A congregation at the hostel

It would be stretch to say I enjoy travelling by intercity bus and sleeping in hostels, but if without these accommodations I could not travel, I manage and make the most of the experience and there’s usually some story to tell afterwards. Because the New York Marathon ran over the recent UUCF Revival, I stayed at the Hostelling International hostel on Amsterdam Avenue in the Upper West Side. Very clean and well run, by the way.

Coming back on Saturday night, I saw a sign for KOE: Kehilat Orach Eliezer, evidently not taken down but gone the next morning. A congregation in the hostel? Interesting. My interest deepened when accidentally I got off the elevator on the first, rather than ground, floor and saw a sign to the chapel. Of course I looked, and found an attractive but unadorned room, overlooking the garden courtyard, not unlike a small banquet or dining room from a hotel of the Progressivist Era, which indeed it may have once been. (Quick Internet research shows this isn’t the case; it was built for, and served until 1974, the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, a nursing home operated by a war widows organization, founded in 1814. The former chapel windows were removed and preserved; link. Also, New York Times article from 1988 about the building conversion.)

But back to the congregation, described in its website as “halachic congregation dedicated to serious davening” with what appears to be egalitarian focus. Not everyone can maintain a congregation in a hostel, but KOE has some good ideas for small congregations whatever their faith or piety.

Look at its well-branded Cafe Israel visitation program, and their twelve-hours (yearly) service program along their clear membership giving expectation (with an ability to pay waiver) and the ability to give online by credit card. Note that the religious professional is not a rabbi — though KOE was founded by a rabbi — but is “headed” by a well-educated (her career is in bioethics) and experienced rosh kehilah, present twice a month.

Later. I knew something was up with their leadership situation. It made the papers. The Jewish Week and New York Times. Very interesting.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

1 comment

  1. During Revival, two friends from Minnesota and I stayed at the spooky old House of the Redeemer at 95th St. near 5th Ave. in NYC. I’d previously not heard of it, and when I’ve gotten back to NYC in recent years have usually stayed at the Vanderbilt YMCA year the U.N.

    It really helps,these days, to reserve a room about 8 months in advance.

    I usually find a vegan Chinese kosher restaurant somewhere in the city. This time, I didn’t find time to search for one, usually settling for vegan take out food at some deli or another.

    John Simcox

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