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I hope each of you is enjoying a relaxing and restorative summer! I am honored, humbled, and delighted to begin my term as President of Washington Hebrew Congregation — a truly amazing institution that means so much to my family and me.
As many of you know, I was not raised Jewish but rather was converted by Rabbi Lustig 23 years ago when I married my husband, Ed, and we joined WHC. In many ways, however, my “Jewish Journey” truly began in the Episcopal church in which I was raised. Like many who convert or choose to create a Jewish home when they themselves are not Jewish, I did not choose Judaism because my Christian faith wasn’t meaningful to me; but precisely because religion and faith were such formative parts of my life. Along with my entire family, I was active in our church – volunteering in the Sunday school classrooms (like our Madrichim), singing in the choir (very badly, and therefore softly), and serving as an acolyte and as a leader of my youth group.
When I met Ed and began to explore the concept of becoming a Reform Jew and creating a Jewish home together, I found the fundamental values that I had learned from my Episcopalian upbringing were reflected in Reform Judaism. The first is a belief in the central importance of organized religion and its longstanding traditions. I am moved by the ancient customs and traditional language that have inspired and comforted humans for thousands of years. I find the prayers, rituals, and teachings based on biblical texts to be relevant to our lives today, and their long history gives them added resonance to me. And, I believe that praying together in a sacred community brings a depth and purpose to worship that I do not find in individual spiritual pursuits.
Just as importantly, I found that Judaism – like my original faith — emphasizes that my relationship with God is highly personal and intellectual, requiring me to evaluate the range of religious practices and beliefs and determine which elements are meaningful to me. The understanding that there is no single, dogmatic or “correct” way to worship is central to Reform Judaism, and it is one of its most important tenets to me.
Although I know it is not the same for everyone who confronts this issue, my decision to convert was a relatively easy one, and I discovered an intellectual and spiritual home in Reform Judaism. More significantly, Ed and I found a true emotional home for our Jewish family here at Washington Hebrew. So many meaningful aspects of my life have their roots here, from the relationship I forged with Rabbi Lustig during my conversion, to the gratifying social action work involved in chairing the Carrie Simon House and Mitzvah Day, to my adult Bat Mitzvah with the incomparable Gerdy Trachtman. Not to mention learning the childhood Shabbat songs at the ECC and watching my children grow into their own Jewish identities. In all these things and at every stage, I have felt at home and cared for by this wonderful community. It goes without saying — but I want to make it clear — that I have never felt that my status as a “Jew by Choice” was an obstacle in any way to my Jewish life here at WHC.
So that is my story — I came here as a stranger, and you welcomed me and showed me how to get involved and find my place. Not surprisingly, one of my priorities is to help everyone who comes to WHC feel the same warm welcome I did and have the same easy path to finding their place here. I know that is a value that many of you share.
I learned a lot about the values our congregants hold dear over the past 24 months as I co-chaired WHC’s Visioning/Listening Effort, where we invited groups of interested congregants to share what they wanted WHC to look and feel like in 10 years. Certain values came up nearly every time, including that we want to continue to see ourselves as a community that is open and welcoming to all who are interested in Jewish life no matter their background or situation. As one participant explained, “I want my Temple to be so warm and welcoming that I can’t wait to tell my friends about it.” I feel the same.
Several other important themes emerged from the Visioning Effort, and you can see a detailed summary of these shared aspirations and values on page 10 of the August Journal. Throughout the two-year process, I was moved by the dedication to this congregation expressed by the participants and their genuine desire to make Washington Hebrew the best that it can be in the years and decades to come. The Visioning Effort reinforced many of our existing priorities while giving Temple leadership invaluable insights, feedback, and suggestions that will help to inform our actions in both the short- and long-term.
Already, as I think about the upcoming year at WHC, there is so much that I am looking forward to. There will be creative, new worship opportunities, important milestones to celebrate, and significant issues that we will explore together as a community. I look forward to learning from and with all of you. Ed and I are also thrilled to continue a tradition started by my predecessor David Astrove, and we will host monthly Shabbat dinners in our home for anyone in our Temple community who wants to join us. Yes, we are inviting the entire congregation for dinner(!) and I hope all of you will sign up at whctemple.org/ShapiroShabbat and help spread the word among your friends.
To our wonderful clergy, our talented staff, and my fellow congregants — thank you for your trust in me and for your devotion and commitment to our Temple. Because of you and your support of all that goes on here, I feel confident that Washington Hebrew will continue to go from strength to strength, and these next two years will be remarkable ones in the life of this sacred community.
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Washington, DC 20016
11810 Falls Road
Potomac, MD 20854
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