My organization, Tkiya, uses participatory music experiences to help people of all ages find their unique connection to Jewish culture and to reinvigorate diverse Jewish communities. The work that we do aligns with each of Rabbi Sid’s propositions to varying degrees. Additionally, I believe that our work advances areas of Jewish life that are not contained within these four propositions.
The first proposition states Jewish institutions need to offer multiple avenues to explore chochma or wisdom. When I describe the need for Tkiya’s work, I open with “as fewer non-Orthodox Jews are self-identifying as Jewish, it is important to acknowledge that it is becoming increasingly difficult for many Jews to connect with a religion and culture so historic in a world so modern”. On a daily basis my team works to create new and innovative experiences that meet families where they are and helps them to connect with their heritage in their own way. On any given day we offer everything from a family singalong at a childrens’ playspace to a Shabbat service and everything in between. In fact, more than a dozen synagogues have partnered with Tkiya to help them think outside the box (or outside the Shul) and reach families in new ways. In an era where every aspect of our lives is customizable, we need to follow suit!
Proposition two speaks to the need of the Jewish community to provide more ways to engage in social justice. In the past year, we have created opportunities for families to advance tzedek through various service projects. We are currently working on a series of events through a multi-tiered partnership with Romemu and PJ Library, completely centered around bringing families together to create love in action. We kicked of the series with a big Chanukah event this past December at the New Jewish Home which was so innovative it caught the attention of the press!
Proposition three, kehillah/community, is the entire basis on which I built Tkiya. After studying and teaching music and dance in Uganda, I came back to New York with a specific idea of “community music”, where people come together to celebrate their culture and community through music. I discovered that community music schools in New York were not what I thought they should be. Furthermore, there were no organizations centered around Jewish community music specifically. Fast forward 4-5 years, and the need that inspired the founding of Tkiya is being consistently reinforced. When I hear from families in Brooklyn and Queens who are interested in Tkiya’s programs, the emails often read “we are looking to be involved in any kind of Jewish community”. And testimonials from families who attend our programs often speak to how valuable the experiences have been to help them make connections to other Jewish and interfaith families. I always knew that this is a value Tkiya was providing to families. What I didn’t know is that they were conscious enough of that need to articulate it themselves.
Proposition four speaks about offering a glimpse of kedusha, or sacred purpose. Although I never thought about it in this way before, this seems very aligned with Tkiya’s approach to Judaism. Our experiences offer participants an unintimidating taste of Judaism that gets them excited for more. This is an entry point that a lot of institutions are missing and is why more organizations are partnering with Tkiya to assist in engagement. Through these partnerships we are lucky enough to be able to provide Jewish experiences at no cost to participants.
What makes Tkiya successful is twofold. One aspect that is unique to our approach to Judaism through music is our background in education which helps us tailor experiences to make them effective and engaging. The other is our flexibility and adaptability. Many Jewish institutions try to appeal to a wide audience but they are not able to translate it into practice. In fact, I originally envisioned Tkiya as a physical place. The transient model was temporary due to financial restrictions. However, in our first two years it became clear that flexibility was the key to our success. Tkiya’s impact is maximized through our ability to adapt and meet families where they are at, physically, emotionally, and religiously. We look forward to continuing to expand our partnership network to reinvigorate more and more Jewish communities in the New York Metro Area and beyond!
Carla Friend holds a Master’s Degree in Music Education from NYU and a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Ithaca College. Since founding Tkiya, Carla’s impact has rapidly spread across the New York area and she is recognized as an expert in family engagement and early childhood music.