Events, News, and Shmooz

Rabbi Hannah's Letter

Dear Friends,

Most of us are really familiar with this week’s parsha, but miss a fascinating detail. After the plagues are all said and done, and the final plague -- the death of Egyptian firstborns -- breaks Pharaoh down, he finally lets the Israelites go. The part we tend to miss are Pharaoh’s parting words: “Uverachtem gam oti -- and also bless me” (Exodus 12:32). After all the slavery, murder, and trauma that Pharaoh has put the Israelites through, he asks their representatives, Moses and Aaron, to bless him.

It seems… unlikely? Inappropriate? How can someone victimize so many people for so long, refusing so many chances to stop, and then expect a blessing from them? Judaism is not a “turn the other cheek” religion. We even have a blessing, part of the weekday Amidah, about cursing our enemies and those who have done us wrong -- the very opposite of what Pharaoh is asking for. It reads, “And for the slanderers let there be no hope, and may all evil (or: evildoers) perish in an instant. And may all Your enemies speedily be cut off. And the insolent kingdom: speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and subdue [it] -- speedily in our days. Blessed are you, YHVH, who breaks enemies and subdues willful sinners.” Harsh; but when we actually think about what the Jewish people have been put through, relatable.

And yet, I learned from Rabbi Elie Kaunfer this week that there’s precedent in our tradition -- in this same prayer -- for something different; for something more like what Pharaoh may have been asking for. Apparently, there’s an alternative ancient text of the Amidah that reads slightly differently for this piece. The alternative version, which you won’t find in traditional prayerbooks today, but which was apparently used in the Land of Israel in ancient times, reads as follows: “For the destroyed ones may there be no hope, if they do not return to Your Torah.” If they do not return to your Torah. There’s this possibility left open here for teshuvah -- for a return to an ethical life. With this version of the blessing, we’re saying that we actually believe that people who have deeply wronged us can change -- and that if they do, they won’t be worthy of our curses and our ill-wishes. They’ll be worthy of blessing.

In the first 24 days of 2023, there have been 39 mass shootings, killing 70 people and leaving 167 wounded. It’s horrible, it’s heartbreaking, it’s irreversible, and it’s infuriating. Whether we’re focused on the ones who committed the shootings, or people behind the systems that made it possible for them to do so, we have ample reason to be furious. Beyond that, today is Holocaust Remembrance day. The words of the weekday Amidah (Smash! Cast down! Subdue! Break enemies!) resonate.

But when we take a deep breath, when we take a step back, when we think about the fullness of who we are and what we believe, we remember: We do believe in teshuvah. We believe in the capacity to change. We believe that these systems are not forever, or don’t have to be. We believe that our enemies don’t have to be enemies forever. There’s cautious hope there, alongside the rage, and the possibility of blessing.

Wishing you a peaceful, restorative Shabbat,

Rabbi Hannah


To learn more about these events (including how to register, which we require for almost all events), please visit our website calendar HERE.

All events are in person and indoors, unless otherwise noted. 

Saturday, January 28th

Aleph-Bet Yoga! (for families with young children)

at 4:30 pm

Yavneh Havdalah

at 6:30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, February 4th

Tot Shabbat

at 9:00 am

Refugee Shabbat Morning Service

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

[more information down below]

Tuesday, February 7th

Jewish Kids Club

at 5:00 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, February 11th

Tot Shabbat

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Friday, February 17th

Kabbalat Shabbat Service & Potluck Dinner

at 6:30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, February 25th

Pajama Havdalah (for families with young children)

at 4:30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

For information about upcoming events not run by Hill Havurah that might be of interest to our community, click HERE.

News and Shmooz

Refugee Shabbat Morning Service

Saturday, February 4th, at 10:00 am

Join us for our monthly Shabbat morning service led by Rabbi Hannah, followed by a light Kiddush, on February 4th at 10:00 am in the Shalom Room at Reformation (212 East Capitol St., NE).

This month we will have a special guest speaker in recognition of the 5th Annual Refugee Shabbat (February 3-4 this year), Negin Khpalwak. Ms. Khpalwak, the first female Afghan conductor, conducts Zohra, the first all women orchestra in Afghan history.

If you'd like to join us, please register here in advance.


Please note: If you need to use the outside elevator to get upstairs or downstairs into the building, email Alan at in advance to arrange for it to be unlocked for you.

Good Neighbors Capitol Hill to Celebrate 100th Apartment Set Up!

