Uri Cohen and his group of just-out-of-college Jewish friends didn’t know what size crowds to expect when they rented three classrooms and the gym of Manhattan’s Heschel School for a new interdenominational program on a Friday night five years ago. The program, Tikvat Yisrael (Hope of Israel) was sponsoring three concurrent worship services followed by a joint kosher meal.
“I thought we might not get a minyan for one or more of the services,” Cohen says.
Instead, the night was standing-room only. Each minyan — Orthodox, liberal and “traditional egalitarian” — drew dozens of worshippers, about 80 each at the egalitarian and Orthodox minyans.
Since then, Tikvat Yisrael has run four to five similar davening-and-eating programs a year, attracted more than 2,000 people in total, and moved to several larger sites. Next week, Cohen will be honored by the Jewish Community Relations Council at an awards ceremony patterned after a Tikvat Yisrael event.
Cohen, director of development for the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, will receive the first Weinstein Prize for Jewish Accord and a $7,500 honorarium on Tuesday at 7 p.m., at the JCC in Manhattan.
The Weinstein Prize, says JCRC President Janice Shorenstein, “seeks to recognize those special individuals who cross movement lines in order to bring the Jewish community closer together.”
The prize, named for the late businessman and philanthropist Irving Weinstein, “recognizes an individual who is working on an existing project or projects that bridge movement boundaries, lower barriers between Jews and promotes understanding within the greater Jewish community,” according to JCRC.
Which is what Cohen, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who was active in the school’s Hillel chapter, set out to do when he founded Tikvat Yisrael. He calls the program “Hillel for the real world,” where Jews can meet without denominational labels. “I’m tremendously gratified that our program has been successful,” he says.
“Uri has taken on one of the most potentially contentious areas of Jewish life — prayer — and imagined and brought to fruition a way to bring people across the religious spectrum together,” Dru Greewood, director of UJA-Federation’s SYNERGY project, wrote in her nominating statement for Cohen.
An interdenominational committee chose the recipient of the Weinstein Award, and representatives of the three major denominations will speak at breakout sessions as part of Tuesday’s awards ceremony.
“That’s the point — instead of a standard awards ceremony, we are being part of the process of what we’re awarding,” says Rabbi Craig Miller, who works in JCRC’s communal affairs department.