Pop-up Shabbat includes music, food trucks

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Bethesda Jewish Congregation Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer warms up for the outdoor service by playing songs from the Beatles and the Jackson 5. Photo by Dan Schere

The food truck pulled up at 5:30 last Friday afternoon. By 6, people began lining up, and taking away fish tacos and salmon seasoned in saffron.

This is how they get ready for Shabbat at Bethesda Jewish Congregation.


In warm weather, the synagogue holds a monthly Shabbat under the stars in the parking lot of the building it shares with Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.

The food truck always gets the evening going. As 30  congregants sat at tables, discussing their daily commute and the chimichurri sauce that accompanied their meals, Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer and the congregation’s band warmed up for the service by playing The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5.

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Bethesda Jewish Congregation is an independent synagogue and sometimes takes a “try it and see if it works” approach to Shabbat, Schnitzer explained.

“There’s some places where if you’re the rabbi and you throw up a clunker, you’re in trouble,” he said. “This congregation is so forgiving. It’s like, let’s look for the next thing.”


Schnitzer said the idea for food trucks came from a congregant during a marketing meeting.

“And it was like, what an awesome idea,” he said. “Friday food trucks. We put signs up on the road.”

Some Friday nights there are as many as three trucks. In the past, a quesadilla truck and a corned beef truck have been among those that pulled into the Bethesda Jewish Congregation parking lot.

Congregant Diane Blumenthal of Bethesda said she enjoys the food, music and socializing that accompanies the monthly get-together.

“It’s so nice to be outside and sing and congregate in a real casual way,” she said.

For congregant Sandra Walter, the outdoor Shabbat experience is a satisfying mix of the social and the spiritual.

“It makes me feel [good] to express my Jewishness when I come here,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that carries me throughout my week and certainly a great start to my weekend. And it’s the friends I’ve made here and the music and the messages from the rabbi, who really seems to be talking to me.”

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