Jessica Pelt was installed as Kesher Israel Congregation’s executive director last month. Pelt was previously the executive director of a modern Orthodox shul in Canada, and says her role was to strengthen the synagogue’s infrastructure.
“When you have a stronger administrative infrastructure, you’re able to connect to the members, offer programs, and communicate in better ways and ways that make sense in everyday lives,” Pelt says.
Pelt now has the same job at Kesher, a downtown, Orthodox synagogue she says is known for its warmth, friendliness and vitality, qualities she says she can expand on and build into everyday programming.
“My role is largely to support the volunteer base and to help facilitate a lot of programs and services that they want,” she says. “The overall idea is that the shul is really trying to expand on its very strong position in the greater Washington community and to continue to be a leader in the community.”
Kesher president Elanit Jakabovics agrees with Pelt, saying that making sure that the shul, led by Rabbi Barry Freundel, is seen as a “warm and welcoming place” is a high priority.
“Kesher has always tried to focus on having one community, finding what unites us as a community and trying to come up with ways that we can all come together as a community,” Jakabovics says. “We’ve always tried to find those areas where we can work together.”
The synagogue also frequently allows members and public figures to speak on the bima. A People’s Pulpit is held when Rabbi Freundel is out of town, says Jakabovics, where men, women and youth can give addresses on various topics.
“Our congregation is a very eclectic one,” she says. “The range of people and their religious observances kind of runs the gamut. [There are] folks who studied Judaism for years and people who haven’t.”
Given the transitory nature of D.C., it’s not surprising Kesher members vary widely, but lately, Jakabovics says shul has been fuller and home to many new members. “This year, we’re very fortunate to see a lot of new faces in our building; not just single young professionals, [but also] families that have moved into the community.”
For Jakabovics, the warm and welcoming nature and social life is what drew her to Kesher in the first place, she says. In a recent survey sent out to Kesher alumni, she says the overarching theme was that they felt like Kesher was their home.
“A shul doesn’t exist without services, but for people to participate in those services [it should also] be a place where you get together with friends and have a Friday night meal, and a center for your social life and educational life. I hope that’s something we can leave for future members.”
For more information about Kesher Israel, go to www.kesher.org.