Can a synagogue have a catch phrase?

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Translations of two Hebrew  quotations  painted in neat calligraphy now adorn the wall above Sixth & I Historic Synagogue’s bimah. The quotes —“Arise, shine, your light has come” and “Love the stranger, for you were strangers” — were suggested by members of the Sixth & I community in a contest last summer.

The new quotations replaced others that had been on the wall since the historic building in Washington was rededicated as Sixth & I in 2004.

“Arise, shine, your light has come” comes from the hymn “Lecha Dodi,” which Jews say to welcome Shabbat.

“If you were to compile a list of Jewish hits from the past 2,000 years, ‘Lecha Dodi’ would be number one or two,” said Rabbi Jesse Paikin. “It maps out the message of paying [good deeds] forward,” he said.

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The second quotation, “Love the stranger, for you were strangers,” appears 36 times in the Torah, said Michelle Eider, communications manager. “It reflects our commitment to being a pluralistic and welcoming community, as well as our commitment to supporting social justice causes.”

Paikin added, “It can be understood as one of the fundamental principles of Judaism. We understand ourselves to be a pluralistic community. We need to be as welcoming as we can for people who don’t come from here.”

Paikin said the synagogue’s hope was that the verses will make the synagogue, known for its arts and cultural programming, more welcoming for everyone.

He said the synagogue wanted to consider the “image [we] were projecting,” to its audience and wanted to ensure that the words written above the bimah “reflected our values, were spiritually uplifting and also creatively interesting.”

Added Eider, “The bimah is one of the most visible parts of our sanctuary, so whether you’re attending Shabbat services, a concert or a book talk, the quotes inevitably become a part of your experience in our space.”

The previous quotations  —“Remember Ye the Law of Moses” and “Faith in God is Happiness” —“ no longer fit the image the synagogue is trying to project in, said  Paikin, who did research into the latter quote, and couldn’t find its origin.

Members suggested about 45 quotations, which the synagogue’s staff narrowed to seven. Members were allowed to vote on the seven, but the final two choices were made by staff, Paikin said.

The short list included: “Justice, justice you shall pursue” and “How full of awe is this place!” Eider said.

“If somebody is sitting in their seats for a concert and they see those phrases and it inspires them to learn a little more about the space they’re in, and see what we’re doing here, that’s great,” Paikin said. “The sanctuary is a really magnificent space. At the end of the day, they’re printed words on the wall. But in many ways, it’s like almost like a billboard or slogan; we want it to stand on its own and have people be curious about it.”

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Twitter: @SamScoopCooper

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