It’s Friday night and we’re in Harlem, welcoming the Sabbath Queen into Lab/Shul’s pop-up, tea-lit, live-music gathering at MIST Cafe. One hundred years ago my great-grandmother lived 500 feet from where we sat. Seriously. As a secular Eastern European immigrant, she likely never prayed in any of the half-dozen synagogues that one would have found just steps away. Quite possibly, however, she swam at the first of the “shuls with a pool” right across the street. Whether she actually joined any of the young people who branched out from the gym to attend services I doubt..but who knows?
My grandmother might have been surprised by the completely unique mix of 150 or so people of every age, gender, color, zip code, and background that had gathered in circles to sing, dance, play and pray. But even still, when Amichai guided us all in hand-feeding clementines and almonds to our fellow congregants as part of the night’s radical take on the Tu B’Shvat “Fruit Feast,” I felt the connection to 1916, when Harlem was not only the third-largest Jewish community in the world, but was apparently diverse, progressive, and inclusive. The beauty of Lab/Shul’s “experimental” community is in its consistent and constant reminder that Jewish ritual and tradition is just waiting to be rediscovered, and be reclaimed.
– Shira Epstein, Lab/Shul-er