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New Year, New Rabbis

Ah 5779. A new, fresh number to mark the start of a beautiful year ahead. A year when politicians will finally discover harmony across the aisles, weather will be consistent for more than two days in a row, and celebrities will wait longer than one month before getting engaged.

Okay, fine. Most likely, none of the above may come to fruition in the new year. But, one thing is certain: DC-ites are going to find 9 amazing new rabbis bopping around the community this coming year.

We asked these rabbis a few simple questions so we can get to know the Jewish leaders who are here to guide us through the insanity of today’s world…

dc rabbiRabbi Benjamin Barer, Georgetown University

Q: What’s your resolution for the Jewish New Year?

A: I try to focus on a combination of study, journaling, and reacquainting myself with the melodies of the High Holidays. Every year we approach the High Holidays in a different place, and I never know what themes or piece of prayer will resonate for me. I try to immerse myself in a combination of sources that have attracted me in years past and a mix of new offerings.

This year that has included journaling using prompts from ‘R’ Jordan Braunig (Tufts), listening to Judaism Unbound’s Elul podcast series, and listening to favorite recordings of High Holiday tunes from my childhood.

 

 

dc rabbiRabbi Stephanie Crawley, Temple Micah/Next Door DC

Q: How is Judaism valuable in your life?

A: I think Judaism is counter-cultural in the coolest ways. Judaism reminds me when it is time to unplug and pause, when the rest of the world is telling me to go, go, go. The Jewish calendar punctuates my weeks and months, reminding me that life moves in cycles, not straight lines. And in an era of 3-second snapchats and 24 hour news headlines, Jewish texts and traditions root me to something that feels rooted and eternal.

Q: What’s your resolution for the Jewish New Year?

A: In 5779, I hope to discover the best vegetarian taco in Washington DC. I’m also going to try journaling again, and maybe this year, make it past buying the notebook, journaling for three days, and then eventually hiding it to shield me from my shame at another failed attempt.

 

dc rabbi aderetRabbi Aderet Drucker, Community Rabbi

Q: What led you to your decision to become a Rabbi or Clergy member?

A: My initial path was to becoming a physician. During my freshman year in college, I had a powerful learning experience with the campus rabbi at a Shabbat service where I thought to myself, maybe I too, could become a rabbi one day. At the time I was not aware of women rabbis (I had not seen any growing up), and quietly told myself that it was not possible.

Years later, after taking the MCAT, graduating pre-med, and meeting more and more women rabbis, I began to reflect on the path that I was on and recognized that while I loved working with people, creating spaces for healing, and community building, I wanted to find a way to also tap into the spiritual part of my life. I had a life-changing conversation with my then-boyfriend (now husband and partner), where upon hearing my reflections, he asked me, “Is there anything else you have thought about doing? I’ve only heard you talk about becoming a physician.” It was then for the first time since my initial thought about becoming a rabbi back in college that I said out loud, “I thought about becoming a rabbi.” And as they say, the rest is history. This was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

dc rabbi elianaRabbi Eliana Fischel, Washington Hebrew Congregation

Q: What is something people might be surprised to know about you?

A: I was a Dance major in college. I haven’t taken dance classes in a few years, but am open to suggestions for studios in DC!

Q: What do you love most about your work?

A: I love being adjacent to people’s lives. I love seeing a life and a family grow: connecting at different moments, celebrating when they are celebrating, and providing comfort when it is needed. I also love that every day is different. One minute, I can be sitting on the floor telling a story to the 3s class and the next be meeting with an engaged couple. It is all just fun.

 

rabbi sarah krinskyRabbi Sarah Krinsky, Adas Israel Congregation

Q: What’s your resolution for the Jewish New Year?

A: This year, I’m using Yom Kippur as a chance to explore forgiveness with myself. I often take quite seriously the practice of seeking forgiveness from – and granting it to – others, but am less generous with myself. My resolution for this year is to be patient with myself, and Yom Kippur is feeling to me like an invitation to step into that process.

Q: What do you love most about your work?

A: I love the opportunity to connect with people, learn their stories, and help bring them into community and tradition.

dc rabbi novickRabbi Daniel Novick, George Washington University Hillel

Q: What do you love most about your work?

A: I love building relationships with people to help cultivate and sustain their individual and collective Jewish identities. Every interaction, every conversation, every gathering is one that has intrinsic holiness and purpose. I love meeting people, hearing their story, connecting them to Torah and Jewish life, and working with them to create Jewish experiences.

Q: What’s your resolution for the Jewish New Year?

A: I am going into 5779 with the intention to listen better. Listen to myself, listen to my partner, listen to others whose “voices” I have not yet heard. And, listen to those with whom I disagree.

