Lipaz Ela and Oz Fishman are two young Tel Avivians who have established a fascinating social venture that combines Judaism, tradition and food. They founded “Minyan”, a series of Shabbat meals for 10 influencers each time in Tel Aviv, with good food and deep Judaic content. Their goal is to make Judaism “cool and contemporary,” and dream of establishing a modern Israeli-style synagogue that is also a cafe in Tel Aviv.
Ela is an educator in the field of Jewish-Diaspora education and education for Israel. She was an emissary for the Jewish Agency in many countries around the world. Fishman is an urban designer and lecturer at Bezalel, but also has a background in Jewish diaspora relations: He was international president of BBYO and was raised in San Francisco to Israeli parents. He was a JDC emissary in Argentina and worked on creating an infrastructure for Zionist youth movements in Latin American countries.
During COVID-19, both Ela and Fishman decided they wanted to do something for their souls and focused on trying to “change the face of Israeli Jewry.”
Ela grew up in a traditional mizrahi family in Jerusalem and found her personal connection to Judaism while in a delegation to the US. “Only in the US did I realize that there are 50 shades of Judaism,” she said.
She explained that “I’m a complex woman: there’s ‘Tel Avivan Lipaz’ who is cool, but there is also the ‘Jewish Lipaz’ who is philosophical and loves to study Rambam texts in a Beit Midrash (Torah study hall). I couldn’t find a place that suited these two identities.
"People said: you can go to a synagogue and pray in the women’s section or join a very progressive community. I couldn’t find a young community that suited my situation and lifestyle in Tel Aviv.”
Creating a "Third Space"
Ela and Fishman decided, after much discussion, to create a third space, which isn’t a synagogue or your average cafe.
The concept of a Third Space is a sociocultural idea in which a space is designated to serve as a communal space, distinct from the home (First Space) or work (Second Space).
Ela explained that “once, the Third Space was Synagogue. People would go there for prayer services and also to hear a short class. In Tel Aviv as an urban space, the Third Space is divided into community cafes or bars. The cafe is a space that is both a community and a culture.”
Ela and Fishman first met in a cafe in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentin, where they
"We want this cafe to be a cultural center that brings people together but the framing will be Jewish - which suits us in the intersection of our identities”Lipaz Ela
both lived at the time. “We still always meet in this cafe, which is sort of the center of our neighborhood," said Ela. "We decided to establish a cafe that will include values that are in synagogues. We want this cafe to be a cultural center that brings people together but the framing will be Jewish - which suits us in the intersection of our identities.”
Up until now, they’ve been working in “pop-up” mode. Fishman explained that “our Friday night meals consist of 10 people, a minyan. Every participant comes from a different field of occupation: an architect, a music producer or an interior designer. We interview them ahead of the dinner; mainly about their connections to Judaism.
What is included in a Minyan event?
"One of the events was a collaboration with a wine bar, and during the Friday night dinner, the group discussed 'the connection between humans and the earth,'" Fishman continued.
"The event lasted 3.5 hours and we learned about shmita (the seventh year of the agricultural cycle during which Jews are forbidden to do any agricultural activity), and how to connect to the ideals of shmita in our own personal lives.”
Each dinner has a theme centered around Jewish food from a different diasporic community each time. The first event offered its participants Jewish-Kurdish food and the second event had Persian-Jewish cuisine. The food isn’t catered but rather prepared by “Jewish mamas” as Ela called them, saying that “we try to make sure that we serve homemade food, that tastes as if you were eating at someone’s house.”
Fishman adds to Ela's description of the events, saying: "We held an event in a stunning loft in Jaffa. Everyone got a glass of wine and a note with one of the participants' names on it. We then had a discussion about the meaning of Shabbat, citing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. We then said goodbye to the week that had ended and discussed the difficulties that we went through. I then told a story about my grandparents and Lipaz said a few words inspired by this week’s Torah portion."
The first two events were open to participants at no cost, but in the future they hope to adapt a business plan that will cover the expenses.
“Until now we’ve been a popup venture,” said Ela, “but in the next few weeks we’ll be starting to promote an online fundraising campaign in order to be able to open our own synagogue-style cafe.”
“Our cafe will be designed in a way reminiscent of a synagogue,” Fishman explained, “The idea is that you'll enter the space and notice something different: Graffiti of the Talmud; Jewish elements. A synagogue should be a place that unites you in every event in life, therefore it is important for us to find a physical space.”
The Minyan venture has received a double grant from the Julius Stulman Foundation which promotes the Israeli Judaism movement. When Ela and Fishman applied for the grant they received double the amount that they had asked for, the reason for which was the Foundation President Stephen Stulman, who said “they’re going to do great things and therefore need more funding.”
"Oz and Lipaz understand that there is no better way to reconnect with Judaism than to experience Shabbat, even for a few hours,” Stulman said, “Israelis have heard too much about the negative commands of Shabbat, they need to experience its peace and joy."