At Temple B’nai Shalom, David Widzer creates moments of connection

Rabbi David Widzer of Temple B’nai Shalom
Photo provided

Second in a series of profiles of new rabbis in the Washington region.

Congregations are the fundamental building blocks of Jewish community, says Rabbi David Widzer.

The question for the new rabbi at Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station is: “How do we become a home for Jewish living and learning in the 21st century?”

He says he found his new congregation “open and inviting of people wherever they are on their Jewish journey. To support one another, to celebrate together, to be a community of meaning was really exciting to me.”

It all goes back to why Widzer wanted to be a rabbi in the first place. He grew up feeling welcomed and comfortable in his congregation.

Widzer was raised as a Reform Jew in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He was active in his congregation, Jewish summer camps and youth groups and attended Brown University.

“It dawned on me slowly that there was a way that I could help others have the same experience that I did. To be able to connect with some part of Judaism in some meaningful way, and being a rabbi lets me create those moments of connection, open those doors of possibility for people to find meaning, purpose and values and a framework for how they live their life,” says Widzer.

After attending rabbinical school, Widzer worked at two Massachusetts congregations. Later, he co-founded Kol Dorot in New Jersey, created by the merger of two temples.

“For those two New Jersey congregations, the best way to [become a home for Jewish living in the new century] was to merge into a new community with a new philosophy, new way of reaching people, new way of connecting and new way of making a community of meaning,” Widzer says.

Widzer says starting at a new congregation during the pandemic has had ups and downs. Since he and his family moved to Virginia, social distancing has made it hard to meet new friends, neighbors and congregants.

Widzer’s wife, Karen, is an attorney. They have two children, Judah, a high school sophomore, and Elisheva, a seventh-grader.

“Yet at the same time, there have been these really lovely moments where even in this digital world, we can make real bonds of community,” he says. “Our Shabbat evening services have all been online and we’re getting more folks on Zoom then we’d have gotten in person.”

Whether online or in-person, there are some consistencies to being a rabbi.

“The most rewarding part of being a rabbi is being present with people when Judaism makes a difference in their lives,” Widzer says. “When they connect with something that our 5,000-year-old history and heritage have for them.”

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