 

dc rabbi miriamMiriam Liebman, University of Maryland Hillel

Q: How do you prepare for the High Holidays?

A: I generally start by reflecting on the major themes or topics that have felt personally relevant to me over the course of the last year. Often times it has come from something I have read or been reading or even a podcast I’ve been listening to. I then think about and do some learning around how that topic is related to the High Holidays and how to incorporate those ideas into the intentions I set for myself and my community.

Q: How is Judaism valuable in your life?

A: Judaism is not something we do or a box we can check to say we’ve fulfilled our duty. It is a way of life and of being in the world. Living Jewishly is about pursuing justice and making change in the world around us in order to better ourselves and our communities.

 

dc rabbiRabbi Avi Strausburg, Hadar

Q: What is something people might be surprised to know about you?

A: One thing people might be surprised to learn about me is that as a youngster, I jumped off a roof (all the neighborhood kids were doing it) and sprained my ankle. I managed to crawl all the way home and then hid it from my parents for days, claiming I’d slept on it funny, until my older sister outed me when we finally went to get it examined at the doctor’s office. Take-home lesson: you can still get injured when jumping off a low roof onto a gigantic trampoline.

Q: What led to your decision to become a Rabbi?

A: Selfishly, I went into the rabbinate because I really loved the learning and wanted more of it. I also wanted to be an inspiring, engaging teacher for others as my teachers had been for me.

Check out Rabbi Strausburg’s haikus: The Daf Yomi Haiku Project, The Torah Haiku Project

 

dc rabbiRabbi Lauren Tuchman, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps

Q: What do you like to Break the Fast with?

A: I like to break the Yom Kippur fast by first downing a huge glass of water. Rehydration is critically important!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 3:  What Does it Mean to be Jewish?

Over 100 events filled the GatherDC community calendar in April 2018. They ranged from a weekly Jewish yoga class at Adas Israel to listening to a Holocaust survivor at the EDCJCC. Events spanned all areas of the city, and extended to Maryland and Virginia. They included social gatherings like bar bingo, and educational outings for Jews of all identity groups.  

Diverse in many ways, but one thread bound these 100+ programs together: they were Jewish.

The 2017 Greater Washington Jewish Community Demographic Study denoted that, “DC’s Jewish community numbers nearly 300,000 Jewish adults and children in over 155,000 households.” The study found that 22% of the community is 18-29 years old, and another 21% are 30-39.

The Greater Washington Jewish community is the third largest Jewish community in the country. 43% of those in the DMV community are young professionals. Although many of these young adults are often seen at Jewish events (or on JSwipe), our local community spans far beyond these highly involved individuals. The study highlights that in America, being Jewish or not Jewish is not a binary classification. Jewish pluralism is alive and well in the U.S., and thriving in our nation’s capital.

As a part of B’nai B’rith International’s 175th Anniversary, I looked to better explore this idea of Jewish pluralism in a project dubbed The Zero.Dot.Two Initiative. With approximately 14.4 million Jews alive globally, our people represent approximately 0.2% of worldwide citizenry. In the U.S., which is the second most populous nation of Jewish citizens, we are still only 2% of the population. In Israel, three out of every four citizens are Jewish. To better understand Judaism in today’s diverse world, I began interviewing different local, national, and international Jewish influencers with just one question: what does it mean to be Jewish?

GatherDC’s Rabbi Aaron Potek answers the question by saying, “my five paths [to a meaningful Jewish identity] are spirituality, wisdom, ethics, community, and culture. I think these are five different ways to think about Judaism. Obviously, some of these paths intersect, but I believe each one individually can be a path that someone can go down.”  

Other DC-area rabbis share their own messages:

Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue discussed the orienting principles of her Jewish identity, which included tikkun olam (repairing the world) and, more specifically, how “that the world as it is, is not the world as it could be… It is our responsibility, as Jews in this world, to continue to yearn to heal the world, which is broken in so many ways, but also to improve the way that we interact with the world.”

Rabbi Steven I. Rein of the Agudas Achim Congregation of Alexandria, VA, who also serves as Jewish Chaplain for Arlington National Cemetery, said “one of the most important roles of Judaism is to provide the ‘derech‘ or path and motivation by which we can aspire to be our best selves, and in doing so, make a positive difference in the world in which we live.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the founding rabbi of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, spoke of fulfilling the mitzvot. He paraphrased Elie Wiesel in saying, “to be Jewish in the 20th century is to be offered a gift. I look at Judaism as I look at this wonderful treasure – this wonderful heritage that we have. It has to do with our values that we offer both to individuals, and the values that we contribute to the world. Secondly, being Jewish offers us a sense of identity. An identity of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who is the Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and also serves the governmental and diplomatic needs of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said, “the core of being Jewish means [asking], do I have a strong relationship with my creator – with G-d? Do I nurture that relationship on a daily basis? Do I do whatever I can to make the world better…bringing the world to a place where the nations of the world will be blessed through us collectively as Jews and individually?”

