Carla Friend, 33


There are few things in life that make people feel as connected, to each other and to their culture, as joining voices in song. Recognizing this, Carla Friend founded Tkiya, a Jewish music education organization that helps families from diverse backgrounds and denominations to forge their own connection to Judaism through a participatory, sweeping musical experience.

Friend was raised as a Reform Jew. Despite her father’s deep involvement in the synagogue, she drifted away after her confirmation. Her father’s death in 2003, while she was majoring in music education at Ithaca College, propelled her to reexamine her own connection to Judaism.

She got the idea for Tkiya while taking a dance education class in Uganda while she was working on a master’s in community education at NYU. “The way people came together as a community, around the creation and celebration of music … it was really inspiring,” she said.

She looked for a communal musical experience in New York, but found the local music community centers lacking. “They functioned more as conservatoriums for kids … there was no celebration of the community’s culture,” she said.

In 2014, Friend ran her first Jewish musical experience, Tkiya Tots, in the Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills, L.I. Since then, Tkiya has partnered with more than 40 organizations across New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey — including PJ Library, Romemu, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and The Jewish Education Project — to provide classes, most of which are free, geared toward a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Accepted into UpStart’s Venture Accelerator Cohort 11, Friend is receiving training, coaching, and significant funding to grow her organization even further. She also received the 2018 Young Pioneers Award from The Jewish Education Project.

One of her proudest moments, Friend recalls, was Tkiya’s recent expansion to the Peninsula JCC in the Bay Area of California. “I couldn’t believe how far I’ve come in the past four years,” she said, “that this little idea is now a national organization.”

Tend your garden: In her spare time, Friend built and is managing a community garden on the roof of her apartment building in Bushwick.

Meet the rest of this year’s 36 Under 36 here.