Rabbi Avram Mlotek is a Base Hillel co-founder and the Rabbi of Base MNHTN. In May 2015, Avram was listed as one of America’s “Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Jewish Daily Forward. In 2012, The New York Jewish Week selected him as a “leading innovator in Jewish life today,” as part of their “36 Under 36” section. Prior to joining Base, Avram served as a rabbi in training at The Carlebach Shul, The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, The Educational Alliance and Hunter College Hillel. Avram’s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Forward, Tablet, Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Week, The Huffington Post, and Kveller, among other blogs.
Vennly: What is Base and what inspired its creation?
Avram: Base is a movement and model for home centered spirituality. When I was finishing rabbinical school in 2015, my partner, Yael, and I sat down with our dear friends, Faith and Jon Leener, and imagined what it might look like to empower pluralistic rabbinic couples to open their homes and have those homes serve as convening points for Jewish life. Each Base would be committed to celebrating the Jewish calendar through radical hospitality, learning and community service though every Base would reflect the personality of the couple – a rabbi and partner – who would open their home to do this work and welcome young Jewish 20s and 30s and their friends. Four years later, we’re blessed to have Bases in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem, two in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Berlin with more to come.
Vennly: There’s something incredibly powerful about being welcomed into someone’s home. How do your guests typically react when they come for the first time and what do you hope they get out of the experience?
Avram: It’s usually Ravi (our six year old) or Hillel Yosl (our two and a half year old) who greet folks when they ring our doorbell ever enthusiastically. New York City can be an isolating place despite its largeness and so we feel privileged that our home can be a type of home-base and spiritual grounding point for folks after an exhausting day. Most people who first come through our doors enter for a Shabbat dinner which is usually set for 15-20 guests. We prepare the meal ourselves and everyone shares snapshots of our week over ritual and song. We hope folks will feel spiritually nourished and leave knowing they are not alone.
Vennly: Who are you trying to reach through Base and how do these different groups interact and connect?
Avram: Base was designed by a group of friends for folks our age. It wasn’t thought up in an ivory tower disconnected from people’s experiences. Our target audience remains young Jews and their friends, young people who are spiritually ambitious but religiously apart, seekers searching for connection, community and learning but who don’t necessarily feel at home in a house of worship. Through this work, we engage with a pluralistic array of young people from a variety of backgrounds. Jews of color, queer Jews, spiritual and secular, from Ultra-Orthodox backgrounds to converts make their way to our table to form what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the “beloved community.”
Vennly: For someone who hasn’t attended a Base event, what can they expect and what are the topics of conversation that are frequently discussed around the Base table?
Avram: It depends on the night! Base is about people, not programs, and the relationships that come from encountering the other. On a Monday night, you might experience our Jewish Questions class which is an introductory to Judaism course and also functions as a conversion path for those committed and interested. We’ll ask questions like “What’s a Jewish sexual ethic?” On Tuesdays we prepare a home cooked meal for a local homeless shelter and then come back after breaking bread with our neighbors to explore the weekly Torah portion and whatever questions may arise. On Wednesdays you might take part in Spiritual Readings, our monthly interfaith salon facilitated by a Catholic priest and myself selecting sacred texts from our respective traditions. The topics of conversation vary as the people do; regardless you’re sure to find people who are asking deep questions about themselves, each other and environments they inhabit.
Vennly: As we progress through a new year, what are your hopes and expectations for Base as it continues to grow?
Avram: We hope to build more Bases and more Jewish homes in all their diversity of practice. As Base continues to grow and our communities too, we hope we maintain the spirit and vision that guided us in the first place, that we maintain the close-knit nature of our communities and keep the ‘why we do what we do’ front and center.