Samantha Frank grew up in Silver Spring, attending Kehila Chadasha, which describes itself as a progressive Jewish community and “shul without walls.” Frank said the congregation showed her how Judaism could be “joyful,” as well as connect to issues of social justice.
“It was where I saw that Judaism was a place where we could have conversations about things that really, really mattered,” said Frank, who is 29.
Frank decided to go to rabbinic school and, after being ordained last spring, is now back in Washington as a rabbinic fellow at Temple Micah.
For three years, she has also been one half of a popular Instagram account called @modern_ritual, which focuses on bringing Judaism to people beyond the walls of a synagogue or traditional Jewish institutions. The account mixes posts about minor Jewish holidays with challah recipes and discussion that mix Judaism with feminism, contemporary politics and how to live a meaningful Jewish life today.
What niche do you see @modern_ritual filling?
There are a lot of great resources online if you already know about Jewish life and have a bit of a Jewish vocabulary, but we’re bringing Jewish content at a level that is really, really accessible. I run it with Rena Singer, who is a rabbinical student.
Who is the audience?
Anyone who is looking to live a meaningful Jewish life. We reach more women than men and our main demographic is 25 to 35 year olds, but we also have a big chunk 10 years on either side. It’s people who are really excited to be doing Shabbat for the first time and also people who grew up with the traditions but are looking for ways to make them more meaningful and fit with their egalitarian values or LGBTQ values.
What has been the biggest surprise while running @modern_ritual?
We’ve been really surprised that we’re talking to folks all over the world. We expected it would be popular with people in metro areas but what we’ve seen is that actually if you’re in an urban area you have more access to a progressive Jewish community — and therefore less need to connect virtually to us — than our followers who live in France, or Montana or Bali.
Do you have a favorite post?
Selfishly, I love that Rena did a lot of posting from my rabbinic ordination. Most people don’t see the ritual of how people become rabbis. My other favorite post was on “getting Judaism wrong” and the specific shame you feel when mess something up Jewishly. We’d just made two mistakes on the account that we were so disappointed about and we figured the best way to deal with it would be to normalize that and show that nobody — not even your rabbi — is perfect.
What lessons can be applied from @modern_ritual to contemporary Jewish education offline?
Jewish education works best when you’re working in the language that’s native to the learners. For @modern_ritual, that means our tone is tailored to Instagram: accessible, really clear and not taking anyone’s Jewish education for granted. And also respecting that people who are Jewish learners are smart, they’re intellectual, they want to be challenged.
Sometimes there’s sense with Jewish education that if we go too deep we’ll lose people, but we’ve learned that people want to go deep.
Do you have any advice for Jews in the DMV looking to engage more deeply with Judaism?
There are a lot of really cool things happening in synagogues and in the Jewish community here that are really in concert with @modern_ritual, answering the question of how to live a meaningful Jewish life. If you have a question, go forth and ask it.
Arno Rosenfeld is a Washington-area writer.