In the week leading up to his graduation from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), Matt Green was nervously anticipating his upcoming rabbinic ordination, both eager to get started and anxious about the monumental mantle he was about to take on.
After ordination, Green will become an assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE). For the last few years he has interned at the Park Slope synagogue, helping to energize the Brooklyn Jewish community with programs geared at millennial, LGBTQ and unaffiliated Jews. “I’m just a Jew who cares a lot about Judaism,” said Green, who grew up in East Lansing, Mich., attending synagogue that was a hybrid of Conservative and Reform, and now lives in Park Slope.
At CBE, Green revitalized the “Brooklyn Jews” group, attracting young Jews in their 20s and 30s (“who aren’t that Jewy”) to events that fuse Judaism with the arts, politics and social activism. At a “Refugees in Focus” Shabbat meal, for example, dinner was provided by a company that works with Mideast refugees, and a Syrian refugee spoke about his experiences in the war. He’s hoping his approach will have a ripple effect and serve as a model for other area synagogues. “I don’t believe in throwing away our institutions but rather teaching them how to engage with the younger generation and adapt to this environment,” he said.
In his second year at Hebrew Union College, Green launched Grindr Shabbat, using the gay dating app to meet Jews, answer their questions about Judaism, and get them together for Shabbat dinners. The dinners quickly gained popularity, evolving into a solidified, diverse community that attracted not just LGBTQ Jews, but “spanned [the] whole range of Jewish civilization,” Green said.
Here Green developed his intersectional identity as queer and Jewish. “I realize it’s a radical, niche statement but I do think we’re all queer people. In every era and every moment of Jewish culture Jews have always been different and that’s been a centerpiece of who we are,” he said.
All his work since seeks to help his fellow millennials feel more at home. Whether it be coaching OneTable Shabbat dinners, leading Honeymoon Israel trips, curating Brooklyn Jews events, there is no doubt Green has just begun making his mark.
“I’ve never been part of a Jewish community where I felt I fully belonged,” he said. “I want to create that.”
Wise guy: Matt has twice won HUC’s Be Wise Entrepreneurship Fellowship (in 2015 and 2017) for projects focused on millennial engagement.