One Friday a month, some 50 students, not always the same ones, visit a different house for a night of Jewish services and a potluck vegetarian kosher dinner.
As part of a current national trend, the East End Minyan is a Pittsburgh nondenominational egalitarian open minyan for young professionals and graduate students consisting of both native Pittsburghers and people new to the city — whether they just moved here or have been living here for most of their life.
Laura Van Metre, 25, of Shadyside is currently a graduate medical student and is EEM’s coordinator and the J’Burgh Shabbat Chairwoman.
“I was looking for what the community needed and what I needed personally and this seemed important,” she said.
David Katz, director of J’Burgh, an organization that serves young professionals and Jewish graduate students, invites anyone interested in the minyan to feel free to join it.
“One of the big things that have taken off across the country are small independent minyanim,” he said. “J’Burgh’s role is to help promote one of these here in Pittsburgh. We feel it is an excellent way for unaffiliated young Jewish adults to celebrate Shabbat and build community.”
The minyan is funded by J’Burgh and a United Jewish Federation outreach grant.
After a couple of years of having Friday dinner with a different group, “Shadyside Union,” Maggie Whelan, 28, of Squirrel Hill felt the need for something different.
Whelan and Van Metre, former presidents of “Maimonides,” got the idea to combine dinner and a minyan while they were reading a New York Times article about the organically forming minyans.
“Laura had a meeting at her house and out of that meeting the East End Minyan name was formed,” said Whelan.
Van Metre said the name reflects the nostalgic, old Jewish neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is a city with a lot of young Jewish people and a huge potential for Jewish life,” she said “In Pittsburgh, there is a need for this group.”
Katz was excited about EEM’s first minyan.
“When we originally planned the first meeting of EEM, we purchased 23 prayer books,” he said. “We thought that would be more than enough and if we get 23 people, we would absolutely be amazed.”
Instead, 45 people showed up for the first meeting, Katz said, and the group’s abundant supply of prayer books turned into a shortage. Katz is ordering more prayer books, and he encourages people to bring their own if possible.
The hard part about developing the minyan, Van Metre said, was getting started.
“The city could have the most vibrant, exciting, dynamic and young Jewish community in the country,” she said. “It just needs the infrastructure and effort because the potential and desire is already there.”
Whelan said the dinner and services, including Kabalat Shabbat, are all run by students.
“It provides a very welcoming atmosphere for people in their 20s looking for a Jewish community,” she said. “It is just a social event, like a dinner party where people talk about whatever they want.”
Whelan said Katz had a big role in the minyan’s popularity.
“I think David publicized it really well, but more importantly I think students and young professionals were looking for something like this in Pittsburgh.”
(Alon Melamed can be reached at email@example.com.)