The new year is here and rabbis are heading into 2018 with high hopes — or at least the motivation to make the world a better, more spiritual place.
“Religion is the last sphere in which we focus l’dor v’dor’ — from generation to generation,” said Rabbi Fred Scherliner Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda. “So when politics are shortsighted and the business world is enjoying its tax cuts, the rest of us have to step up our tikkun olam game. That felt needed a year ago, but now it’s imperative.”
Social justice goals were a common theme among rabbis, who promoted Jewish advocacy in issues that include immigration, the environment and Israel.
“[Adat Shalom is] looking to build on last year’s effort to make everything we do both timely and timeless,” Dobb said. “This doesn’t feel like the year for light resolutions. The world is calling us.”
Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church said her congregation is looking to make 2018 the year of advocacy. Refugee assistance work has been a big part of the Reform synagogue’s activism, but the rabbi and other leaders want to help congregants raise their voices on issues they’re passionate about.
With the new year, the synagogue has begun its “18 in 18” initiative, seeking to form 18 advocacy groups.
“We want to really broaden the scope of the social justice work we do at Temple Rodef Shalom this year,” Schwartzman said. “We’ve had a lot of projects, but we want to do more advocacy work this year. It could be letter writing, letting people know how they can act on a topic they care about, or direct lobbying. But we want congregants doing advocacy work based on their interests and what’s important to them.”
There are also some brick and mortar needs the temple is looking to address in the new year. Rodef Shalom just launched a capital campaign to build a small worship space for intimate services and to increase capacity at its religious school. Some of the needs they hope to address are hardly new, though, especially in Northern Virginia.
“The sad last priority is parking,” Schwartzman said. “We need more.”
In a region at the center of politics, Conservative Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, expressed a desire to improve dialogue and civility.
“I hope in the new year, something can be done domestically so that we tone down the rhetoric that promotes divisiveness in our society,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats should work together and set a tone that our young people can aspire to.”
Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman at Kol Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Rockville, said his congregation will be deciding this year whether to make its non-Jewish spouses and family members full members of the synagogue. And Maltzman anticipates it will happen, knowing, he said, that most of his congregants are supportive of interfaith families.
“I think it’s more than a symbolic statement,” he said. “It’s about outreach and making people feel comfortable.”
He also pointed to plans to create a fellowship for 20- and 30-somethings in Washington, who may not be able to attend Kol Shalom services easily, but want a connection to the synagogue.
Both Maltzman and Maharat Dasi Fruchter of Beth Sholom Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Potomac, pointed out that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the time for in-depth reflection and resolutions in Jewish life. But, Fruchter said, the secular new year is a fine time for a check on how a congregation is doing on its goals.
“The winter is cold and dark and it’s important to figure out where are these bright lights we identified at the beginning of the [Jewish] year,” she said.
For Beth Sholom, she said, it’s the congregation’s engagement work, along with the culmination of a seven-year project. Fruchter has started a beit midrash, or study house, in a local wine bar as a way to bring Jews together to study outside the synagogue’s walls. And, later this month, Beth Sholom will celebrate the end of its seven-year cycle of studying a page of Talmud a day.
And for those who wish to make their own resolutions Temple Micah’s Rabbi Susan Landau has some advice: Think specifically and think Jewishly.
“Judaism helps me envision three interconnected realms of spiritual relationships, arranged like concentric circles: connections between an individual and the self or God, between people and between an individual and the wider world,” she said. “I suggest considering these three categories when thinking of New Year’s resolutions. Which realm is the most compelling to you this year? Which needs the most work? Over the years I have learned that resolutions are more likely to stick if they are specific and concrete — the easier it is to measure success, the more success you are likely to have.”
Contributors to this article were WJW Senior Writer Hannah Monicken, Political Reporter Dan Schere and Staff Writer Jared Foretek.