March 22, 2013 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
A time of renewal
Bet Mishpachah, JCC, Jewish Community Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Bet Mishpachah meets at the D.C. Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q streets, N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Although many synagogues in the Washington area are LGBT-friendly, Bet Mishpachah is the gayest.

Although it welcomes anyone who wishes to “participate in an inclusive, egalitarian and mutually supportive community,” its raison d’etre is for LGBT Jews and nearly everyone who attends weekly services is LGBT.

As Passover begins at sundown Monday, the synagogue, which meets at the D.C. Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q Streets, N.W. (find it online at betmish.org), is in a time of transition. A search committee that formed late last year is in the final stages of its search for a new rabbi. Three candidates came for tryouts and the committee expects this week to make a recommendation to the synagogue’s board of directors. If the board agrees and the first choice accepts, a new rabbi could be in place very soon.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to hire a new rabbi very soon,” Joel Wind, board president, says. “We’re on the final stretch.”

Rabbi Toby Manewith, who had been with Bet Mishpachah about three years, resigned last year to return to her native Chicago, Wind says. Rabbi Emeritus Robert Saks came out of retirement to help them through the transition time.

Although weekly gatherings at the JCC (every Friday night at 8 p.m. and the second and fourth Saturday mornings at 10 a.m.) are “about 99 percent LGBT,” according to Wind, more allies come out for high holidays and rabbis are not necessarily LGBT themselves.

“Our first rabbi, he was with us 18 years, was not gay,” Wind says. “It’s not that important, not a requirement. There are other more important things we’re looking for like a good teacher and someone who can lead. Someone who has a good rapport with congregants.”

Bet Mishpachah formed in 1975. Attendance averages between 25-30 on an average Friday night, about 15 on a Saturday. Wind, who has attended since 1980, says attendance was higher in previous years. He cites gays moving away from 14th Street, overall worship service across religions being down in general and other synagogues being more gay-welcoming than they’ve been in years past, as factors.

“Our current board is going to figure out what we can do to increase attendance, so we’ll see,” he says.

The synagogue has never owned its own building. It’s been meeting at the JCC for nearly 20 years.

Several special services and events are planned for the coming weeks. Visit the synagogue online for details.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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