A vibrant Reform congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue has served as a catalyst for progressive Jewish thought, committed social action in the local community and beyond, and support for Israel for more than 110 years.
Every day, we strive to realize the Jewish ideals of Torah (Jewish learning), avodah (worship), and g’milut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). True to our founder, Rabbi Stephen Wise, we sustain and deepen our ties to the Jewish homeland. We manifest the central Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) through our social action programs and social justice groups as our onsite Next Step Men’s Shelter and Emergency Food Program. Our Early Childhood Center and Religious School foster the Jewish identities of more than 400 children.
We encourage participation from any person who seeks a connection to Judaism and Jewish life and who wants to be part of our sacred community regardless of their religious background, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, ability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. We are committed to welcoming all people, including those who have been historically and institutionally marginalized or excluded from the Jewish community.
As a proud Reform Jewish congregation, we are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism and anyone from any Jewish denomination is welcome. Those who consider themselves agnostic, atheist or questioning are invited to find a home at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. We also welcome Jews by birth, Jews by choice, and non-Jews to our services, programs and community.
Interfaith and Non-Jews
Stephen Wise believes in the midah (value) of welcoming the stranger, which has its roots in the Torah. We welcome interfaith couples and families and non-Jewish parents raising Jewish children. We invite people with faith backgrounds other than Judaism or with no faith background to pray with us, study with us, share in holiday celebrations, and participate in lifecycle events. Just as Jewish couples and families are eligible for membership, so are interfaith couples and families.
Every adult member has the same voting rights, regardless of their faith background, and may participate in all lifecycle events, such as welcoming newborn babies and brit milah (ritual circumcision) and b’nai mitzvah (the plural of bar or bat mitzvah). For these simchot (joyous occasions), all family members are invited to the bimah (pulpit) to join in celebration, offer congratulatory remarks, and lead English readings from the siddur (prayerbook). Synagogue honors expressed as commandments to Jews (blessing the candles or wine, or reading from the Torah) are offered to Jewish family members.
We encourage all to participate in our worship, regardless of knowledge of Hebrew or Judaism. Page numbers are frequently announced during our prayer services and our siddur, “Mishkan T’filah,” includes English transliterations for all Hebrew prayers so all can join us in song and prayer.
Pathways to Judaism is a class especially designed for individuals and interfaith couples who are seeking conversion to Judaism. It is open to current members of Stephen Wise and non-members who would like to join our synagogue as part of the process.
Many of Stephen Wise’s events and programs are open to the public including adult education, social justice and worship. For worship services, our greeters can provide visitors with hearing enhancement devices and/or large print prayer books upon request. Our Shabbat services are accessible via live streaming and call-in for those who may have mobility limitations.
Our Early Childhood Center and Religious School staff and faculty undergo training to ensure that all teachers and staff members are sensitive to differences and foster a welcoming community of inclusion and understanding. ECC Director Miriam Kalmar and Director of Youth Education Rabbi Rena Rifkin work closely with parents to make our education programs as accessible as possible for all children.
Stephen Wise welcomes all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, as full participants in all religious practices and in the entire community life of the congregation, including full membership.
LGBTQ+ members are encouraged to celebrate milestones in their lives, including anniversaries, by being called to the Torah for an aliyah. Stephen Wise celebrates with all members as their lifecycle events are shared with the congregation, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our clergy officiate at same-sex and heterosexual weddings.
Our staff is committed to raising synagogue-wide consciousness with regards to LGBTQ+ issues and inclusion. As part of our Domestic Civil Liberties Task Force, we have a established an LGBTQ+ subgroup, which aims to increase inclusion in our programming, policies and procedures.
Our Religious School staff and faculty are trained to use gender-neutral language and receive sensitivity training regarding special considerations for LGBTQ+ youth and teens.