Andrew Mandel, 45, innovator and spiritual leader


Andrew Mandel, 45, is the spiritual leader of the Neighborhood, Central Synagogue’s virtual Jewish community, which has emerged as a major force in the world of online Judaism — an area that has continued to thrive post-pandemic. He is also the founder of Tzedek Box, a new Jewish ritual for those who seek to improve our world. As an innovator in Jewish communal life, Mandel, who lives in Long Island City, Queens, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch.

For the full list of this year’s “36ers”which honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community — click here.

What’s a fun/surprising fact about you?

A number of years ago, I decided that I didn’t know enough about the city I love, so I bought one of those hefty “Blue Guide” books about the five boroughs and spent weekends going to different sections of the city. After about a year, I took the New York City tour guide exam just to see what I had learned, and I ended up using my license to give a few tours. I have loved guiding around the Lower East Side, where I’ve used an Ancestry account to find out where people’s immigrant relatives may have lived and orient my tour around those addresses.

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Who is your New York Jewish hero?

Ruth Messinger. She is the exemplar of a locally-rooted, global citizen driven by Jewish values. She was our Manhattan Borough President in the 1990s, outspoken and tough in all the right ways. She was the president of the American Jewish World Service, leading campaigns against genocide in Darfur and raising hundreds of millions for non-profit organizations in developing countries. Now in her 80s, riding her bicycle around the city, she continues to advise Jewish justice organizations and leaders every day. She’s a living legend.

How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

For me, Judaism is a primary lens for living. My day begins with [the prayer] “Modeh Ani,” a simple statement that expresses both gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the gift of life. I love that it ends with “Raba Emunatecha,” that there is a great faith in us and what we might do in this world. For all of the smallness I can perceive in my own existence, I am quite moved by the idea that all that is Eternal has faith in us. The question becomes: What will we do with that faith?

Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?

I spent a year taking in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “God in Search of Man” chapter by chapter each Shabbat. It helped me awaken to the wonder of the universe, which became a foundation for cultivating an attitude of amazement every day.

Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?

“Pursue justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” from Micah 6:8.

What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?

A waitress once ladled me matzah ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli while saying (in a fantastic New York accent): “I’ll be the pourer so you’ll be the richer.” I was hooked.

What is your favorite book about New York?

I love “Time and Again” by Jack Finney. Time travel through New York, plus a genius ending.

In one sentence, what was your best experience as a Jewish New Yorker?

The most meaningful Jewish experience I have had in New York was standing in the rain, protesting the Muslim ban with hundreds of other Jews at the tip of Battery Park within eyeshot of the Statue of Liberty, living our values in the public square. I felt that our ancestors would have been proud.

What are three spots in NYC that all Jewish New Yorkers should visit?

Join us on Friday night at Central Synagogue. Make your way to one of our botanical gardens for a Shabbos stroll. Then, find the time to volunteer at Rikers Island to witness what needs to change for us to live up to the motto “The Greatest City in the World.”

Anything else you’d like us and our readers to know about you?

I’m proud that I was born in Manhattan, my mom is from Queens (where my partner and I now live), my dad is from Brooklyn (where my brother and his family now live), my first job was in the Bronx, and my favorite restaurant, Enoteca Maria, is on Staten Island. At Enoteca, a different grandmother is the chef every night. Tell Joe I sent you.

How can people follow you online?

@centralsynagogue and @tzedekbox on Instagram

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