Twelve years ago, inspired by the love and legacy of my teacher Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, z’l, I had a vision – literally a dream to start something new, something different, something that transcended my life and included my personal journey. Over the course of the next two years, my personal dream became a collective one, attracting dreamers and seekers yearning for community and connection that was authentically rooted in the past, and sprouting into the future. They were looking for a community of song and silence, learning and longing, body and soul. At the end of two years of trial (and some error), these dreamers/ seekers came together to decide the fate and future of an incredible, audacious project. With love and a leap, that amazing founding core committed to building a space for elevated Jewish life. Romemu was born.
Our first home as a full-time congregation was on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 105th Street, at an uptown affiliate of the YMCA known as the Grosvenor Community House. We prayed in the second floor gym, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Amsterdam Avenue. It was a magical scene, a space where children danced, potluck dinners and lunches built community, where individuals became couples and couples became families, and where a certain rabbi and his future wife celebrated an engagement with dancing and singing under the fiberglass basketball “hoop(a).”
In the fall of 2008, we outgrew Grosvenor and moved not far – in fact just across the street – to our current worship space, the West End Presbyterian Church (WEPC). The move from the southeast corner of 105th to the northeast corner inaugurated the next chapter of Romemu – ushering in an incredible decade of growth and grit. We’ve expanded from our original 75 families to some 600+ members. We’ve added staff, balanced budgets, and built community that has impacted thousands who have come through our doors. Expansion comes with challenges. Though the WEPC space accommodated our larger Friday night services, we were still a dispersed community and organization with three different spaces, including worship services at WEPC, offices on Central Park North and adult education classes in the Solomon Schechter school on 97th Street.
Though WEPC has served our communal worship needs, we had been searching in vain to find a space for everything else. As we’ve grown, we’ve consistently wondered when we might have a space of our own. A space to nurture the sprouts of our growing Seekers Holistic Hebrew School. A home for The Well – our incredible adult education programming. Room to expand our offerings to include a yeshiva that might train people in the meditative, mystical, and textual riches of our tradition. A communal gathering space and welcoming home base for our growing staff. We dreamt of a place that would bring us together. A space that would call us home. We could not have imagined a more providential moment than the one we experienced this past February when that longed-for-space found us – and it wasn’t far from where we started 10 years ago.
When we found out that the Grosvenor Community House was for sale, we leaped out of our seats. We realized immediately that, together with WEPC, the acquisition of the Grosvenor House would offer us the communal space we needed, just 30 feet away from the worship space we will continue to use. We imagined a campus for elevated Jewish life and a partnership with a beloved church community.
We are thrilled to announce that just a few minutes ago, the Romemu community arrived at an extraordinary milestone. After the tireless effort by our talented senior team, our devoted and dedicated Board of Directors, and the deep and expansive generosity of donors and lenders, we have secured the very same space where we began, the Grosvenor Community House, as part of Romemu’s permanent future.
The building, to be called “The Romemu Center,” will be one anchor of an envisioned campus on 105th Street and Amsterdam.
The Romemu Center is both a real estate anchor and an essential piece of our larger vision. Soon it will house our Seekers Holistic Hebrew School, The Well lifelong learning classes, the Romemu Yeshiva (debuting for six weeks this summer), Romemu’s offices, and it will allow us to expand our simhas and community gatherings in a larger space. The Romemu Center will complement the facilities we have across the street, which are equally important.
Concurrently, we have ambitious plans for the sanctuary at WEPC and we are working with church leadership on a timetable for that necessary part of our vision, which includes a truly shared prayer space with the church that is renovated, entirely accessible, and modern. Together, the two facilities will allow Romemu to be a place not only of worship, learning, engagement, and sharing, but also a place to train leaders for a vibrant Jewish future.
The first stage of securing the building at 176 West 105th was part of a “quiet phase” of our campaign and had to happen very quickly due to the nature of Manhattan real estate. We are now thrilled to invite the entire Romemu community to participate in every phase of our growth moving forward, dreaming and imagining with us what this new home will be, what programming and offerings it will provide, and how it will support the neighborhood and broader community in which we live.
We thank the philanthropists, attorneys, real estate professionals, and strategists who have given generously to bring us to this milestone. I want to personally thank Evan Kingsley and Adam Gaynor from Plan A Advisors, our brilliant and passionate board chair Scott Osman, the entire Romemu board, the Romemu staff, and especially Jeff Cahn and Ariel Rosen Ingber.
We look forward to sharing more details and to fielding questions at two “town hall” meetings on October 24th – one at 12 PM via Zoom, and one at 7 PM live at WEPC. Over the months that follow we look forward to initiating individual conversations about all plans.
I look forward to seeing you on October 24th, and to hearing your thoughts whenever you wish to reach out.
This Shabbat, as we read the story of Noah and the ark, we read these words: ‘Tzohar Ta’aseh La’tayvah’ (צהר תעשה לתיבה) – ‘Make a tzohar / צהר for your ark’
Our wisdom masters read the word ‘tzohar’ as both a window and possibly a source of light, a jewel. Window. Light. One, a clear frame that connects inside and outside. The other, a light that radiates, shines, warms.
Our sacred stories remind us that we are not the first ones to experience turbulence and terror, a deluge of destruction and despair. But the story isn’t over. Our story isn’t over. Our sanctuaries and sacred spaces can foster renewed hope and purpose. Windows and lights.
As we embark on this next phase of Romemu, we are excited to continue dreaming and building this remarkable kehila, sacred community.
We have more work to do, more dreams to dream, more lives to touch, more hearts to open, and more ways to make a difference. But for now, a prayer:
May this ark, this new communal home, offer shelter, protection, sustainability, comfort, love, joy, and celebration for this beautiful community, and may it illuminate out and welcome in all who dream and seek to find a community ambitiously trying to live an elevated Jewish life.
Rabbi David Ingber
Founder and Senior Rabbi