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The “Because” of Judaism

Kii offers a space for young Jews from across New York City for Shabbat meals, holiday celebrations, and a general place to connect with peers and strangers in a Jewish setting.
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October 5, 2021

One evening in July, I made my way over to a “mixer for young Jewish professionals” at a private home in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The first thing I noticed on arrival was an enormous statue of Vladimir Lenin on the rooftop next door, overlooking the city with his arm outstretched as if he were greeting his subjects. I somehow managed to put this fascination in my pocket and carried on with the evening.  At the event, I met many young entrepreneurs such as Aaron Raimi, the founder of MeetJew University, a Facebook page-turned matchmaking service. I also met Libby Walker, an aspiring comedian who plays a Jewish mother named “Sheryl Cohen” on TikTok. I met men who worked for top publications, women who launched startups in the city, and just-passing-through Jews who wanted somewhere to hang out. 

Our hosts were Rabbi Moshe Mayerfeld and his wife Liat, founders of a new non-profit called “Kii.” Kii offers a space for young Jews from across New York City for Shabbat meals, holiday celebrations, and a general place to connect with peers and strangers in a Jewish setting. A foundational tenet of Kii is “meeting Jews where they are,” and after visiting the Mayerfeld apartment a number of times and bringing friends along with me who found themselves lonely on Friday nights, I can attest to this truth. At any given dinner, Jews are represented from across the religious and cultural spectrum, creating a rich tapestry that seems to be quintessential New York, but in reality is more difficult to come by, as many Jewish spaces in the city are segregated by level of observance.

In Hebrew, “Kii” means “because,” which Liat explained signifies “the meaning and rationale behind concepts in Judaism. Why am I Jewish?”

Kii, pronounced “key,” nods to the English word to indicate unlocking the part of yourself that connects to Judaism. In Hebrew, “Kii” means “because,” which Liat explained signifies “the meaning and rationale behind concepts in Judaism. Why am I Jewish? What is Yom Kippur, and why should I engage with it? Because…” If the silence of the crowd during her husband’s commentary on Sukkot is any indication, the recipe seems to be working:  Young Jews in America finding the “because” of their Judaism is “key” to sustaining their Judaism. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Moshe and Liat earlier this week, and I realized there is much more to Kii than its (delicious) homemade challah. 

Liat and Moshe grew up in the United States but met in Israel. Liat served in IDF intelligence and attended university while Moshe studied in rabbinical school and worked in a Yeshiva program for troubled youth. After an impromptu visit to England to observe its Jewish community, they both decided to pack up life in the Holy Land and begin anew in London. What was meant to be two years of working with young people to reconnect them with Judaism turned into a twenty year stay, bringing with it eight children, trips with college students to Israel, Africa, and Asia, a basketball league, and dozens of marriages facilitated by their welcoming home. They both speak of England quite fondly.

“England is a relatively small place,” Liat says. “And we had seen over twenty years a clear shift in British society toward Jewish engagement. The ones that we knew who didn’t have any connection to Judaism, now twenty years later, they’re raising their own families with a connection.”  Moshe noted that their original alumni in England did not attend Jewish schools, but now, their children certainly do. “We’d like to think we had a part in that,” Liat added, smiling. 

I asked the couple if they have seen the same shift in American society toward Jewish engagement, and without hesitation, in unison, they both responded “no,” Moshe adding: “That’s why we came here.” 

I couldn’t help myself but to stay on this discrepancy for the majority of our conversation. We agreed on the general sense of uneasiness among religious Jews in America amid rising intermarriage rates and the general secularization of younger people. We discussed the expressions of concern from rabbis, Jewish schools, and from elder members of our community. Yet despite it all, Moshe and Liat remain optimistic. 

“We don’t work from a place of panic,” said Moshe. “God has promised us that we’re going to be around forever. No one individual is going to be around forever, but we have an opportunity to connect people with what is going to stay—their Judaism. What greater joy than that?”

Liat and Moshe seek to bring a British success story to America, making their organization a page in the book of stubborn Jewish continuity.

Liat and Moshe seek to bring a British success story to America, making their organization a page in the book of stubborn Jewish continuity. From the loud and dynamic conversations, to the meals, to the thrill of meeting a potential date or networking connection, Kii feels like a home. For many, the loneliness of quarantine continued even as the restaurants and theatres reopened their doors. For many, Zoom shul services and the cancelation of summer camp exacerbated their already fleeting connection to Judaism. In New York City, Kii serves as an antidote to loneliness.  

Toward the end of my first evening with Kii, I approached Liat to thank her for the festivities, but mostly, to inquire about the statue of Lenin that sits atop the neighbors’ roof. She told me the statue was placed there by a wealthy communist who ironically sought to do with his private property as he saw fit. But then Liat digressed, and began sharing stories of her travels in Europe. In Rome, she and Moshe followed a tour guide who brought them to the Arch of Titus, the monument erected to commemorate the sacking of Jerusalem and the expulsion of its Jews in 70 AD. Inspired by the grand rabbi of Ponevezh, the tour-guide instructed them to sing underneath its mighty walls a song along the lines of “Titus, Titus, where are you? Gone are the Romans, here still are the Jews.” Now, Liat mused, her children pass by her apartment, and sing “Lenin, Lenin, where are you? Gone are the Soviets, here still are the Jews.”


Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

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