Saturday, January 28th, at 7:30 pm

Celebrate with Good Neighbors Capitol Hill (GNCH) (of which Hill Havurah is one of eight supporting institutional partners) the completion of their 100th apartment setup at a fundraising concert by Capitol Hill’s own Second String Orchestra tomorrow night at 7:30 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets, SE). The Orchestra includes talented string instrumentalists from our neighborhood. In addition, the program will feature Hamid Habibzadah, playing the tabla. Hamid and his wife, Negin Khpalwak (the only woman orchestra conductor in Afghanistan) fled Kabul in August 2021 with their 2-year-old daughter. Theirs was the 98th apartment prepared by GNCH in November. Tickets can be purchased at the door or reserved by contacting: A $20 per person or $40 per family donation helps sustain their work.

A reception following the concert is GNCH's way of thanking the community of friends and neighbors who have so generously supported their mission.

Gan Shalom Applications Now Being Accepted

for the 2023-24 School Year!

Gan Shalom Cooperative Preschool, Hill Havurah's Reggio-inspired early childhood education program for children aged 24 months through 4 years old, is now accepting applications for the 2023-24 school year -- for both our full-day program as well as our half-day morning program. Children of all faiths are welcome.

If you're interested, we invite you to attend one of the following open houses:

  • Saturday, February 4, from 9:30-11:00 am (sign up for 15 minute time slot)

  • Saturday, March 4, from 9:30-11:00 am (sign up for 15 minute time slot)

More dates are coming soon. If these dates do not work for you and you want to set up an individual tour, or if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to our director, Tina Brimo, at

Migrant Solidarity Volunteer Needs

We are continuing our migrant solidarity work, and we need all hands on deck. There are so many ways to contribute to the effort --sign up to volunteer on a Sunday here, and sign up to help with food during the week hereYou can read Rabbi Hannah's reflection on her first day volunteering back in July.

Joining the Hill Havurah Listserv/Google Group

If you are interested in joining Hill Havurah's listserv/Google group, email Alan at Postings include from the more mundane, such as announcements about upcoming non-Havurah events, to the more serious, such as updates regarding migrant bus arrivals and the urgent need for volunteers.

Follow Us on Twitter!

Our Twitter account is more active than ever -- and at times even entertaining. If you're not already following us, please do at @hillhavurah

Lifecycle Events

Happy birthday, Sarah Burford!

Happy 16th birthday, 

Macky Epstein!

Happy birthday, 

Stephanie Brenowitz!

Happy birthday, Sheila Meyer!

Happy birthday, Ori Cantwell!

Happy 10th birthday, 

Talia Hollander!

Happy 7th birthday, 

Aidan Goldstein!

Happy birthday, Jennifer Brown!

Happy birthday, 

Allison Ackerman!

Happy birthday, 

John Hutchison!

Upcoming Yahrzeits

The following yahrzeits are coming up this week:

  • Lucy Gualtieri, z"l, mother of John Gualtieir

  • Nathaniel Aaron Mesnikoff, z"l, brother of Ann Mesnikoff

If you've not entered yahrzeit information about your deceased loved ones in your account, you can at any time. If you need any help, you can email Alan Shusterman for assistance.

Mi Shebeirach L'Cholim -- Prayers for Healing

May the One who blessed our ancestors -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah -- bless and heal:

Ricky Tropp, Cara Gluskoter, Robert Caplon, Hermine Gladstone, Rob Lasker, & Susan Cohen.

May the Holy Blessed One overflow with compassion upon them, to restore them, to heal them, to strengthen them, to enliven them, along with all the ill among the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say: Amen.

If you or a loved one are in need of healing, and you'd appreciate the community keeping you in mind, please reach out to Alan Shusterman so he can add you or your loved one to our Shmoozy Nuz Mi Shebeirach list. If it's time to take a name off the list for any reason, let Alan know that as well. Feel free to include their English and/or Hebrew name. 

Please make sure to get your loved one's consent before having their name added to the list -- or, if they prefer privacy, we can instead add, "Loved One of [Insert Your Name]." 


Hill Havurah is an independent Jewish community based on Capitol Hill serving people from across the Washington metropolitan area. Our mission is to anticipate and meet the spiritual, educational, religious, cultural, and life cycle needs of a growing and evolving Jewish community. Hill Havurah's many activities support our members' interests in advancing Jewish culture, identity, education, and a commitment to community service. A warm, inclusive, and informal spirit is part of what has made Hill Havurah so special for more than two decades.

Contact Information:


Address: 212 East Capitol Street, NE

Washington, DC 20003

Phone: 202-729-3515

Rabbi Hannah Spiro, Rabbi

Alan Shusterman, Executive Director

Melissa Werbow, Education Director

Tina Brimo, Gan Shalom Director

Rebecca Freund, B Mitzvah Coordinator

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