people that’ll be $18, and for some that might be $300,” Boroff said. “It’s also our commitment pledge for members: We don’t have a set due amount. We have a self-assessed pledge. Because again, we realize for many people this is the largest donation they make to a single organization, and we really want people to think about it.”
Congregant Davinica Nemtzow summed up Mishkan Shalom’s guiding philosophy.
“I grew up in an interfaith household. I first came to Mishkan when I was in an interfaith relationship. I’m LGBTQIA. There’s never been a part of my identity I’ve felt like I had to put aside,” Nemtzow said. “It’s a place where my Jewish self can exist and my queer self can exist. Like, all at the same time. And it’s a really special place. Even if you’re meeting someone for the first time, you just kind of feel like you’re drawn into this really beautiful group.”
The concourse got more crowded as the event wore on. The lights were dimmed as young professionals and graduate students hopped from table to table, meeting new people and hugging old friends.
One synagogue that left a mark was Rodeph Shalom. The congregation’s representatives handed out blue wine bags emblazoned with the synagogue name.
“We do a lot of roaming Shabbats, which are Shabbat dinners at our young friends home,” congregant Alicia Broudy said. “A lot of times they are potluck and BYO so this actually encourages people to attend our events.”
The wine bags were popular. Almost as popular as the wine.