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The President's Blog

Welcome, Hanukkah, our Festival of Light! Our tradition tells us to place the Hanukkah menorah in a window so that our neighbors and passersby can see the lights, and we can increase the light in the world. Looking back over this fall at Washington Hebrew, there are so many ways in which we have been adding to our community menorah, increasing the brightness in our Temple life and bringing more light to the world.

Our celebrations this fall have contained multiple bright lights. Two of them are our new worship services — Macomb St. Shabbat and District Shabbat. These musical, joyful, and participatory services have clearly struck the predicted chord among our congregants and the community. Another bright light was officially welcoming our newest rabbi, Eliana Fischel, and her husband to our Temple family. Rabbi Fischel has hit the ground running — meeting so many of our congregants, teaching a WHC Academy series on “Me Too” in the Bible, leading our Wednesday Study Group and services of all kinds, quickly becoming a favorite of our teens and youth groups, and generally making her warm and wise presence felt throughout our WHC community. We are lucky to have her and look forward to many years of worshiping and growing with her.

Through our Amram Scholar Series and our Monday night WHC Academy program, we shined a light on some of the most challenging questions of the day. More than 1,000 congregants and friends joined us on a Sunday morning in October when Madeleine Albright opened the Amram Scholar Series with a lively and informative discussion of her most recent book, Fascism: A Warning. Our first two WHC Academy sessions of the fall brought congregants and clergy together as they wrestled with sexism and misogyny in the Bible and examined the historical and current trends in anti-Semitism and what should be the appropriate response by the Jewish community. There is more to come, and I hope you will join us on Monday evenings in December when Amram and WHC Academy partner for dinner and in-depth discussions with several prominent authors on current topics.
In the broader community, our efforts to help others have been beacons of light. Our long-standing WHC Hunger Project, inaugurated in 2006 and nurtured by our EmptyNesters auxiliary and its many allies for the past 12 years, packed its millionth meal in October, and we celebrated that amazing accomplishment at a special Shirei Shabbat on November 30. What a milestone and what a joy to know that our efforts have provided a healthy and filling meal to more than four million people (each package feeds four) at a time when they otherwise would have gone hungry.

Most recently, Lutheran Social Services matched us with a refugee family, giving us the opportunity to welcome with light and love a family of five — a husband, wife, and three children — from Afghanistan through our Good Neighbors Initiative (GNI). Teams of volunteers, led by Melissa Schwartz, Beth Dubin, and Naomi Gohn, have committed to fully support the needs of this family for an entire year as they transition from newly-arrived immigrants to self-sufficient residents of the United States. Through the generosity of so many of you who purchased items from our Amazon Wish List, the GNI committee was able to furnish a two-bedroom apartment, including stocking the closets with clothes and the kitchen with supplies and food. A team of dedicated WHC volunteers is transporting the family to the multiple appointments — medical exams, Social Security office, etc. — that are needed before the children can begin school and the parents can start working on language and other skills required to make a self-sufficient and successful life here in the United States. What a blessing to be in a position to welcome the stranger and provide these essential services to a family who needs our help.

Amid these bright lights, came the attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. As I write this, it has been less than two weeks since the most virulent act of anti-Semitism in U.S. history — an attack on Jews at their most vulnerable, while they worshiped on Shabbat. As leaders, we responded immediately. We mourned this tragic loss and expressed our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. In response to the attack, we augmented our own security in the short term and are reviewing our long-standing security protocols. During the week that followed the massacre, we supported and attended with so many of you deeply moving vigil services sponsored by local Jewish organizations. And on that first Friday following the massacre, we invited our interfaith allies to join us for Macomb St. Shabbat. That night, we welcomed nearly 1,000 congregants and friends to our sanctuary for a meaningful, moving, and joyful service. The tremendous outpouring of support that we have received from all corners of the interfaith community is helping to bring light back to what has been a dark and uncertain time.

As we ponder our longer-term response to these issues, I am guided by the lessons of Hanukkah and the way the holiday directs us to show our light to the world. The light of the Hanukkah menorah reminds us of the miracle that no matter how dark aspects of life may seem, there is a source of light inside us and our fellow humans, and it is our obligation to act in ways that let light shine as brightly as possible.

As we celebrate this holiday season, I am proud that Washington Hebrew shines its light into our community and the world by continuing to practice our faith and help others. I wish all of you a healthy and happy Hanukkah and a holiday season filled with the brightest of lights!