Modern-Day Learning at Adas Israel’s MakomDC

Several months ago, shortly after High Holidays, in fact, Adas Israel launched a new series of innovative learning programs, largely for adults, in their renovated beit midrash (study center.) These monthly programs revolve around a theme, and include lectures, panels, screenings and more in what they hope will be more of a 21st century, “coffee house” environment. This month’s theme was justice, and I figured it was time to review some events.

“Justice” is a rather versatile subject and Adas embraced many aspects—from Rabbi Steinlauf’s exploration of the mitzvah of tzedakah to the reading of a play on interfaith conversations. In keeping with the 21st century gestalt, I decided to zero in on two events that were about including marginalized groups in the modern Jewish community—LGBT and people with disabilities.

Studying Jewish religious texts through “a different lens,” as presented on our handout / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Dr. Jay Michaelson, who recently published the book God vs Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, was the keynote speaker on Tuesday, Feb. 4, who sat down with Rabbis Steinlauf and Holtzblatt to discuss progressive advances in the Conservative Jewish community, issues LGBT people face when approaching Jewish communal life, and even a thoughtful, broad-minded stance on the issues facing Orthodox groups.

My favorite part was breaking off into traditional Jewish study groups of 2-3 called “chevruta” where we provided with biblical verses about gender, specifically as it applies to the patriarch, Jacob. We also had access to quotes from scholarly thought on these passages, ranging from the modern to a surprisingly homoerotic interpretation in the Zohar of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Our concluding group discussion touched upon how ideas of gender and sexuality are intertwined, among other things. Certainly more useful for a longer, more in depth series of study sessions, but the evening was a great way to get our feet wet! The event was presented in partnership with Bet Mishpachah, Nice Jewish Boys DC and Nice Jewish Girls DC.

On the Shabbat of Feb. 22, I attended a more insular event on making the synagogue and community more accessible to people of varying disabilities. Rabbi Feinberg officiated over a panel of five congregants advocating for various physical and intellectual issues, plus the director of the Interfaith Initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities. It was a good chance for this smaller cache of members to take stock of what they as a group had accomplished and what they had left to do, broadly speaking. I enjoyed getting the chance to hear from a diverse group of people about their experiences in the Jewish community at large, and their hopes for Adas specifically.

Justice month wraps up with another biblical class this Wednesday, Feb. 26, about divine justice, in conjunction with the Foundation of Jewish Studies. Next week brings a new month and a new theme: Israel. Check out the programming here!