July 28, 2020

Dear WHC Family,

Four months ago, before “virtual connection” entered our daily lexicon, few imagined how open, vibrant, and active our community would remain outside of our physical buildings. Zoom, once so unfamiliar, has given us a platform to share new, innovative programs. And by embracing a different definition of “sacred space,” we found new opportunities to worship and learn, socialize, and support and celebrate each other’s life cycle events. All of this has provided much-welcomed companionship and support during a time of uncertainty. 

Guided by our Jewish value of kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh, our shared responsibility for the well-being of one another, we established a Re-Opening Task Force – a group of lay leaders, clergy and staff members, and public health and infectious disease experts who are helping our Congregation navigate the process for re-opening our Washington Hebrew facilities. The Task Force has worked diligently throughout the pandemic and has developed a comprehensive, multi-stage plan to re-open our physical spaces gradually, carefully, and responsibly. The plan takes into account concerns and preferences that more than 500 of you shared through our online High Holy Day survey, and it reflects current local and regional government guidance, scientific information, and public health forecasts.
Looking Ahead to the Fall
Based on the thorough work and guidance of the Re-Opening Task Force, we have decided to continue our focus on virtual interaction and keep our buildings closed into the fall – with one exception. We will open our Rabbi Joseph Weinberg ECC at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center on Monday, August 31, giving families with young children the option to send them to school at the beautiful, open suburban campus, which is appropriately configured for physical distancing and creating classroom “bubbles.” 

We eagerly anticipate the day when we re-open our doors and welcome each of you back to your spiritual home with a warm embrace. Until then, our clergy, educators, and staff are looking at creative ways to offer outdoor experiences safely and will continue to provide a robust array of innovative and exciting online services, programs, and activities. Below is an overview of some of our fall plans at Washington Hebrew Congregation.
The High Holy Days
Our High Holy Day experience will leave you feeling joyful and renewed, even though we will not be gathering physically in our sanctuary, chapel, or other indoor spaces. Virtual experiences – much more than a typical livestream or Zoom – will help you create sacred space in your own home while at the same time being part of a Congregational community. Our rabbis will offer meaningful and inspiring prayers and sermons. The beauty of our cantors’ voices and High Holy Day melodies will touch your soul and lift you up. Carefully selected readings will help you reflect, and you will be able to choose from a variety of online opportunities to learn and engage with clergy and educators. Families will experience inter-generational services that we are creating in partnership with unparalleled professional musicians and educators Rick Recht, Shira Kline, and Rabbi Josh Warshawsky. And our youngest members will participate in engaging visual tot services filled with prayer, movement, and stories.

We also are exploring the possibility of holding a number of smaller outdoor services at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center throughout the Rosh HaShanah holiday. In many ways, they would be similar to Rosh HaShanah Under the Stars, but adjusted, of course, for current safety requirements and subject both to weather and community health conditions. 

At the same time that they are bringing you a busy summer of opportunities and connections, our clergy are hard at work designing, preparing, and creating what we know will be a memorable and engaging High Holy Days experience. More information about our complete menu of services and programming for the High Holy Days will be coming soon!
Fall Programming
You will be able to participate in an incredible array of exciting WHC programs and social opportunities this fall from wherever you are. Some will be familiar favorites, like our live Amram lectures and classes for adults. Others will be new, creative experiences that we are developing specifically for the virtual platform. We can’t wait to share the ways – both large and intimate – you will be able to enhance your “Life@Home with WHC” this fall.
Life Cycle Events
The pandemic has not changed the support our clergy and staff provide to families as they navigate and embrace life’s special and sacred moments. Our clergy can facilitate small baby naming and marriage ceremonies outdoors, with friends and family joining virtually from around the world. The Torah can now be physically passed from parents to children in our generations-old tradition that precedes the moment in which the b’nei mitzvah read from the Torah scroll publicly for the first time. And for those who have lost loved ones, our clergy will continue to lead small graveside services for family members and shiva services over Zoom where mourners can honor their loved one’s life and feel the embrace of community support that is so important, particularly during this most challenging time.
Religious School and Upper School
Our Religious School is planning to meet virtually for at least the first half of the year. Responding to the interests expressed by our families, we will be offering elective-based virtual options where students and families can gather, learn, build community, and pray. Each family is unique, ​and we can work with any family to craft a personalized experience. Our Upper School will also meet virtually with programming designed to meet the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of our Congregation’s teenagers.
Early Childhood
We know that face-to-face learning is crucial for the development of young children, and for this reason, we have decided to prioritize an in-person early childhood education opportunity. The plan to very carefully open our ECC at the end of August at the JBSC location only is responsive to the desires of many of our ECC families to have an in-person program for their children. It conforms with guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Maryland Department of Health. It is also in line with our Re-Opening Task Force’s protocols for Washington Hebrew Congregation and reflects our commitment to health and safety, given the configuration of our facilities and the capacities of our staff. To ensure that each family can do what is most comfortable for them, we will offer an enriched and enhanced online early childhood program in the fall as well.
This email is the first of several communications you will receive in the coming weeks about our re-opening plans, the High Holy Days and fall holidays, fall programming, and back-to-school. We look forward to remaining connected and finding new and exciting ways of coming together, even while we must remain physically apart.

On behalf of Washington Hebrew Congregation, we thank you for your trust and confidence. Together, we will go from strength to strength.

Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig
Senior Rabbi
Mark Director
Steven Jacober
Executive Director
Cantor Susan Bortnick
Senior Cantor
Rabbi Susan N. Shankman
Rabbi Aaron Miller
Associate Rabbi
Rabbi Eliana Fischel
Assistant Rabbi
Lewis Wiener
First Vice President
Cantor Mikhail Manevich
Cantor Emeritus