What to Expect
Are you looking for a diverse, dynamic community that offers many paths to prayer and practice, myriad ways to pursue peace and justice for your community and for the world, and a truly transformative Jewish experience?
If so, you belong at BJ.
What is B’nai Jeshurun?
B’nai Jeshurun (BJ) is an independent, spiritually vibrant, social justice-rooted, egalitarian Jewish community. Our members and leadership draw from their diverse Jewish, ethnic and geographic backgrounds to create rich and meaningful community life here in New York City—and increasingly, around the world! BJ was founded in 1825 by a group of spiritual trailblazers: Ashkenazi congregants from Congregation Shearith Israel (the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue, whose members were primarily Jews of Sephardic descent), who wanted a spiritual home that aligned with their values and customs. Ever since then, BJ has broken new ground with innovations in our music and prayer, deep commitment to social change, and family and youth programming.
So, is BJ Conservative? Reform? Something else?
Like many of us, BJ’s been on a Jewish journey since its founding. We started out Orthodox, became Reform, then Conservative. And now, we are independent and not affiliated. Our services and practices draw from the depth and breadth of Jewish tradition and geography, though they are most closely aligned with Conservative Judaism. We use the siddur (prayer book) of the Conservative movement.
What are services like?
Our services are musical, joyful, and spiritually uplifting. Services are mostly in Hebrew and follow the traditional prayer structures; the rabbis always announce page numbers so that everyone can follow along. On Shabbat and Holidays, we use the Lev Shalem siddur. “Lev shalem” means full heart, and we hope the services leave your heart a little more full and open. If you don’t read Hebrew and want to follow along, no problem! Transliterations are available (see “Where can I find…” below).
Music is a huge part of BJ’s spiritual life, and you’ll hear melodies from all over the Jewish world. Sometimes we bring in piyutim (liturgical poems) and supplementary songs for holidays or other special moments, and these will be provided on a separate sheet of paper.
What should I wear?
There’s no hard and fast dress code at BJ. Some people like to elevate Shabbat by wearing something special or dressy, others keep it comfortable and casual. Following one Jewish mystical tradition, some people like to wear white on Friday nights.
For Shabbat and holiday morning services, many people wear a tallit (prayer shawl). We ask all Jewish adults who are participating in the service in any way (opening the ark, carrying the Torah, etc) to wear a tallit at that moment. Beyond that, it’s up to you. Additionally, we ask all who identify as male to wear a kippah or head covering while in the Sanctuary. If you don’t have a kippah or tallit, we have plenty of extras!
Can I take pictures?
We are proud of our beautiful Sanctuary and definitely think it’s Instagram-worthy—but if you’re here on Shabbat or a holiday, please don’t pull out your camera and start snapping. We keep the Sanctuary technology-free on these sacred days to keep them, well, sacred.
What about my phone?
As we like to say, you don’t need a cell phone to connect with God. So turn off your ringer, put your phone away, and take a break from all the texting and calling and pinging and ringing. We promise you’ll survive without it during the service (and who knows, you might even find a few tech-free hours to be positively blissful!).
Why are there TWO different red books? That’s confusing!
We know, and we hope this clears things up!
The smaller red book is the Lev Shalem siddur (prayer book). You’ll find these on the seats or in the “book hammock” under the seat when you come in. The larger red book is the Etz Hayim humash (Pentateuch), which contains the Torah reading and selections from the Prophetic books and is used only during the Torah service.
On Friday nights we use only the Lev Shalem because there is no Torah service, while on Shabbat and holiday mornings we use both.
And the blue book?
The blue book is called Sim Shalom, and it is the older version of the Conservative movement’s siddur. It does include all of Shabbat services, and the rabbis announce page numbers for both the Lev Shalem and the Sim Shalom—so you are welcome to use it. It also contains services for weekdays, which the Lev Shalem does not, and we use it at morning minyan during the week.
Why do people turn to the right at certain points of the service?
You’ll notice that when we get to the Amidah—the standing prayer that is part of most services you’ll attend at BJ—the rabbis invite people to rise and turn to face Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). It is a tradition to face toward Jerusalem during this prayer, directing our bodies and souls to that ancient, holy city. Since the seating in our Sanctuary faces north, people turn eastward at this point in the service.
Can children be in the Sanctuary?
Some of us are quite familiar Murphy’s Law of Parenting #137, which states that a child will have the loudest, wildest tantrum during the rabbi’s sermon or otherwise silent part of the service. With that in mind, we try to balance having the beautiful presence of children in services with our commitment to creating an environment that allows for quiet, spiritual reflection. So please bring your children to the main service! Kid melting down? Don’t worry—we’ve been there. Hopefully the toys and books in the back corner can offer some distraction, but if it’s getting too crazy, we invite you to bring your child outside the Sanctuary for a breather. We also have several children’s and family services for different ages; check our website or ask a greeter for information.
At the end of Friday night and Shabbat morning services, we invite children up to the front of the Sanctuary for a special blessing (and a lollipop!).
Where can I find…
- The siddurim (prayer books)? On the first floor of the Sanctuary: each chair/seat, or in the book hammock underneath the seat; extras on the carts in the back. On the balcony level: on the pews, and extras on the shelves just outside the doors to the balcony. Large print copies are available and can be found on the carts in the back of the sanctuary.
- The humashim (Torah reading books)? On the first floor of the Sanctuary: on the carts in the back. On the balcony level: on the shelves just outside the doors to the balcony.
- Kippot (head coverings)? In baskets at the check-in station and on top of the book carts
- Tallitot (prayer shawls)? On the rolling carts in the vestibule of the Sanctuary
- Transliterations: There is a transliteration for almost all of the Friday night service in the prayer book itself. For Shabbat morning, pick up our booklet that has transliterations of all the prayers that are sung or recited out loud.
- Hearing devices? On top of the book cart immediately to your right when you enter the right-most Sanctuary door (eastern entrance)
- Bathrooms? Down the eastern stairs one flight you’ll find a single use, a men’s room and a women’s room. Walk through the link in the northwest corner of the Sanctuary to 89th Street, and you’ll find two all-gender restrooms. Please use the restroom that aligns with your gender identity. All restrooms have diaper change stations.
- Someone who can help me? Please approach our greeters, who are standing at the door wearing name tags; any staff members, who wear name tags; or any of our trustees, who also wear name tags.
God? That is definitely a mystery, but we hope you’ll have some sense of encounter with the divine while you are here.