Director’s Reflection: The Meaning of Membership

Lindsay Feldman is Washington Hebrew’s Assistant Executive Director. Learn more about Lindsay and contact her here.

In this day and age, we are part of so many things: we subscribe, we join, we hold memberships. This connected and engaged world we live in may lead some people to think about belonging to a synagogue the same way they think about belonging to a gym, having a Netflix account, or (pre-COVID) subscribing to a season at The Kennedy Center. By definition, one could argue that they are all “memberships.” Similar to a gym membership, Washington Hebrew Congregation will always offer classes that inspire and find new ways to encourage you to connect. And like a video streaming account, you can access much of our programming at a time of your choosing.

However, that is where the similarities end. Here at WHC, we use the term “membership” to describe the commitment of community members to our sacred bond. WHC is a community. A community that has been there for generations before me. A community that I want for my children and my children’s children.

Institutions are evolving with our changing world, and Washington Hebrew is here to meet you where you are. As you likely saw in recent issues of the WHC Journal and emails from WHC, we have proudly shifted from a “fair share” dues model to “Congregational Commitment.” This simpler, more welcoming program focuses on community. It lowers membership dues for many people, provides increased flexibility for everyone, and encourages philanthropy for members who are able to support WHC’s mission at a higher level.

Yet, even as the world changes around us, there is much we can depend on from our Temple. Congregational commitment, as a value, is something WHC has always embraced. Since 1852, we have stood beside our community members in times of joy and sorrow. We have worked with families in times of personal crisis and held up the community in moments of national and global difficulty. Inspired by our tradition, we walk, hand in hand and heart to heart, with the intention of making this world a better place.

This past year has shown us just how important a congregational commitment can be for every individual. We have watched children become b’nei mitzvah from their homes via Zoom. Because of our congregational commitment, the Torah scroll they read from—as well as the freshly baked challah and Kamy Loren Nathanson kiddush cup they used during Friday evening services—had all been hand-delivered to them by our clergy. Our congregational commitment ensured that we could still gather (safely, virtually) to support community members in times of loss, comforted by the words of our tradition and the care of our clergy. We have learned and prayed and laughed via Zoom, our congregational commitment ever-present as we hope to return to in-person gatherings. This commitment—yours and WHC’s—has made it possible for our community to weather the storm of 2020 and prepare to reemerge, reconnect stronger than ever.

While there are a number of alternative options to traditional synagogue membership, none provides the full scope of support offered by your Temple. The value of becoming a part of a long-standing community like Washington Hebrew recognizes and affirms the importance of Judaism in our lives.

Whatever Jewish community means to you, only a synagogue community can maintain and nurture Judaism in such a consistent, intimate, and relational way. A synagogue is a crucial component of Judaism and allows for our children, and our children’s children, to experience their Jewish community and form their Jewish identity. L’dor v’dor.

At every milestone and every moment, Washington Hebrew is here for you as a member of our community. And we thank you for your commitment as well.

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If you are just discovering Washington Hebrew, welcome! We’d be delighted to chat with you and answer any questions you may have about our Temple, our community, and how WHC can become your Jewish community. Please reach out to Lindsay at lfeldman@whctemple.org or 202-895-6321.

For our current WHC members, thank you for being such an integral part of our community! Please help us continue on that path by selecting your Congregational Commitment for the 2021-2022 fiscal year!