by Eric Hal Schwartz
At 25 years old, Congregation B’nai Tzedek has a long history of accomplishments to its credit but what makes this congregation special according to its leaders is the open and inviting atmosphere it provides for everyone from newest member to oldest veteran.
“Anyone could and should feel welcome here,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who helped found the congregation.
B’nai Tzedek is affiliated with the Conservative movement
, and one of the things that makes it so special is the openness of the membership to new people and experience, Weinblatt said. He encourages a continued push to reach out to the community and congregants such as the parlor meetings he runs in the homes of congregation members.
“Members do go out of their way to go up to people who look like they’re there alone,” Weinblatt said.
He also credits the lay leadership for the inclusiveness of the congregation.
“You can come in and fit in relatively quickly and relatively easily,” said Harvey Rumeld, president of the congregation.
Rumeld said that the congregation, which currently numbers slightly more than 600 members and families, is the perfect size – large enough to have the resources for great programming and education but small enough to have a warm, close community.
“There is an energy and vitality and dynamism here,” Weinblatt said. “It was here at the start and continued on.”
Disability awareness and involving congregants with special needs is one area where B’nai Tzedek particularly shines. Washington Jewish Week even highlighted its disabilities awareness program in September.
“We’re at the forefront or certainly ahead of the curve in showing sensitivity to members with special needs,” Rumeld said.
The congregation has a special needs standing committee with two chairs on the board and works to help congregants with special needs.
“It continues to be an area of special attention and focus,” Rumeld said.
The shul is also involved in having its schools diagnose and help students with special needs get the best education possible.
“We’ve raised people’s awareness in a really critical way,” Weinblatt said.
There are a lot of programs run by the synagogue for both adults and children that stand out as creative and interesting ways to engage with congregants.
On Friday nights Rabbi Weinblatt tells a story related to a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, providing stickers for children attending. On special occasions such as when the congregation acquired a new Torah and another time upon the purchase of a new Talmud, there were special programs and workshops held to really get the congregants involved and help them learn more about the subjects.
“We have a very intellectual membership,” Rumeld said.
The opportunities offered by B’nai Tzedek continue to grow as the membership does, but both Weinblatt and Rumeld are confident that it will remain the welcoming and happy place it’s been as it begins its next 25 years.
“It’s a very special congregation and a very special place,” Weinblatt said.