New Jewish community, Nafshenu, formed in South Jersey

Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, will be the new community’s spiritual leader.

Nafshenu has officially been founded as an emergent Jewish community in South Jersey. Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, will be their spiritual leader.

Nafshenu will be creating an alternative model of Jewish communal life and will be opening their doors beginning on July 1, 2017. Nafshenu means “our souls.” The community will be progressive, non-denominational, and egalitarian, priding itself on musical and meaningful prayer, experiential and engaging learning opportunities for both kids and adults, an emphasis on social justice, and above all else, valuing the contributions of each soul that chooses to join us. There are fifteen families currently not affiliated with other area synagogues behind the venture.

“We intend to create a community based on relationships,” says Rabbi Sernovitz. “It will be based on the concept that Judaism should be bold, courageous, and transformative.

As studies show, and South Jersey is no different, Jews are choosing to be unaffiliated at higher percentages than in generations past, currently 60% in our community according to the last Jewish Population Study conducted by Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. Nafshenu does not intend to compete with the established synagogues and movements across South Jersey but is looking to complement them by providing something new.

In order to create Nafshenu, Sernovitz was inspired by the Jewish Emergent Network and specifically Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, a Los Angeles based community that was founded in 2004. IKAR has been recognized nationally for its success in engaging young and disaffected Jews.

“As the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey’s population study conducted last year indicates, percentages of unaffiliated Jews here are par with the national average. People are looking for something different, and Nafshenu’s creation is here to help fill that void.”

Risa Podolnick, who represents one of Nafshenu’s founding families and the motivation behind its establishment, will serve as the Community Coordinator.

“It is so important to have a spiritual home where you feel valued and you are accepted for who you are without judgment. Every person has something to contribute to the strength and vibrancy of Jewish life, if they feel that they belong. This is the type of community that we are creating. We welcome people to join our community who are looking for an alternative model of Jewish life, one that values you and recognizes that Judaism has something to say about life and the changing world we live in.”

Nafshenu will be providing Shabbat and holiday celebrations, including High Holy Day services, a full service religious school, life cycle events including B’nai Mitzvah, and social justice opportunities where individuals can make a difference in the world.

For more information, contact Risa Podolnick at or visit