With a traditional pop-up book, a three dimensional figure or scene leaps off the space of the two-dimensional page. Intended to surprise and delight, the contemporary usage of the term “pop-up” more broadly refers to temporary, ad hoc, and event-particular ventures that appear in unlikely venues at which people and things are mingled into unexpected combinations. Associated with supper-clubs, “pop-up restaurants,” in particular, are a relatively new trend among the hip, young and millennial. In the same spirit, “Pop-Up Judaism” would refer to Jewish events in which informality takes pride of place. It appears where you don’t expect to find them, outside the synagogue and family table, in bars or on rooftops, Shabbat supper-clubs in an intimate living space meant to invite strangers. About pop-up, you can read more here. Pop-up Judaism is sort of “post-Jewish.”
Debra Nussbaum Cohen writes about it here at the Forward. With a brief nod to pop-up boutique, she doesn’t name it pop-up Judaism per se. But that’s what she’s talking about, including “musical Shabbats for young families in an upscale Brooklyn condo building to pot luck suppers and lots of singing with hundreds of 20- and 30-somethings around the corner; and from a monthly Ecstatic Mincha that pairs dancing with prayer to a private Kol Nidre service for Russian families on the Upper East Side.”
Experimental, impromptu, and intensely curated, Pop-up Judaism places a premium on art and community. It’s also entrepreneurial, consumer driven, with an eye on a demographic niche. It’s big in Los Angles and New York, in particular Brooklyn with a large demographic mass of Jewish millennials; also in Boston, Baltimore, and San Francisco. Pop-up Judaism is utopian in the sense that these events are not dedicated to a single set space. Drawing roughly form the from the same social class, it’s both intimate and transactional. The energy comes from the combustion of perfect strangers sitting down at a table.
Quoting Rabbi Laurie Phillips, who has led Shabbat picnics with musicians and runs Shabbat gatherings called Beineinu, on the Upper West Side and in Harlem, Nusbaum Cohen writes, “The Shabbat evening picnics have attracted “every age, every household configuration,” she said. “Typically, a synagogue space is not informal that way. You can’t take off your shoes or be sitting on the floor.” Pop-up Judaism spans the movement divide, drawing in nomadic Jews from the ex-ultra-orthodox to Reform Jews and disaffected Jews. Matt Green – a Reform rabbinical student is known as “The Grindr Rebbe” because he uses the gay hookup app Grindr to connect LGBTQ Jews.”
Also at the Forward, this related article by Juliana Shnur, which you can read here, addresses ownership of Judaism by millennials. Here’s the takeaway. Maybe instead of worry about millennials, the organized Jewish community needs to hand over the keys to the car.
Described at Edible Brooklyn, which you can read here and here, as a Jewish-derived dinner-party-supper-club hybrids , Pop-Up Judaism is serious about food. It’s part of that culinary flash mob scene . As described, “But dinner guests, Jewish or not, seem most interested by a new experience, a good meal and friendly company — not the religious inclinations of their tablemates. ‘They’re coming for the community,’ said Cheskis-Gold, ‘and they don’t care whether the people they meet are not Jewish; the Jewish folks who are there give a little talk about the [dinner’s] theme and make sure everyone knows what it’s about.’”
And it’s very serious food indeed. Mentioned here by Elissa Goldstein at Tablet are “a few items that really stood out: The Gefilteria’s pickled watermelon rind (sweet and sour, with just a hint of crunch), as well as their roasted beet borscht, which was totally sublime. (The key, I discovered, was to serve it with creme fraiche, not sour cream.) Shannon Sarna’s “everything” bagel-challah rolls were just that—delightful ‘hybread’ rolls akin to challah in texture, and bagels in flavor, which I think encompasses pretty much everything you could ever want in a bread product. For me, the highlight of Melanie Shurka’s main course wasn’t the centerpiece (a beautifully presented Cornish Hen), but the trimmings: parsley-cilantro fritters, an arugula salad with charred cauliflower and hazelnuts, and tahdig—that coveted, crunchy Persian rice scraped from the bottom of the pan.”
In that it requires a critical mass of people from which to draw, Pop-Up Judaism is big-city, urban Judaism at its best. It depends upon a mix of intimacy and anonymity. And back to the Pew survey from I’m forgetting which of the articles cited above, “something like more than 60 percent of Jews in that 20-40 range are not connecting to Judaism through traditional means — synagogue, keeping kosher, they’re marrying outside of Judaism,” said Cheskis-Gold. “But 96 percent of Jews said that it’s important to them to be Jewish. And I just felt like the future of my generation is going to be different than [that of] the generations past. We’re seeking it out in a different way.” At the end of the day, what is contemporary Judaism? A work of art, a form of “life,” or nothing at all? Feeding off good nutrition, which Aristotle tells us is at the base of all life, the most basic element of soul, contemporary Judaism requires palpable energy.