For Rachel Gartner, it was love at first Shabbat at Shirat HaNefesh

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Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rachel Gartner

As we count down to Rosh Hashanah, we’d like to introduce you to five new rabbis in the Washington area who are gearing up for their first high holidays here.

Rabbi Rachel Gartner’s relationship with Shirat HaNefesh began when the congregation’s then-rabbi, Gilah Langner, sent out an email saying the independent synagogue was seeking visiting rabbis.


“Something inside me that was not small, but loud and vibrant, said, ‘Yes! I want to do this!’” Gartner said. Then, she led her first Shabbat. “For me, it was love at first Shabbat.”

Before joining the Chevy Chase congregation, Gartner for more than a decade had been director of Jewish life at Georgetown University — a “chaplain” as the position is called at the Roman Catholic school.

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She said her new congregants care about each other, living meaningful Jewish lives together and are deeply invested in the wellbeing of their communities.

“It’s a delightfully diverse group,” she said. Congregants’ backgrounds include secular, Reconstructionist, Conservative and traditional.


Gartner said what is most interesting to her is how many of Shirat HaNefesh’s members have recently sent their youngest child off to college. She is particularly excited to work with these families, as someone who is also about to experience the same chapter in life, with navigating the loss and liberation.

“The young adults are now navigating their own chapters as they take flight as free birds,” Gartner said. “The elders in this community have lots of insight to offer along the way.”

In her work at Shirat HaNefesh, Gartner said she wants to honor the clergy who preceded her, and the members themselves. Members can expect musical, soulful, vibrant, caring and committed community and leadership, she said.

“They can sing,” Gartner said. “Boy, they can sing.” Members can anticipate string and electric music that deeply resonate with Gartner’s type of spiritual expression.

Growing up in a small community where everyone knew each other, Gartner said she could just feel how important each person was, each individual playing a vital role in the community. “When I told my mom about this new journey,” she said, “the first thing she said was, ‘It’s like you’re going home.’”

Gartner notes she aims to welcome like-minded individuals and those who see themselves resonating with who the congregation of Shirat HaNefesh is. “They can make their home here, too,” she said.

 

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