Rabbi Bounces None At MJE Happy Hour

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Young, Jewish professionals filled up the Penthouse at the Attic Rooftop and Lounge for MJE’s second summer happy hour of the season

According to the calendar summer is winding down, but that doesn’t stop organizations like the Manhattan Jewish Experience from delivering the heat.

Last Thursday evening, over a hundred young, Jewish professionals opted out of the standard, humdrum post work routine for a summer happy hour hosted by MJE. In the midst of the glaring midtown mania, guests entered through an unassuming door on west 48th street to navigate a dark, winding hallway that leads to the hidden elevator giving the effect of a speakeasy. In groups of twos and threes, attendees took the ride to the top where they emerged out onto the Attic Rooftop and Lounge.

With grey skies creeping through the city and the looming threat of rain, the event remained unaffected as guests filed into the enclosed, swanky penthouse located just a few steps below the roof.

MJE, the non-profit organization that fosters community building for young Jews through a series of programming, spiritual, educational and social events, has been hosting summer happy hours for the past 12 years. But it’s within the last two years that these nights out have gotten a new jolt. “We kind of rebranded them,” said Rabbi Ezra Cohen, director of MJE Downtown. (MJE’s happy hour events used to be a cocktail hour held on the roof of the Jewish center on the Upper West Side). “The new launch is a little more networking oriented and off site. We come to you,” said Cohen referring to the new rotating list of hip venues throughout Manhattan the organization has taken over for the occasional night. In July, their kick off summer happy hour was at Up on 20 on west 31st street.

Cohen finds that the post work gathering hits a sweet spot for busy and easily distracted New Yorkers. “It’s meant to be casual and we specifically do the happy hour slot because we know people in New York are double and triple booking their nights so we try to be the first move after work,” he said. Procuring a low key vibe is another benefit of transitioning seamlessly from being in 'office mode' to socializing. “People walk in with their laptops and bags," said Cohen. "It lowers the red rope feel of clubs and parties in New York that are sometimes uncomfortable.”

And you wouldn’t have found any restricting rope or intimidating security with fate-yielding clipboards on Thursday: the bouncer was a friendly rabbi who just can’t say no. “I’m a pretty bad bouncer because I let everyone in, we want to welcome everybody,” said Cohen who stood at the door taking names.  

Cohen adds that these evenings out don’t carry any particular agenda. Like so many young, Jewish professional social outings, there is often the tacit knowledge and sometimes overt gimmicks pushing the goal to get people on the dating train: next stop chuppa. “These (events) are under the social umbrella of work, dating, or friendship. It doesn’t take on that high pressure 'singles' feel. We also have a pretty strong staff presence at all our events to make sure people are connecting to each other but it’s not necessarily dating focused,” said Cohen.

Executive director David Miller, MJE East director Rabbi Johnathan Feldman, MJE West director Atara Neuer, director of communications Michelle Soffen and new to the MJE tribe — community engagement director Rabbi Joshua Klein (who goes by Shuki Klein), were among the staffers facilitating connections among the crowd. Inside, the Attic’s in house DJ spun electric and hip hop tracks to kick the mood into a festive gear as guests used their complimentary drink tickets to cool off with cocktails and cold beer. 

Some attendees were MJE neophytes while others are well seasoned participants. Amanda Winn, 25, who works at a healthcare tech start up, just won an MJE educational fellowship that begins in September. “I really like MJE in particular, I love the staff. I have gone to other places while they’re all great I think I just really connect well with the MJE community,” said Winn. “While I appreciate the religion programs they provide I also appreciate that they have events like happy hours or baseball games. When building a community it’s important to do things not just religiously, but also for fun,” said the Upper West Sider.

Winn brought out friends who were looking for ways to get involved in the Jewish community without jumping in full force. “It gave them a good little taste of Judaism,” said Winn. Looking around the chic venue Winn said, “The community is what makes it important, it doesn’t really matter where you are. I think it’s really beneficial if you go into it with a good mindset and step outside of your comfort zone a little bit.” One of those friends spilled her drink on Winn taking them both outside of their comfort zones for a minute – but luckily they were both in good mindsets.    

“The simple thing of doing happy hour in midtown after work on Thursday is people are revving up for the weekend," said Cohen who mentioned that turnout for events double for their weekday happy hours. “It’s kind of a secret sauce.”

Turns out the sauce was to people's tastes — attendees stayed over an hour after the event was scheduled to end.

MJE’s final happy hour of the season will be taking place on September 15th with further details to come. Other fall events to look out for are their Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services happening at their three sites: MJE East, MJE West and MJE Downtown.


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