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This may possibly be my strangest presentation yet, but one I am incredibly excited about. I have been invited to speak at the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center at their Thursday night event called ‘Chulent’. Chulent refers to the Saturday food of the Jews – a stew packed with beans and meat and a favorite at Sabbath lunch because it can be cooked before sundown on Friday and kept simmering for hours on end. Chulent the party however is a gathering of the eclectic, the once purely orthodox but now willing to explore the world of ideas and spirituality and more outside of the confines of the strictly pure. Check out this band:

There is a New York Times article about these gatherings – titled City of Refuge, the piece describes these events as:

Chulent is … the name given to the informal weekly gatherings for Orthodox Jews on the margins of their close-knit society that Mr. Schonfeld, a business consultant from Borough Park, Brooklyn, has been holding in the synagogue for the past year. Setting down his homemade bean stew, he adjusted a little electric heater and began greeting the first of the hundred or so people who would soon stream through the door.

A great majority of rigorously Orthodox Jews would have no interest in such a gathering. But for the small percentage who question aspects of their religion, and yearn to form a community of their own, events like Chulent are increasingly common in New York. As the secular world exerts an ever more powerful pull, a growing array of tools — including Web sites and under-the-radar gatherings like this one — are springing up to serve their needs and ease their way.

These gatherings are, as described by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, :

…a safe space, or a hiding spot. Nowadays, the adherents of these drop-in parties call themselves X-O’s, shorthand for “ex-Orthodox.” On Thursday nights, writes party founder Yitzhak Schonfeld on the website neohasid.org, the X-O’s trundle up to a designated meeting place and “share news, wounds, nigunim, and fun. It’s a place of open welcome, no judgment, and experimentation.”

Cholent parties were originally served up for Orthodox Jews who found themselves grappling with questions of faith and adherence. “Some of them simply didn’t emotionally connect with the place they grew up in, and some were actually quite religious,” Schonfeld told Haaretz. The organization grew out of another group, Corporate Raiders, described on neohasid.org as “a business in the heart of Borough Park that kept its doors open to all hours for the benefit of Hasidim who still lived physically in the Haredi community but whose hearts or beliefs had moved elsewhere.”

Please join me at Ocean Parkway Jewish Center 550 Ocean Parkway (bet. Ditmas ave. & ave. F) Brooklyn,  F Train to Ditmas Ave. I will do perhaps my most detailed walk through of the project itself, and prepare to confront a crowd that is a mix of the young and the old, the religious and the other. But it will be a New York mongrel crowd and it should be a lot of fun! I suspect that I am anything but just one of many things going on, and can’t even expect an interested crowd. But frankly, it all just sounds like a lot of fun. So come and meet me there around 10:30pm this Thursday