Beyond these religious leaders and teachers, the interview series has included elected officials, academics, celebrities, business leaders, Jewish communal professionals, and more.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) answered the question by saying, “It’s family, it’s tradition, it’s values. Almost every Friday, our family gets together for Shabbat dinner because that’s our tradition. We talk about each other’s lives, and what we can do to help our community – because that’s Jewish values.”

Mr. Cardin’s counterpart in the U.S. House, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who represents a swatch of Montgomery County, MD, answered by referencing the first time on Sunday school that he heard the famous Rabbi Hillel dictum, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”


This interview series has been an exciting project for me as I continue to develop my own Jewish identity, that has been significantly evolving throughout my life. 

Growing up, I used to think that I was a “bad Jew.” My family didn’t keep kosher, regularly observe Shabbat, belong to a synagogue, or even celebrate every Jewish holiday.  Today, I don’t think anyone can be labeled a “bad Jew” because I no longer look at Judaism in a binary construct. I recognize that while some may choose to observe Judaism through a more traditional path, others may choose a different route. These paths run parallel to one another, rather than in opposite directions. 

My Jewish identity has matured exponentially while living in DC due to this wonderful, local Jewish community that has taught – and continues to teach – me so much. Today, when I think about my Jewish community, I see past the 300,000 Jews living in and around DC. I consider the wider global Jewish community that offers me lessons on how I can be a better person by representing Judaism in a way that is meaningful to me. I know that I want to raise my future family Jewishly, and am beyond excited to marry a caring, loving, smart, funny, confident, and beautiful young Jewish woman in just a few months. My fiancé makes me a better person, and a better Jewish man, every day. She is my besheret (destined/soulmate). I cannot wait to see how our two Jewish lives and families, unique in their own ways, forge themselves into a single Jewish household under the ‘chuppah’ – and into our collective future.

Thinking back to my meeting with Rabbi Potek at GatherDC’s new Dupont Circle townhouse on April 19, I consider how the significance of that day relates to my personal Jewish identity. Although that day may have appeared like any other Thursday, to me, it was significant. This  importance was not just because I enjoyed learning from the rabbi, but also because we met on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

My own Jewish identity includes a great connection to the land and the people of Israel.  I’m proud that last month the nation celebrated its 70th anniversary since its founding and I have a deep respect for the thousands of years of history of the connection of that land to the Jewish people.

This series of exploring differing perspectives on Jewish identity is a teaching tool. We all relate to our personal Jewish identity in our own way.  One of my favorite things about Judaism is that we often have more questions than answers to some of life’s most complex ideas. These questions and answers can be unique to each of us.

So, my blog series, “From K (or M) Street, to the Knesset”, was meant to share that there is no singular answer to the question, “what does it mean to be Jewish?” Judaism is unique to me. It is unique to you. It is unique to someone on K Street, or M Street, or in the Knesset. It is unique to a Jew in DC, Maryland, or Virginia. And it is unique to someone in Jerusalem, London, Paris, Moscow, Cape Town, Montreal, Morocco, Tokyo, or wherever Jews call home.

Like the 100+ events on GatherDC’s community calendar – to be Jewish is diverse. But, it includes one common thread: t be Jewish is to identify as being Jewish.  Whether you identity as orthodox, conservative, reform, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, tall, short, Jew-curious, or just Jewish – you are all my Jewish brothers and sisters.

P.S. My personal answer to “What does it mean to be a Jew” is this: Being Jewish comes down to one question, and it isn’t “is your mother Jewish?” I ask myself, and I hope others ask themselves, if they identify as Jewish. If so, then: Do I/they choose to live a life that is based on Jewish ideals; Do I/they recognize that the world is imperfect, and that it is up to each of us to try to find our own individual way to repair it; Do I/they treat others with respect and as-if we would like to be treated ourselves; Do I/they know that God exists and that we as a people should try to both learn and teach Torah.

P.P.S. If you are interested in exploring your own Jewish identity, reach out to GatherDC to learn about all of the wonderful ways that they engage 20-and-30-somethings in the DC-area. Or, to hear other news important to the Jewish people, “like” the B’nai B’rith International Facebook page.

 

About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  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 – B’nai Brith International. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.