Jews in their 20s and 30s are filling the pews on Friday nights. But the action is not so much at the suburban shul they grew up in, but in the bright lights of the big city, centered on innovative programming that is welcoming of all Jews regardless of denomination or level of observance.
Now two of the biggest players in the Washington, D.C. Jewish young professional scene – Washington Hebrew Congregation’s 2239 and Sixth & I Historic Synagogue – are teaming up for an event called Shabbat Squared that will combine 2239’s Metro Minyan service led by Rabbi Aaron Miller and Sixth & I’s 6th in the City participatory service led by Rabbi Shira Stutman.
Sixth & I and 2239 have done joint programming in the past, including a Purim party in March and a Lag B’Omer celebration in May, so Stutman calls the combined service “a natural part of the process” that was made possible because Thanksgiving this year coincides with the last Friday of the month when Metro Minyan takes place.
“Aaron and I were talking, and we decided that logistics were pushing us into something that we had talked about doing anyways, which was to have a service together,” said Stutman. “We know that there’s a big overlap of participants between our two services, and we certainly have a wonderful relationship with each other. It just seemed like an obvious next step that we are both really excited about.”
Miller explained that the D.C. scene is different than some other cities where young professional groups are all competing for the same people.
“The scene has been really intentionally laid out so there is something really excellent for this young professional Jewish community every night,” said Miller. “We spend a lot of effort trying not to program over each other, and when we do, we let each other know.”
That coordination between young professional groups gives D.C.-area Jews an option every Friday, with four big Shabbatot occurring every month: Adas Israel’s Shir Delight kabbalat Shabbat service on the first Friday of the month, which is lay-led by young professionals in the community followed by a d’var Torah from Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf or Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt; 6th in the City service on the second Friday; Rabbi Scott Perlo’s Good Soul Shabbat service also at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue; and Metro Minyan, which instead of taking place at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s home in upper Northwest, rents space downtown at Calvary Baptist Church to make the service Metro accessible.
“The rabbis in D.C. get along very well. And one of the reasons why we started Shabbat Squared is because Rabbi Shira is a friend, and I think she is an excellent rabbi,” said Miller.
Metro Minyan or 6th in the City regulars will experience a different kind of service that merges customs. For example, 6th in the City will be bringing in Metro Minyan’s “Shot of Torah” – a half-an-hour of Torah study over drinks before the service.
2239ers will hear musician Rick Recht instead of Noah Solomon Chase on guitar. Both services are bringing their unique melodies to the service as well.
“One of the end results of this partnership is we hope that more 2239ers find out about Sixth & I and that more Sixth & I folks find out about 2239 and Washington Hebrew Congregation,” said Miller. “For the people who want a more rich, diverse and involved Jewish experience, we do try to coordinate with each other to make sure that the excellent events that all the organizations host interact well with each other and build off of each other and ultimately create a more active Jewish community. And that’s really our goal at the end of the day.”
Shabbat Squared will take place on Nov. 14 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. “Shot of Torah” starts at 6:30 p.m. and the main service begins at 7:15 p.m., followed by dinner. The service is free. Dinner is $10 if you preregister and $12 the day of the event.