Jewish Counterculture History Project – Interviews with Fabrangeners

The following information is quoted verbatim from the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn Libraries > Kislak Center > Penn Judaica > Jewish Counterculture History Project > JCCHP Oral Histories 


Beginning in the 1960s, a generation of young Jews set out to revolutionize and reinvigorate American Judaism. Coming of age in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, but also amid the revolutionary ferment of the 1960s Civil Rights campaigns, Black Power, and Women’s and Gay Liberation movements, this new generation of well-educated, politically engaged young Jews gave voice and form to new, self-conscious modes of Jewish expression. They were part of a broader Jewish counterculture whose members rejected what they deemed stale forms of Jewish practice in favor of more democratic, egalitarian and spiritually meaningful religious experiences. They created a host of radical innovations in Jewish political, social and religious life that have left a lasting imprint.


This project focuses particularly on the havurah movement, which represents a signal effort to reinvent Jewish communal worship and social life outside the framework of traditional synagogue denominations and structures. The first such institution, Havurat Shalom, was established in Boston in 1968, in the wake of Israel’s Six-Day War and at the height of America’s cultural, social and political ferment. In his study of American Judaism, historian Jonathan Sarna emphasizes that havurah members consciously set out to “jettison the bourgeois middle-class values of suburbia and to re-imagine Judaism” as a liberating force capable of revolutionizing personal and religious relationships as well as politics and society. (Sarna, American Judaism, p. 319). Related efforts sprang up in other cities, such as Fabrangen in Washington, D.C., the New York Havurah, as well as havurot in the mid-West and California. With the spread of radical Jewish cultural movements came distinct trends and independent organizations: the Jewish renewal movement, P’nai Or, the Jewish Student Network, and related self-identified Jewish secular political activism, like Jews for Urban Justice, Breira, Ezrat Nashim and Jewish Feminism, Jewish Gay culture, Jewish music and the Klezmer revival, and Jewish Back-to-the-Earth agriculturalists.

As we approach the half-century mark since the founding of Havurat Shalom, this project seeks to contribute to building a documentary record of these diverse forms of Jewish counterculture through a pilot effort to interview approximately twenty-five key members of the havurah movement. We intend to focus primarily on Havurat Shalom as well as on the New York Havurah and Fabrangen in this initial phase of the project. It should also be noted that each of these havurot had their own particular structures and outlooks and were not in their early years part of an organized movement. The history of the havurah and of the Jewish counterculture more generally remains to be written, and indeed, at the present time, archival collections are being assembled at Brandeis University, the University of Pennsylvania, the American Jewish Archives, the American Jewish Historical Society, and the University of Colorado—just to name a few institutions. This project aims to further the current effort already underway by documenting the experiences and reflections of early havurah participants through oral history. These oral histories will ultimately be made available to the public as part of an open, pluralistic, and cooperative endeavor to gather and disseminate information. Thus, this initial and limited oral history project represents an important piece of a larger effort to collect information about and begin to interpret this important moment in American Jewish history.

The focus of the interviews is on each person’s experiences during the late sixties and early seventies, particularly their involvement with specific Havurot, and also the impact that the havurah has had on their own lives and on American Jewry more broadly. Below are interviews with Fabrangeners and former Fabrangeners. Gerry was interviewed about the New York Havurah. Rob, David, Arthur & Chava were interviewed about Fabrangen.

Interview with Gerald Serotta

Interview with Gerald Serotta by Gerald SerottaSerotta, Gerald, “Interview with Gerald Serotta” (2017). Oral Histories. 11.



Interview with Rob Agus

Interview with Rob Agus by Rob AgusAgus, Rob, “Interview with Rob Agus” (2016). Oral Histories. 17.



Interview with George Johnson by George Johnson

Interview with George Johnson

Johnson, George, “Interview with George Johnson” (2017). Oral Histories. 12.


Interview with David Shneyer

Interview with David Shneyer by David ShneyerShneyer, David, “Interview with David Shneyer” (2016). Oral Histories. 10.



Interview with Arthur Waskow

Interview with Arthur Waskow by Arthur WaskowWaskow, Arthur, “Interview with Arthur Waskow” (2016). Oral Histories. 31.


Interview with Chava Weissler

Interview with Chava Weissler by Chava WeisslerWeissler, Chava, “Interview with Chava Weissler” (2016). Oral Histories. 23.

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