Torah and Travel

The story of how one New Yorker found friendship, support and a spiritual community in the outer reaches of Washington, DC

Five years ago, when I decided to leave New York, everyone—friends, colleagues, clients; cousins and classmates; students, neighbors and doormen—thought I was nuts.

They laughed at the idea that there might be intelligent life outside of Manhattan. And they shook their heads in despair. “You’ll be back in six months,” they warned. “So don’t sell your apartment or even think about moving the furniture. Try a temporary visit. Pitch a tent in your children’s basement.”

Some of the most alarming forecasts came from fellow congregants at Central Synagogue, which was considered—by those who worshipped there—to be the cathedral of East European Reform Judaism. And the most strident among them were those, like me, who had achieved the status of Adult B’nei Mitzvah.

These were the people who believed that Judaism—or at least the Klezmer-inflected Judaism that we preferred—could flourish only under Central’s 1870’s Moorish spires.

Disregarding them all, I sold my apartment and moved to Friendship Heights, a vaguely familiar looking community with its own Metro stop and a half dozen decent restaurants.

Joining Temple Sinai was a no-brainer. My family—consisting of my children and grandchildren, a niece and her family, and numerous third cousins twice removed—were longtime members.

At first tentative, I started out by attending the Kehillat Service run by Robyn Helzner, our Cantorial Soloist. There I was instantly drawn in by the intimacy and depth of the service and the magic of the music. I wrote my first D’var Torah, and was astonished to find how much meaning could be plumbed from a simple passage of text.

One activity led to another. Cantor Croen invited me to read from the Megillah. (Little did she know that I was a stand-up comedian in disguise.) I signed on for the Rabbi’s Class, taught by Rabbi Roos, and began attending Torah Study, led by Rabbis Rosenwasser and Goldstein.

Since then, I’ve found a whole new world at Temple Sinai, a world populated by old friends—some from high school and college—and many new ones. Highlights of my social calendar include Daytimers and Community Dinners.

I’ve joined a Kallah, taken Robyn’s Jewish Heritage trip to China, and found theatre-buddies to join me on writing assignments for a leading theater publication.

Most of all, I found an outpouring of support when I needed it most. The recent death of my brother brought the comfort of prayer along with a deep sense of connection.

Having family within the congregation—learning alongside me—has reinforced the meaning of L’dor va’dor, that precious need to pass along our knowledge and passions from generation to generation.

Looking ahead, I’m joining another Jewish Heritage Tour—this one to Croatia, where Robyn will lead us in Sabbath prayer at a 16th century synagogue—and to attending the TSWRJ’s Cocktails and Conversations on May 16.


-Ravelle Brickman