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Adas Israel Congregation’s learning center seeks to foster a modern Jewish community

By Gil Steinlauf,

Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. and a contributor to The Washington Post’s local faith leader network.

Judaism is not a museum relic to be observed only sporadically in life. It is, it can be, a living breathing tool for enhancing our experience of life in the modern world.

At Adas Israel, a large and storied Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., we have launched a historic renovation project for our landmark mid-century building, led by renowned architect Hugh Hardy and H3 Collaboration Architecture. The transformation of four major worship and activity spaces and the creation of an innovative learning and engagement center called MakomDC (Place DC) is the keystone of Adas Israel’s “Vision of Renewal.” This Vision initiative will strengthen Adas’s capacity to meet the diverse spiritual, intellectual and social needs of today’s Jews and create a lived experience of the unique “technology” of Jewish living.

To revitalize the personal experience of Conservative Judaism, in an age where the Conservative movement has seen sweeping reductions in membership and participation, it is vitally important that the religious community bravely creates warm, welcoming and innovative environments and tools for fostering Jewish identity. To create a space where our members, as well as the broader Jewish community, can come and be Jewish in a way that’s true and meaningful for them is what our “Vision” initiative is all about.

With that, I am enormously excited to reveal the creation of MakomDC, the innovative Jewish learning and engagement center and coffeehouse-style gathering place for the 21st Century. The center will be housed within the state-of-the-art BiranBeit Midrash (House of Study), currently being built as part of our historic renovation project.  

MakomDC is a completely new kind of immersive experience and modern social magnet for contemporary Jewish life.  It is a transformed and active study center, combining Jewish learning with the bustling energy of a modern coffee-house as well as a participatory speaker jam at a downtown open-mic night. Regularly scheduled programs, speakers and events will be announced in the coming year. Upon completion, it will be one of the only progressive, non-Orthodox and technologically equipped Jewish houses of study in the world.

MakomDC attempts to offer Jews the opportunity to do what Jews do best: ask big questions and seek out the answers together — in all aspects of life, not only in Judaism.

Upon entering our renovated building and MakomDC, guests will immediately encounter Jewish texts accessible everywhere in multimedia formats, from traditional books to modern computer and internet technology. They’ll take in breathtaking Jewish art and imagery, groups of people in animated conversations, as well as young people busy surfing the Web on laptops. So Adas is now both a place to hang out and connect, as well as a place to learn and to pray, which is what a synagogue is all about. The new center will feature world-renowned speakers presenting a variety of shiurim (lessons) from all over the world, followed by individual Havruta (one-to-one) sessions exploring a wide variety of topics and ideas, using an array of intellectual sources ranging from ancient Jewish texts to modern scientific periodicals.

There is something for everyone and everyone is welcome. That’s Judaism.

However, these types of major transformations must not be about bricks and mortar, but rather about people, programs and ideas. Yes, we are renovating the space. However, the physical changes are merely reflections of the energy we already find amongst a thriving community of engaged Jews.

Our Vision is one we wish to share with the broader Jewish community. It is a vision of hope. It is a vision of a true spiritual landscape where Jews engage their ancient heritage and discover meaning, community and love in the 21st Century. In living up to our 143-year-old name, Adas Israel, I envision a Jewish future in which our leaders and our community courageously provide the tools we need to become a true Assembly of Israel

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