by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder of Kehilat Hadar
In April of 2001, Mara Benjamin, Elie Kaunfer and Ethan Tucker met at the Abbey Pub to draw up plans for a new Shabbat morning minyan: full traditional liturgy, entirely lay-led, spirited davening and use of creative melodies, a 5-minute Dvar Torah, Popems at kiddush. Later that month, 60 people packed into a one-bedroom apartment on 110th Street for Shabbat morning minyan; thus was born Kehilat Hadar.
Kehilat Hadar outgrew 14 spaces that first year, all the while adding additional services. Some of the early highlights included: Tisha B'Av in Central Park, Friday night davening on the roof of the Key West, Simchat Torah dancing at El Taller Latino Americano cultural center, Purim at the Franciscan Community Center. By October of 2001, we chose a name for the minyan. In the first year alone, 120 people led davening or read Torah. The Gabbai leadership expanded to include Debbie Kaufman, Adam Wall, Debbi Bohnen and Josh Greenfield.
In 2002, Kehilat Hadar held its first annual Shavuot retreat; 75 were expected, 240 signed up. That fall, Kehilat Hadar held its first High Holiday services (at St. Luke's Hospital), where Rabbi Julia Andelman and Aryeh Bernstein led davening, and Rabbi Shai Held served as scholar in residence. Close to 500 people came to Yom Kippur Davening. Kehilat Hadar also launched the weekly Beit Midrash at the JCC in 2002, which has drawn over 1,000 in its first 6 years to explore Jewish texts in the original through havruta (in partners) study. Rabbi Shai Held became Scholar in Residence at Kehilat Hadar at 2003 and continued to serve in this distinguished capacity through High Holidays of 2008.
Kehilat Hadar continued to grow, and as members of the community left New York, others moved in, and assumed leadership roles. In 2004, the community structure expanded to include a Leadership Team of 20 people who help coordinate Kehilat Hadar's ongoing program activities, participate in various Kehilat Hadar policy decisions, evaluate current programs, and design future initiatives.
In 2005, Dr. Shuly Schwartz donated a sefer Torah to Kehilat Hadar written in memory of Rabbi Gershon Schwartz; community members chose the verses to decorate the Torah cover. In 2007, Kehilat Hadar purchased a second sefer Torah from the Avenue Z Jewish Center, and celebrated its arrival with a Shabbaton in 2008.
In 2009, Kehilat Hadar began meeting weekly on Shabbat mornings and broadened its leadership structure to include a Shamash Team of individuals who help to run services in partnership with the Gabbaim.