Milwaukee native builds community in New York

Rabbi Andy Bachman, a Nicolet High School graduate, draws on the connectedness of the Milwaukee Jewish Community to strengthen his nonprofit in New York City.

For the last year he has served as executive director of the Jewish Community Project Downtown, an effort to create a Jewish community within the larger New York City Jewish community.

Rabbi Andy Bachman

Despite being in New York for 30 years, Bachman maintains ties to Wisconsin. At a talk he gave at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Jewish studies department in April of this year, he shared how special it was to grow up in a small Jewish community like Milwaukee, where Bachman’s grandmother, an immigrant from Minsk, Belarus lived on the corner of 3rd and Walnut streets.

“The knowledge of her life as an immigrant and the other Jews who were her family and neighbors … was something that was instilled in me as a child, and helped me appreciate the achievements that my grandmother and great-grandparents had been able to create to make my father’s and my life better,” Bachman said. 

Though Bachman still has friends active in the Milwaukee Jewish community, he is the most Jewishly connected at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he himself attended and his eldest daughter recently graduated. 

Following his graduation from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Bachman attended rabbinical school in Israel, after which he moved to New York City.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the lower Manhattan area became more residential but lacked Jewish communal infrastructure, Bachman said. Jewish Community Project Downtown “built a kind of synagogue without walls, started a Jewish child care, started a Hebrew school, [got] together for holidays and an occasional Shabbat celebration,” Bachman said. 

Within the last year, the Jewish Community Project Downtown pointed towards “turning this community center without walls into a real space, real brick and mortar, putting a synagogue inside of it, and having a permanent Jewish home downtown,” which is now 146 Duane St. in Manhattan.

The nonprofit runs numerous events, such as Shabbat and Shavuot celebrations in the park or on the beach, or building a Jews and Black civil rights trip to the American South next year. 

Recently, they had a book series with McNally Jackson Books at the Museum at Eldridge Street, a historic restored synagogue. The event featured two Chinese writers who live in the lower East Side, “the first home in America for more than 2 million Jews a hundred years ago that is now the largest Chinese neighborhood in the city,” Bachman said. Looking at different layers of history “helps us remember that America is built to be hospitable to every new generation that comes here,” Bachman said  

Intersectional events like these are common for JCP Downtown, intending to interest both their members and the people who are not affiliated but wish to remain involved. “We like doing that kind of programming with our non-Jewish neighbors as it builds a sense of partnership and community across ethnic and national linguistic and spatial lines,” Bachman said.

In part, these motivations are inspired by Bachman’s childhood in Milwaukee. “I always come into my work as a rabbi in New York with the idea that one of the things that’s fundamental to a healthy and well-functioning Jewish community is a strong sense of connectedness, and a strong sense of history and passing on the values and the stories of a prior generation. I feel that’s something Milwaukee gave me, and I try to share with communities out here that I work with,” Bachman said.