What’s happening at Kol Shalom…Launch of the Jewish Identity Institute

Rabbi Steinlauf at the Jewish Identity Institute at Kol Shalom. Photo provided

Updated: Nov. 14

When Rabbi Gil Steinlauf began his tenure at Kol Shalom in Rockville in July, he spoke of wanting to use the largely middle aged congregation in an experiment to “reimagine the role of a suburban synagogue in the 21st century.”

The Jewish Identity Institute, which Kol Shalom launched this week, is part of that reimagining.

Steinlauf led the first session, “The Jewish Art of Questioning Everything.” He said it focused on the Jewish tradition of disagreement and “chutzpah.”


“It’s a big entrée into an essential component in Judaism,” he said. “Rather than simply accept tradition, [ancient scholars] boldly questioned the traditions they received. Judaism begins with question, with doubt, with willingness to

Steinlauf explained in a phone interview that he wants the synagogue to be more than a place of worship. He wants to get people to think about the wider world and what their role as Jews is within this world.

The institute, he said, will offer a variety of classes and lectures. Each event will focus on a different facet of life and discuss the role it plays in shaping a person’s identity and their “being Jewish in this world,” Steinlauf said.

This includes factors like race, gender, sexual orientation and disability. The classes will also focus on how people can become leaders in their communities.

Upcoming at the Jewish Identity Institute

Dec. 10
Leadership and Race

Led by Yolanda Savage-Narva

Yolanda Savage-Narva devoted her professional career to helping people live their best and most healthy lives. She is executive director for Operation Understanding DC, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting understanding, cooperation and respect while fighting to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.

7:30 p.m.

Jan. 14
Leadership and Israel

Led by Ambassador Dennis Ross

A scholar and diplomat with more than two decades of experience in Soviet and Middle East policy, Dennis Ross worked closely with Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.

Before his service as special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, Ross served as director of the State Department’s policy planning staff in the first Bush administration. Ross is a member of Kol Shalom.

7:30 p.m.

Feb. 25

Judaism and Politics
Led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
Jamie Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, which
includes parts of Montgomery, Carroll and Frederick counties. He is in his second term in the House.
7:30 p.m.

March 10

Intellectual Leadership

Session led by Thomas L. Friedman

Tom Friedman, a New York Times columnist, is the author of “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award in 1989. He has written several other books, including “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” an international bestseller. He also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, 1988 and 2002. Friedman is a member of Kol Shalom.

7:30 p.m.

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