Prayer on tap this Yom Kippur with GatherDC

Rabbi Aaron Potek will lead GatherDC’s “Alternative Yom Kippur.” Photo courtesy of Bruce Powell Photography.

When most Jews think of Yom Kippur, a few things come to mind. Prayer and fasting are high on the list.

But coming together at a beer garden? Not so much.

But that won’t stop Rabbi Aaron Potek of GatherDC from offering an alternative Yom Kippur on Saturday, inviting young Jews who might not observe the holiday otherwise to a bar to make a little time for Judaism.

“We know a lot of us are not going to be in shul or fasting,” said Rachel Gildiner, GatherDC’s executive director. “So we want to do something in line with our mission of helping connect people to their Jewish identity and to experiment.”

The event, beginning at 11 a.m. at Sauf Haus beer garden near Dupont Circle, will include meditation, text study and journaling. Potek and Sarah Hurwitz, a former speechwriter for the Obamas, will lead a discussion.

Potek said he’s heard criticism. The mere act of drinking beer violates a core tenet of the holiday. (Potek said Gather DC will not be serving beer.) He said he’s not trying to tempt Jews away from the synagogue and the fast.

“A lot of the pushback I’ve gotten has been from more Orthodox-identifying folks,” said Potek, who was ordained at the modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. ”It’s hard to see [the criticism] as rooted in anything but Orthodoxy. And I’m not arguing with any of that. I’m just saying that there’s a large number, even a majority, of Jews who don’t live their life guided by Jewish law. So why not create an experience for them?”

This won’t be the first time Potek and GatherDC have held a non-traditional Yom Kippur event. In 2015, when the holiday fell on a workday, they invited people to bring a brown bag lunch to the National Gallery for a meetup.


Unlike most of Saturday’s attendees, Potek will be observing the holiday in a traditional way. He said he’ll fast and get to the beer garden on foot. But given the timing of the event, most of his prayer will be done in solitude.

“I’ll join in [services] where I can,” he said. “But I didn’t go to rabbinical school to have my own religious experiences.”

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