Shavuot and Orlando

Completing my observance of Shavuot, a celebration of the revelation of Torah, I find myself reaching for any words to respond to the death and destruction that took place in Orlando.

On Saturday night at 2am, over 500 of us were at the 14th Street Y–celebrating our culture, expressing our identity, studying the Torah. Shavuot celebrates the acceptance of Torah, the narrative tradition and law that informs and regulates our lives.

What a blessing.

While we were celebrating in New York, a few hundred young people were celebrating and expressing their identity in a nightclub in Florida. Seeking and feeling acceptance and a night of safety in a world that all too often denies that expression to gays and lesbians. Until a hateful person, whose combustible combination of ideology and psychology were well-recognized, took his legally-purchased guns and murdered at least 49 beautiful people, wounding scores of others.

What a curse.

The Torah that we accept each Shavuot tells us that we can choose blessing or curse.

We can choose the consequences of lawlessness that masquerades as freedom. Or we can choose the blessing of regulations, the rule of law that limits the freedom of the individual for the sake of the greater good.

As a Jewish leader, as a community leader, I commit myself to working towards greater regulation—an acceptance of the responsibilities of freedom. To do whatever it takes to protect all of us from those of us who are driven by zealotry, or illness, or immaturity, to their easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

As mass shootings happen nearly every day, time and again I have worked to educate myself. What do we say to children?

What does Jewish law have to say? How can I organize for tighter gun regulations, and work to temper unchecked freedom with regulations that allow for public safety, security, and well-being??

I hope that you will join me not only in learning, but in acting. The local organization that I am choosing to get involved with is Metro IAF. Let me know where you are involved, and other ways to help be part of the solution.

At a time of grief, Jewish sensibilities teach us that we should not be alone; instructing us to come together, to listen to each other, to hold each other.  As many of us are hurting, angry, grieving, or frightened, now is the time to be together in community. Please let me know how I, our staff, and the 14th Street Y can be a place of refuge and community for you at this difficult time.

The trajectory from Passover to Shavuot, from slavery to the acceptance of responsibility, is the path towards redemption. May we work together to choose the regulations that allow blessings to overcome curses, to come together in community to comfort and support each other, and may we see some of that redemption in our lifetimes.

L’shalom (To peace),

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

The Other Side of the World

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

There on the other side of the world, I was instantly reminded of our community here in downtown Manhattan. Familiarity, warmth, energy, and connection, just like my experience at the 14th Street Y, was right in front of me at the Nikitskaya Jewish Community Center in Moscow, Russia.

Laughing, smiling, learning; children and adults of all ages joined in conversation and activities that inspired thought and expression. From Reggio–Emilia programming in the dual language Russian/Hebrew early childhood center to the harmonious silence of artists molding clay to the rhythmic movement of dancers in class, one thing was clear; I felt at home.

What I truly admired, and reflect upon now as I write this, was the common thread that bound the children and adults together through experiences. Both community centers take pride in the Jewish sensibility of Brit, or partnership— meaningfully connecting ourselves to others by agreeing to shared commitments. The Nikitskaya JCC has thrived as it is built on member and patron’s shared interests and goals.  At the 14th Street Y, we too are made up of people of all ages building relationships together around our shared interests and goals.

I encourage you to share your interests and goals with your 14th Street Y community. As the sun begins to peek through the clouds and bring the warmth of springtime, let’s continue this journey together. I can’t wait to hear about the ambitious goals you set out to do.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y


Faith and traditional wisdom help shape our lives and our legacies

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

I have been lucky to attend a lot of milestone birthday parties recently. It seems that it is moments of round numbers when many of us look back and look forward and ask ourselves the deeper questions of meaning and purpose. Is my life what I hoped that it would be? As I count my years, and start to recognize the urgency of living life in a meaningful way, what gives my life meaning, and a sense of purpose?

One of the reasons that I fell in love with Jewish tradition and culture is the sensibility of “Z’chut Avot”–the memory of our ancestors.  Like many ancient traditions, Judaism prizes the remembering and retelling stories of those who came before us, and adding our own stories, insights, and sensibilities to the narrative as we pass it on to the next generation. This treasure trove of remembered and recorded wisdom is open to all of us to mine for learning, and also can serve as framing stories that help us locate ourselves.

Whether or not we are Jewish, we can all find meaning in unpacking, retelling, interpreting, and remembering the wisdom and sensibilities of stories of previous generations.

In my ELI talks, which I will share in honor and memory of my father, Rabbi Norman Koch, z”l, I had a chance to share a few of my stories of meeting people who had deep wisdom to share on what gave them a lasting sense of purpose–and some ideas of how re-enacting and remembering Jewish narrative as a living story is the best kind of Jewish education.

