Romemu's Popular Rabbi and New Age Prayer Brings Growth — and Challenges

Can Upper West Side Congregation Handle Success?

Wandering Jews: Members of Romemu celebrate Simchat Torah at their temporary home at the West End Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
courtesy of romemu
Wandering Jews: Members of Romemu celebrate Simchat Torah at their temporary home at the West End Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

By Anne Cohen

Published September 20, 2013, issue of September 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

A few moments before starting to say Neilah, the haunting prayers that conclude the Yom Kippur service, Rabbi David Ingber asked an unusual question of the members of his congregation.

What were they praying for?

As three volunteers passed microphones into the pews, the room fell silent. Then, one person stood up. And another. And another.

One by one, in front of nearly 900 people gathered for Romemu’s High Holy Days services, held inside Manhattan’s cavernous Redeemer Presbyterian Church — a space rented specially that day for this wandering congregation — they shared their hopes, their dreams, their regrets and their shame.

Rabbi David Ingber
michael meysarosh
Rabbi David Ingber

It isn’t a scene that you would find in a traditional synagogue, but then, Romemu isn’t your average congregation. This divergent approach to Jewish prayer is attracting a wide range of followers, many of them Jews who feel alienated from traditional synagogues. Led by Ingber and his team, Romemu has gone from a handful of people to almost 500 member families in the past five years, said Ilene Sameth, the synagogue’s executive director. A year ago, there were only 300 member families. In the past two years, Romemu’s staff has doubled, expanding to eight full-time employees.

From its temporary home in the West End Presbyterian Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Romemu seeks to offer a new — but also old — kind of Judaism: a personal sense of community and participation combined with spirituality of both the mind and the body.

“We’re trying to build the 21st-century synagogue and an expanded conversation about what the ultimate aim of a synagogue is,” explained Ingber, founder and spiritual director of Romemu. “It’s not just about Jewish identity, it’s about human flourishing.”

But this impressive growth comes with challenges, foremost of which is financial stability. Though a concern for any congregation, planning for sustainability is all the more important for a synagogue whose numbers include a sizable population of unaffiliated and younger Jews unaccustomed to financial contribution in return for a Jewish experience. The expansion is also challenging the congregation to find a balance between the intimate and personal setting provided in the early days and the growing diversity of its members. This diversity prompts another set of issues, namely how to guarantee a Jewish future for members who come from a wide spectrum of religious observances and Jewish knowledge.

And even some of its strongest supporters worry that Romemu could be hamstrung by its greatest asset — Ingber, with his charisma, skill and appeal.

The Yom Kippur scene, though surprising to outsiders, is nothing new for Romemu. Yoga techniques, meditation exercises, vocal participation, silent contemplation and music are an integral part of the service, based on Ingber’s own experiences with Eastern spiritual practices. The Yom Kippur service included a nine-person band, playing everything from standing base to tribal drums, and new hires include Basya Schechter, lead singer of the folk rock band Pharaoh’s Daughter, as musical director.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.