James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

This Shabbat in Iowa City … Getting a minyan (2 of 3)

with 3 comments

Agudas Achim Congregation in Iowa City, Iowa.

This is part one of a three part series. – Read Part 1 – The Torah portion – Va-ethannan Part 2 – Getting a minyan and Part 3 – The importance of egalitarianism in the Jewish hinterland.

A minyan is an assembly of ten Jews.  Who counts in determining if you have ten will be considered in the next post.  The focus here is the number ten.

Certain religious activities require a minyan.  One is reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer.  Another is reciting the Torah in the morning service.  Both of these are routinely important reasons to gather a minyan – even among more liberal Jews.

The problem that some communities in Iowa have is that there aren’t ten Jews in town …  or at least not ten who are healthy enough to regularly make it to the synagogue.  There are a fair number of dwindling and aging communities.  A handful of Iowa City Jews make a periodic trip to Ottumwa, an Iowa town experiencing this problem, just to bring a minyan to them.

Iowa City is the sort of place that should not have this problem.  There are at least a couple hundred Jewish families here.  Unfortunately, this is also a University town and that means people are gone a lot in the summer (not to mention that many are apathetic year-round).  On Friday evenings during the academic year there is usually a minyan at both the one synagogue and Hillel.  But, in the summer it is not surprising if a Shabbat morning service fails to get its required ten.

On this past Shabbat, it looked like we might fail to get a minyan about an hour after the service was scheduled to begin (services often run over two hours, but they start late and the minyan really matters about an hour or so into the service).  In Iowa City, it is routine that someone will leave  services and start making calls (Jews reading this should consider the Halachic implications) to gather the last few of a minyan.  I work about two blocks from the synagogue and, for occasional non-Shabbat services, I have received such a call and made the minyan.

This Shabbat turned out to be ok.  We actually had twelve Jews gathered together by the time we read from the Torah.  If we had been missing just three of them we would not have read it.  That is a small margin upon which to rely.

Many Jews in more densely Jewish areas never have this experience.  In Iowa, one in 500 people are Jewish; in New York, one in eleven are Jewish. Many places that are more Jewish than Iowa have many minyanim throughout the week.  It is a unique challenge to be a Jew in Iowa and this is a big part of that challenge.  Jews in places like this have to be proportionately more active just to meet basic religious needs.


Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Posted in judaism, other

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. I keep wondering why you always omit mention of the Chabad house when mentioning Iowa City Jewish institutions that conduct events like Shabbat services, etc.


    Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm

  2. Do they ever get a minyan for Shabbat with local Jews? Every once in a while, I know they get enough visitors, and if you need an Orthodox minyan, I know Avremel is very helpful. However, I don’t think of then as ever having a Shabbat minyan. Am I wrong?


    Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 10:24 pm

  3. Also, when Sukkot, Purim, and probably Hanukkah come up, I suspect I will mention Chabad more because those holidays tend to be the ones where the rest of us fall behind and Chabad takes the lead.

    I suspect the reason why I mention Chabad less is that I am not Jewish according to Chabad. Avremel and Chaya have always treated me with the utmost respect and courtesy, and I am very glad that they are here to help elevate Jewish observance in Iowa City. However, my involvement with Chabad will almost always be at a lower tier. I will never be called to lead and I will never be asked to join a minyan at Chabad. I want to support them for all that they do here, but Hillel and Agudas Achim will always be interested in my involvement at a much more significant level.


    Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 10:31 pm

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