What ancestor stories or traditional wisdom help give your life meaning and help you find your purpose? What do you find meaningful in Jewish narrative or in other traditions that you apply to your own life? As a diverse community, I bet that among us we have many faith and wisdom traditions that help shape our lives and our legacies. I would love to hear your thoughts and responses–don’t hesitate to stop by my office, to comment below, on YouTube, or to send me an email.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

Are YOU in my video?

Dear Friends,

The 14th Street is a community that our whole neighborhood counts on!

I decided to take to the streets to find out what our community was thinking about around the winter holidays, and learned that people have a LOT of questions about Chanukah.* Check it out:

*You can find some of my favorite Chanukah resources here: Chanukah 101 : Resources and Links

I met people of our community who are spending this season celebrating Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Mawlid-al-Nabi, other festivals, or none. For most of our community, as the days grow shorter and darker, and the news cycle dampens our hope, we are seeking opportunities to share light, hope, and generosity as a part of a caring community.

For many of us, our winter celebrations include giving to others. In my family, we dedicate one night of Chanukah to a family conversation about where we will give back, and invest in our values. We decide together, and then we make donations. I hope that you will join me in giving this year to the 14th Street Y.

Over the coming weeks you will hear from some of our supporters about what makes the 14th Street Y so much more than a Community Center. Please consider joining them, as well as my family, in donating this holiday season.

Your gift of $50, $100, $500 or $5,000 will have a real, tangible impact in the coming year. It will make the Y a community we all can count on.  


Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

of bones || hollye bynum

of bones || hollye Bynum starts their residency at the Theater at the 14th Street Y this Saturday! Check out the full list of events happening at the Y:

December 12: Dance Film Production Workshop at PAUSE/PLAY

December 16:  Master Class 12-2pm (Inter.- Advanced dancers)

December 17-19: RELEASE performances

December 19: Master Class 10-12pm  (Inter.- Advanced dancers)

December 20: International Dance Film Screening @2PM

RELEASE maite Promo Image

RELEASE is the first production from ​of bones || hollye Bynum to include both filmed and staged contemporary dance in one full evening­length performance. RELEASE explores the nature of letting go and moving forward. Artistic Director, Hollye Bynum, draws from her personal experiences to create raw, honest, accessible inquiries of the human experience through movement. Her choreography transmits an emotionally charged quality, which seamlessly provokes audience members to feel, to inhabit their bodies with greater depth, and to open their senses to living in the immediate present. In collaboration with Brooklyn­based fashion magazine and production company, Beautiful Savage, as well as cinematographer Kyle Crichton, RELEASE integrates six new dance films and eight stage pieces with original music composition by Pedi Hashemian. Master Classes taught by company members will complement the three performances.​ The International Dance Film Screening​, which features films by local and international artists, ​will culminate ​of bones’ residency.




Giving Tuesday: How the Y Community Gives… and Gives Back.

In our big, anonymous city, the 14th Street Y is much more than a community center. We are a true community, where we become friends with neighbors, celebrate together and help each other out in tough times.
We see the spirit of giving every day at the Y. Here are a few examples of how your support made a difference this year: 
  • You supported your neighbors during their time of need. After an explosion leveled multiple buildings in the East Village, we offered six months of membership to every affected neighbor and invited them to enroll in select classes and programs at no cost. Thanks to your generosity, we also helped two Y families defray the costs of rebuilding their lives.
  • You gave our children and community a new play roofWith more than $125,000 in donations, we built an innovative play structure that will inspire active and imaginative play while making community gatherings, movie screenings, rooftop yoga and live performances all the more exciting.
  • You provided scholarships for families in our neighborhoodAt the Y Parents Association’s annual fall fundraiser, 118 parents came together and raised over $22,000, giving more families the opportunity to experience the spirit of giving that we at the Y strive to share every day.
To all of you who give and encourage others to do the same, thank you. Your generosity is what makes the 14th Street Y a community we all can count on.
Make #GivingTuesday count. Make your gift today.

Wallpaper: Flashbacks of memories and home


Mike Esperanza, Artistic Director of BARE Dance Company, premiers his new work for the company, WALLPAPER, at the Theater at the 14th St Y December 4-6, 2015 at 8pm. WALLPAPER is an immersive choreographic work that honors the foundations we create with the energy, scratches, scents and sounds experienced as we live in our homes.

“I want the audience to feel like they are having flashbacks to their own memories and experiences from home,”  says Choreographer, Mike Esperanza. “With the immersive, gallery-like performance each audience member will get to have his or her own unique visual experience.”



Esperanza will make use of the Y’s flexible black box space to create an abstracted model home-like environment with set pieces and a special light installation for audience members to take a walkthrough tour during performances. Fourteen dancers will create a series of vignettes and abstracted moments for audiences to move through. BARE’s performances will showcase their signature style of urban athletic contemporary technique blended in a theatrical setting.

Buy Tickets Here