Interfaith Event Spotlights Hill Havurah’s Commitment to Community

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Hill Havurah members recently celebrated Simchat Torah, which included hakafot that took them down East Capitol Street to the Capitol, as they sung and danced with their Torahs.
Courtesy of Alan Shusterman

Hill Havurah, an independent Jewish community in D.C., is taking part in an event with the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington, where they will discuss the Supreme Court, the First Amendment and religion, in continuation of Hill Havurah’s commitment to interfaith relations.

The event will feature Mark Sherman, a longtime Supreme Court reporter for the Associated Press and a Hill Havurah member, and will engage a diverse community for questions and analysis on pressing topics regarding religion and the Supreme Court.
“What this [event] represents, and one of the things that I love about Hill Havurah, is that we are very interested in interfaith dialogue and interfaith understanding, and we are always looking for opportunities to pursue that,” Alan Shusterman, Hill Havurah’s executive director, said.

Shusterman also said that given the recent rising tensions in the Middle East, interfaith connections and conversations at the event might have a greater impact than they did when the event was initially planned.

But beyond one event, Hill Havurah’s commitment to interfaith relations is clear based on where they hold events and services; out of a shared space they rent with a Lutheran church in D.C.

“Right in our own neighborhood, we have a very close relationship with the Lutheran church community, and we’ve done other things with the greater Christian community and the Muslim community throughout our history, but especially in the last few years,” Shusterman said.

Hill Havurah Rabbi Hannah Spiro said that interfaith work is one of her favorite things about her job, and that the friendships she’s made through that work have helped her grow and provided support during tough times.

Rabbi Spiro mentioned that during the current war in Israel, her fellow faith leaders have offered support, and it’s important for her congregants to see the impact of the relationships Hill Havurah has built.

“It felt as if they were really like an ally for me as fellow clergy going through a hard spot. But it was really, really cool to show our congregation that these relationships we’ve been building, we tried to be there for folks, and they really tried to be there for us too. It’s a really sweet thing,” Rabbi Spiro said.

Collaboration and connection are also key to Hill Havurah’s work in the greater D.C. community, as they only have 185 member households.

Hill Havurah is invested in racial and migrant solidarity work, and to carry out large community projects and events, they need help and an understanding of where there’s a need.

“When you want to do solidarity work, it’s better to be doing actual solidarity versus just swooping in to see what needs to be done,” Rabbi Spiro said.

Rabbi Spiro said it’s important for her congregants to interact with diverse groups of people and ideas, and that interfaith connections allow those things to happen.

An example Rabbi Spiro cited was the issue of cemeteries. Hill Havurah has several interfaith families, and a problem arose over how those families could be buried, as interfaith members wouldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

But through Hill Havurah’s connections, they were able to find a place at the Congressional Cemetery, which does interfaith burials and allows people to buy some of that land for their burials.

These relationships allow Hill Havurah to fulfil their mission of community service and connection, which is so important to them based on their roots in the area and historical involvement. Their work fosters opportunities for education and empathy with different groups of people, which is vital to creating a better, more caring society.

“Ultimately, I think especially in this day and age, where there’s so much division in so many different ways in our society in America, it’s heartening to be able to find common humanity with people who otherwise might not come into our lives or who we would not have been exposed to in our lives,” Shusterman said.

Hill Havurah is planning a multitude of interfaith events in the coming weeks, including a Thanksgiving celebration, text-readings and potluck Shabbat dinner with a local church.

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