Special to WJW
“Speaking millennial.” That’s one skill that Rabbi Gil Steinlauf wants to teach as the new job as scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“That means we have to look deeply into how younger generations not only relate to Judaism and the Jewish community, but also what they yearn for, need, expect and how they want to see themselves spiritually in the world as generous, giving, justice-seeking people,” said Steinlauf, 49, adding, “That means developing the skill not only to be aware of how younger generations think and act and give but also to be willing, as a part of the Jewish institutional world, to adapt to those needs.”
As scholar-in-residence, Steinlauf, a former senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, will wear several hats. One is as a teacher. He said he intends to provide Jewish “framing” at meetings and events “to help deepen the Jewish connection and content in the direct work of Federation.” He will present divrei Torah at meetings and conduct special Torah study sessions to help staff and fundraisers become aware of the spiritual nature of their work.
He also will be involved in fundraising, working first as an observer and then “more hands-on in directly interfacing with funders and potential funders to help inspire people to give” to the Jewish community.
And he hopes to raise spiritual awareness among local Jews — when he represents the Federation in the Jewish community.
Federation CEO Gil Preuss said he hired Steinlauf, in part, because of Steinlauf’s experience leading Adas Israel.
He is someone who is a rabbi and a scholar and who was “incredibly effective in strengthening one of the key local Jewish organizations, Adas Israel,” Preuss said. “He will help us think through how we engage people and how we move the community forward.”
Steinlauf knows the Washington Jewish community, Preuss said, and “helped rejuvenate an important local institution. He seems to be the right person for the job for this coming year.”
While focusing on millennials, Steinlauf said the Federation should not lose sight of the rest of the Jewish community and “remain true” to the older generation that has given to the Jewish community.
The Federation must proceed “in step with Jewish tradition,” said the rabbi, who was ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.
Steinlauf believes his areas of expertise, which should be valuable to the Federation, include knowing the Jewish community, creating new paradigms for Jewish communal leadership development and understanding the Jewish LGBTQ community. In 2014, he revealed to his congregation that he is gay.
In addition to being the Federation scholar-in-residence, Steinlauf will continue to direct the Hineni Fellowship for LGBTQ Jewish Leadership. The goal of the program, which this year will have 25 adult trainees, is to cultivate LGBTQ lay leaders from the Jewish community.
Aaron Leibel is a Washington-area writer.