Synagogue Twinning: Washington Hebrew and Haifa’s Or Hadash 

Rabbi Na'ama Dafni-Keller and Rabbi Gabby Dagan

Rabbi Na’ama Dafni Kellen from Haifa, Israel will visit Washington in early May to officially launch WHC’s new “twinning” relationship with Congregation Or Hadash, one of the largest Reform congregations in Israel.

Along with establishing “meaningful and long-term relationships and fostering ongoing interaction between and among our community members,” WHC Senior Rabbi Sue Shankman said that WHC’s twinning relationship “is a vehicle through which Diaspora Jews of all ages will get to know Israel’s Reform Jews” and, simultaneously ease the isolation felt by many progressive Jews in Israel, seeing their Judaism reflected in similar Reform congregations in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere.

WHC’s clergy and senior staff have organized a busy schedule for Rabbi Kellen during her visit to Macomb Street and the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center, from May 4-8. While at WHC, Na’ama (as she prefers to be called) will be meeting with many WHC members of all ages to teach, talk, learn, and share. Information about opportunities for WHC congregants to meet with Rabbi Kellen will be posted on the WHC website and in the weekly WHC newsletter.

During her visit, Rabbi Kellen will also confer with WHC’s clergy and senior staff to plan for twinning (or domim as it is called in Hebrew) projects starting next fall involving WHC and Or Hadash members and clergy. Potential twinning activities may include shared religious school and adult education classes; conversations between WHC and OH members; visits by WHC members to Or Hadash when in Israel and by OH members to WHC on trips to Washington. This summer’s WHC Israel trip led by Rabbi Shankman and Cantor Bortnick will visit Haifa and Or Hadash.

Rabbi Kellen is a prominent member of the Israeli Reform Jewish community. She has filled a number of roles in the Israeli-Jewish liberal world. She has served as National Coordinator of the Young Adult Leadership Forum (the student body of the Israeli Reform Movement); Co-founder and Director of Kehilat Tzedek — a multi-denominational center for social and communal responsibility involving rabbis, lay leaders, and professionals from Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox and unaffiliated congregations; and Content Coordinator for the Israeli Reform Movement.

The idea of WHC twinning with an Israeli Reform congregation was sparked when former WHC President David Astrove presented the concept to President Lew Wiener and Senior Rabbi Sue Shankman. Enthusiastic board approval followed. Matchmakers from the Israeli counterpart to the URJ, the Israeli Reform and Progressive Movement, helped establish the relationship between Washington and Haifa.

On a trip to Israel last year, David and Debbie Astrove visited Haifa and spoke to Or Hadash members about WHC and the Twinning project. Or Hadash serves 110 families and 350 congregants in Israel’s third-largest city. It is a community that is committed to inclusion, diversity, interfaith activities, and social justice. Its importance to the broader Israeli Reform community is underscored by the 110 b’nei mitzvah ceremonies on their 2023 calendar.

Jason Langsner contributed to his article. He and his family are active members of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. He and his wife, Carly Fox, proudly send their daughter Mia, to the RJW ECC in Potomac, and Jason invests in Israel though Washington Hebrew’s Fistful of Shekels investment club. Carly and Jason additionally have close family friends who are members of Or Hadash.