For Yael Shy and Alison Laichter, sitting down together for a morning meditation was just part of their daily routine as roommates. Two years ago, nearly a decade after meeting on a Birthright Israel trip, Shy and Laichter both got jobs in New York — Shy as director of development and education at the NYU Center on Violence and Recovery, and Laichter as an urban planner for the city — and they decided to room together.
“It was through [meditating together] that we began to feel sorry for people who didn’t have this,” Laichter said. “So we thought there should be a center like this in Brooklyn for people.”
And so they joined forces last year to co-found the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn, located in Park Slope, which provides weekly meditation sessions, events and workshops. Some of their favorite activities have included holiday mood workshops, evenings with guest teachers, happy-hour drinking meditations and walking meditations across the Brooklyn Bridge. The center hosts Jews of all stripes and now has nearly 600 people attending sessions, with 80 percent returning at least twice.
“The idea is that you don’t have to be on a mountaintop monastery — you can be in a bar in Brooklyn and be in a ‘present tense,’” Laichter said. “It’s about being awake in your present moment.”
For Laichter, who has studied Buddhism, a meditative strain can be found in many religions, including Judaism. Shy agreed: “The holiday of Shabbat has ideas that are present in meditation. It’s the idea that the world is perfect as it is.”
Laichter wants to expand the center in Brooklyn, as well as hone a replicable curriculum for Jewish meditation centers nationwide, and now has the means to do so — thanks to a two-year grant of $80,000 from the Joshua Venture Group. Meanwhile, Shy is refocusing her energies on a campus-wide Jewish mindfulness initiative at NYU, where she works. She plans to kick off a multifaith spirituality project this fall.
Did you know? Laichter is perfecting the art of cold-pressed coffee and is working on becoming a morning person. Shy loves hiking, thrift stores and swimming in Brooklyn pools. According to family lore, Tom Selleck is her distant cousin
Originally published on June 15, 2010 in The New York Jewish Week by Sharon Udasin