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Welcoming 5781

Dear Washington Hebrew Family,

For the first time in almost 170 years, Washington Hebrew Congregation’s sanctuaries will not be filled with worshippers during this holy season. Instead, in these unprecedented times, we are blessed with a chance to worship from home, seeing our beautiful sanctuary only through device screens. 

There is so much that is different and difficult right now. Yet, in the midst of all this change, blessings abound.  The comfort of familiarity and tradition still embraces us. Washington Hebrew has always been a congregation of the home and of the heart, and being removed from our physical buildings does not alter our mission. We continue to teach, to engage, to create community, and to serve the greater good such that Judaism will endure from generation to generation.

Jewish people have a long history of confronting adversity – in ways both big and small – and creating from it something inspirational. Adaptation is in the DNA of our People. Overcoming difficulty only to remake ritual and uphold tradition happens in each century. When they finished wandering the desert and entered the Promised Land, our People transitioned from a portable tabernacle to a majestic Temple. Upon its destruction – twice! – our People built synagogues. Long before the physical structures were built, Jewish people gathered in their homes, connecting as families and as a faith. Over millennia, our faith and connection have seen us through both joy and tragedy. We are the Jewish people, and we know the importance of community.

You are Washington Hebrew’s community. Despite being physically distanced, our community remains spiritually connected; we continue to pray together, learn with and from one another, celebrate milestones, and mourn losses – all the while adapting to the technological innovations available to us. Many of us are learning skills we could never have dreamed we would acquire. From those of us who grew up using manual typewriters to those who have never known a world without Tik Tok and YouTube – FaceTime calls, Zoom gatherings, and socially distanced interactions are part of our shared experience. Today, our eyes not only help us to see things through screens, but they are our smiles and convey our empathy while masks cover our faces. Skills and lessons that were unimaginable nine months ago are now commonplace. Our ability to connect persists.

I am so proud of the creative and resilient response Washington Hebrew Congregation has shown throughout this pandemic.  Presented with what feels like an upside-down world, our staff have built makeshift workstations, developed new modes of communication, and upheld the highest standards of professionalism while balancing so much complexity. Our Temple leadership has stepped up and continued to support this congregation with wisdom and love, never wavering in their dedication – even after hours and hours of necessary and hard decisions. And you, our members, have demonstrated again and again that we truly are a congregation of the heart. You have sent caring notes, shared professional expertise, and continue to show up again and again to gather with us in these new ways. Together, we are demonstrating resilience. I am at once in awe and entirely unsurprised. Washington Hebrew Congregation is a special place, and I am humbled by each and every individual who is part of our extraordinary community.

While so much of the future is uncertain, I know that 5781 will be a sweet year – sweetened by the strength, adaptability, and the heart of every member. Together, we will continue to gather – as we always have – to worship together, to learn together, and to show up for one another in times of joy and sorrow. Together, we will continue to be a community and a congregation of the heart and of the home.

May we all be blessed with health, joy, continued growth, and all the resilience needed to encounter this New Year. May we each be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig