Making High Holiday Plans and Picking a Synagogue

by Jason Langsner / October 2, 2019



Photo from Unsplash, by Joe Pregadio

In 2013, the Pew Research Center released the comprehensive survey “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” The takeaways from this study opened a lot of eyes to the state of Jewish pluralism today, and the future of Judaism in America.  In Washington Jewish Week’s 2018 article, they claimed it shocked the Jewish community, and (in part) led to the formation of DC’s 2018 Jewish Study that cited GatherDC as an effective organization in engaging Jewish young adults. Although many years have passed since this initial study, the report came to the front of my mind recently when my wife and I bought our first house together. 

Survey respondents said a lot about their connection to Judaism in the report. Two of the findings can’t seem to escape me during this exciting time for my wife and I:

  • 1) Only 28% of Jews interviewed found it “essential” for their Judaism to be a part of a Jewish community,
  • 2) Only 31% belong to a synagogue.

I wasn’t polled for this survey, but I proudly would have raised my hand for the first question. Being a part of both our local and global Jewish community is hugely important to me as a Jewish American. I’m very proud to be Jewish, and I’m very proud to be an active member of DC’s young Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve lived in many different neighborhoods across the city. Most recently, my wife and I were living on Capitol Hill. We were pretty much equidistant from Eastern Market and H Street NE.  It was a great place to live, and allowed us to easily stay involved in a number of Jewish organizations across the District.

We were able to travel to Metro Minyan Shabbats and Sixth & I programs in Chinatown via a short bus or Uber ride. We could easily walk to the metro and take the Red Line to Adas Israel, GatherDC‘s townhouse, and the EDCJCC, or hop on the Blue, Orange, or Silver lines for meetings at Char Bar with Israel Bonds

Although the physical convenience was great, our desire to be a part of the DC Jewish community was about so much more than this.  Community involvement is central to how we identify Jewishly.

So, when my wife and I started to talk about purchasing our first home, we knew that – beyond the specific features of our dream home – we wanted a place that was close enough to our DC Jewish lives. We didn’t want to move to the distant suburbs because we wanted a place where we could still easily see friends and visit the Jewish places in DC that are meaningful to us.  

With the support of a local, young realtor, a mortgage banker, and a title company lawyer – all of whom we knew from the DC Jewish community – we ended up moving to Potomac, Maryland.  And we couldn’t be happier.  

new house

As we now settle into the house and experience our first Jewish High Holiday season out in Potomac, we have a new decision to make. This decision brings me back to the second part of the Pew Research Center study: should we join a synagogue?  If so, which one?  

We’ve decided that we’re going to make this decision after the High Holidays so we can start 5780 off with deeper roots in our Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve attended High Holiday services in a nomadic way.  I’ve gone to Adas, Chabad, Georgetown University, Sixth & I, Washington Hebrew, and others with different sets of friends.  I think I’ve been to all services available in one way, shape, or form in my 15 years in DC. Outside of holiday services, I’ve lost track of how many Shabbats or Jewish events that I’ve attended across the DMV.

In some Jewish communities across the U.S., there may be just one or two synagogues to choose from.  DC and its suburbs are blessed to have many options, and so deciding on a congregation – and primary community to become a part of – is a big deal.  

We’d like to get to know the area rabbis in Montgomery County better and Shabbat-hop a bit.  We want to get a feel for the young Jewish professional community out in MoCo, and at each congregation too.  I’ve been to pretty much every synagogue out here for a program or two over the years, but I was always a Washingtonian coming out to the ‘burbs.  Now as a Marylander living in the ‘burbs, I feel different about deciding on a congregation. I actually think my wife and I will take more time deciding what congregation to join than deciding between our finalists when shopping for a home.

Beyond these questions of where and when to join a congregation, the other question that we’ve been toying with is whether we should stay attached to the DC Jewish community, or plant our roots and grow into the Maryland Jewish community? 

At best, I’ve always seen the DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia Jewish communities as cousins more than brothers or sisters, and each has its own distinct community dynamics.  

As Marylanders, we attended the last Metro Minyan at the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s (WHC) Macomb St home in upper NW.  Beyond going as Marylanders to our first DC communal Shabbat, it was our first time going to local services since we moved to Maryland.  Getting there was super easy for us – it ironically took less time to get to Macomb from our new home than how long it would take to get there from The Hill.  We have friends who are regulars at WHC. We like the rabbis. And WHC even has a satellite campus in Potomac that’s less than 1.5 miles from our new home.  They’re also reform, which is how my wife was raised. Joining WHC makes sense on paper – although I’m too old for their young membership program (but my wife is within the age range). But, we also have eight synagogues within 10 miles of our new home, including Temple Beth Ami as another great Reform option.

So Gather community – email, DM, text, or comment on this blog if you have advice for how you picked a congregation.  If you moved out to the ‘burbs, let me know if you stayed connected to a DC congregation or if you embarked on a new path to join a more local shul.



jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.





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