metro minyan

Last night I went to Washington Hebrew Congregation‘s new Metro Minyan, a monthly Friday night Shabbat service and dinner hosted by the Reform synagogue’s 2239 group, for young professionals. My friend Alanna’s brother Aaron is the new assistant rabbi at Washington Hebrew, and she invited me and a group of our friends.

The idea behind this new initiative, the rabbi explained, is to meet young people where they are, literally. Indeed, most young professionals in D.C. live in metro-accessible locations (and very few of them have cars), but — and this is one of my pet peeves about synagogues in D.C. — most of the shuls are not. Of course, this fact made it all the more ironic when we couldn’t take the subway home because the orange line trains were suspended when the event ended.

The service was also an attempt to help young Jews connect to their Judaism, the rabbi said, some of them for the first time. That certainly doesn’t describe me — or any of the many people I knew at the service — and I’m not sure how else the others would have gotten there, unless they were at least somewhat plugged into the Jewish community. Indeed, the rabbi recognized a group of volunteers who had just returned from a community service trip, organized by the synagogue, to Birmingham to rebuild a house.

But engaging young Jews is the obsession of the Jewish community today. At the Union for Reform’s Judaism Biennial conference in December, for instance, a new Campaign for Youth Engagement was announced (which might have prompted this initiative by Washington Hebrew). And as I wrote in my rabbinical school applications, my generation is not connecting to the organized Jewish world in the same way as our parents. The way we as Jews are handling intermarriage isn’t helping either.

eastern market’s north hall; photo by susana raab

The service was held in the North Hall of Eastern Market, D.C.’s oldest continually operated fresh food public market (according to its website). Renovated by the D.C. government in 2009, the North Hall is a community space in the Capitol Hill market.

The service lasted about an hour and was (I gather) a fairly typical Reform Friday night service. I didn’t grow up affiliated, but most of my experience has been in more traditional services. I love the Kabbalat Shabbat service and was sad that it was over with perhaps three songs. And since I was sitting in the back, I couldn’t hear the rabbi that well in the cavernous space; the people around me weren’t singing very much (I could really only hear my friend Julia behind me). I wish there had been a piece of learning or a d’var Torah. However, since I am applying to the Reform seminary, I knew I needed to get myself to a Reform service or two. Update (1/25): I should have noted that I was very happy that we sang Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach,” which I love and I don’t get to sing that often at services.

Dinner was great: The food was from New Course Catering, a non-profit that provides chronically unemployed D.C. residents with marketable restaurant training. The proceeds from the night went back to it. As the event website noted, it was “a meal and a mitzvah!” And I discovered a new challah option. I’ve always thought that KosherMart made the best challah in the area, but my friend Jordy (apparently) swears by the one from Great Harvest Bread Co. I may have been converted. Naturally, there is no location in D.C. proper. I guess the bakery isn’t worried about engaging young Jews!

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