You’ve heard of a garage band — but what about a garage minyan?
A garage band plays a simple and raw form of rock ‘n’ roll, inspired by bands like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. It’s a back-to-basics sort of thing where fans are interested in the essence of the genre without a lot of added gloss to the music.
And while Judah Cowen wouldn’t necessarily say that garage bands influenced his decision to start a minyan in his garage, it would be fair to say it shares some characteristics with the musical style.
A former president of B’nai Emunah Chabad in Greenfield, Cowen recently moved his family to Squirrel Hill, making a Shabbat walk to Greenfield challenging.
Enter The Minyan, housed in Cowen’s garage — although he doesn’t intend for it to stay there.
Think of it as an independent record label in a world of corporate rock, one where artist development is crucial.
“I wanted to create a space where people could grow and help other people grow,” Cowen said. “I think the community needs that. I think my family needs that.”
And just like a garage band featuring the backbeat of Ringo Starr, the surf guitar of Dick Dale and the type of 8-track, straight-to-tape production not often heard anymore, Cowen is interested in providing a place for everyone, regardless of what denomination they call home.
The Minyan, meeting about once a month, is a place for people of all Jewish backgrounds—Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Hasidic, Lubavitch and everything in between, Cowen said.
“It’s everyone’s place,” he added. “I know when I’m around people that aren’t like me, it helps me grow.”
Despite being in its infancy, the turnout has been better than expected, especially since it’s organized by word-of-mouth and a WhatsApp group.
About 25 to 30 men, 18 women and 40 children typically attend The Minyan, Cowen said. Better still is the enthusiasm shared by the group.
Cowen planned on meeting monthly and seeing how the minyan grew. The last get-together occurred after just three weeks, and people soon began asking when the next one will be held.
The owner of Elegant Edge Catering, Cowen attended a yeshiva as a child and traveled to Israel to complete his rabbinic training before deciding to focus on a career in the food service industry. He studied in Hong Kong, working in several prestigious kitchens.
As a result, you won’t find the caterer “fronting the band” and guiding services. Instead, he said that there is a congregational approach to leading prayers. For now, there is no rabbi or cantor taking the lead, but that could change as the minyan grows.
“Right now, we’re so new,” Cowen said. “There’s a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of potential to do good things.”
Other communities have something similar to The Minyan, he said, noting that groups of like-minded people can get a lot done.
Cowen doesn’t fear The Minyan burning out like a one-hit wonder, though, despite its relative newness.
“I have no idea where it’s going to take us, but it’s going to be somewhere good,” he said.
Noah Schoen met Cowen through his work with “The Meanings of October 27,” an oral history project created in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Schoen said The Minyan has a bit of “startup” energy, especially since the group is meeting in Cowen’s garage. Cowen, though, wants The Minyan to be a group project.
“Judah doesn’t want this to Judah’s minyan,” Schoen noted. “He’s trying to play a part in creating another space.”
Schoen said that he appreciates the opportunity presented by the new group.
“I want to be in a community with lots of different kinds of Jews, and there aren’t many places in Pittsburgh where there’s such an explicit invitation for different kinds of Jews to come together,” he said. When Judah invited me, it felt like a wonderful thing.”
The Minyan, it appears, isn’t destined to stay in the garage long. Already, Cowen said, its members are working to find another location right-sized for the growing group.
“We’ve already outgrown the garage,” he said. “We’re looking for space, somewhere that will also take the pressure off the house. It doesn’t have to be permanent.”
No matter how big The Minyan grows, with Cowen as one of its organizers, one thing is certain: no one has to worry about the after-event catering.
“One thing that makes The Minyan so great,” Schoen said, “is the kiddish. The food has been great.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.