High Holy Day Reflections

WHC members share their thoughts during the Day of Awe.







Rick Woler

Transformation is by far the best word to describe my 5779.

In October, I married the man of my dreams, and in December we spent two incredible weeks exploring Peru. I have also found myself becoming more involved in our WHC community this year. I joined the 2239 Steering Committee and helped to plan our incredible 3 Weddings and a Statement event in March.

My husband and I attended WHC’s 12 Jewish Questions class in the spring, and we have become Shabbat regulars and have started hosting our own Shabbat dinners as well. Making new friends and learning to designate time each week for holiness and togetherness has helped me to achieve a sense of peace I didn’t know I was missing. It also helped me to realize the importance of self-care and happiness which led to another big change this year: leaving the classroom to pursue my part-time real estate career as a full-time agent.

I cannot wait to see what 5780 brings!

Jennifer Berzok

The Rabbis enter from the back of the sanctuary, solemn looks on their faces as the soulful sound of Kol Nidre fills the room. I have a familiar sense of warmth that, although I am nearly 50 years old, brings me back to being 7 again when I started attending Washington Hebrew Congregation.

I stare in wonder as the Rabbis and Cantors file onto the bimah, hearing an old echo of Rabbi Haberman’s booming voice declaring, “This is the Torah!”, remembering Rabbi Weinberg’s whisper in my ear saying “Perfect!” after I’d completed my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion, feeling Rabbi Lustig’s hands on my head

as he blessed my husband and me on our wedding day, and relishing Cantor Bortnick’s smile from ear to ear as she watched my son become a Bar Mitzvah, a feat for a child with autism that was only made possible by the support of the Temple’s loving and inclusive community.

Washington Hebrew is like a thread that binds all the years of my life together, a tradition that my parents passed to me, and that I now pass to my children. It is the time-honored place that reminds me of who I am, and how I can do better in the new year. It is home.

Janice Newman

My favorite part of the holidays is the prayer Avinu Malkeinu. I enjoy listening to the timeless melody, feeling the continuity of my life and our people. When I was a child, I looked forward to the pause between Avinu Malkeinu and the sermon. As the congregation closed their prayer books and breathed a communal inhale and exhale, I readied myself for a thoughtful, challenging, timely, sometimes intellectual and political mini-lecture by the rabbi (it was then Rabbi Dan Silver in Cleveland, Ohio). Even if it was sometimes over my head, I relished the opportunity to learn.

After services, it has always been a family tradition to discuss the sermon and keep the conversation going. I still look for opportunities to learn and to be challenged as a Jew. This past year, I have learned a lot from all our WHC rabbis and have found the Wednesday Torah class very worthwhile. Rabbi means “teacher” and I look forward to learning during the high holidays and all year long.

Roger Lebbin

Few thrills beat watching my son Daniel, Teddy Weiss, and Spencer Brodsky follow in my footsteps, 50 years of answering the calls of Cantor Manevich by sounding the Shofar.

I’m flooded with memories of helping them hone their skills from their early youth to this day. I’m thrilled that they will undoubtedly share all the same joys I did from this pursuit as well: the connectivity with clergy, congregants, and WHC; the ability to create a groundswell of emotion and spirituality in themselves and others by this pursuit; and the pride of representing our faith and its history with each blast at WHC along with other venues.

But, I’m simply on cloud nine to see my grandchildren beam with pride at my son — their father or uncle — as he sounds the shofar, as they tug on his robe or sprint to the bimah at the children’s service, comfortable with their faith and prayer and tradition.

L’Dor v’Dor is just the best.

Brandon Schoenfeld

Over the past year, WHC has provided me opportunities to learn and grow as a Jew and a leader of our youth community. With help from the WHC scholarship fund, I was able to spend my spring semester attending the URJ Heller High in Israel program. This allowed me to learn for four months about our Israel and the Jewish people, be immersed in Jewish culture, and learn about Jewish history starting at the earliest bible stories all the way to modern observance debates.

Through these lessons, I was able to define what being Jewish means for me. I will carry this with me as I begin my Presidency of WHECTY, WHC’s senior youth group. Over the years, WHECTY has taught me about teamwork and problem-solving and helped me form lifelong friendships. Without WHC, I would never have had these experiences and become the person that I am today.

Mildred Amer

I always look forward to the High Holy Days in our beautiful sanctuary. Having grown up in a small temple in Mississippi, I am in awe of the crowds at our services and the range of inspiring music and prayers … even after nearly 50 years as a member. As the services start, I feel a lot of emotion when our clergy and lay leaders enter the sanctuary and are greeted by well-wishing congregants.

On Rosh Hashanah, I love hearing the closing song, Ein Keloheinu. It reminds me of my childhood with barely 20 enthusiastic people of various ages singing the same words but with a “southern twist”! On Yom Kippur, I am always moved by Avinu Malkeinu, the prayer led by our clergy and the song sung by our cantors. The words are timeless and as relevant today as when first written. Seeing so many Torahs removed from the Ark and lifted for all to see impresses upon me how special it is to be Jewish.

WHC inspires me throughout the year because of our devoted clergy, beautiful services, and many enrichment opportunities. I am grateful that WHC uses its status in the DC area to give back to the community and participate in so many worthwhile events. I have tremendous gratitude for my Temple connections made from my years as a lay leader and from being part of such a caring community.