Temple B’nai Chaim: Family, joy, inclusivity and tradition
The goal for Rachel Bearman, rabbi at Georgetown's Temple B'nai Chaim — and maybe the goal for all members of the clergy — is to incorporate modern sensibilities with ancient tradition.
Inclusivity is important to Bearman, and she recognizes that modern families are not simple, homogenous things.
"Every day, I work with Director of Lifelong Learning Karin Beitel, Student Cantor Suzanne Hamstra, and our passionate lay leaders as we strive to connect modern, Jewish families to our ancient tradition. In our synagogue, people of all genders, sexual orientations, and religious backgrounds are respected and valued members of our congregational family," Bearman said during a recent interview. "Lifecycle celebrations like baby namings and B'nai Mitzvah services regularly and seamlessly involve family members of other faiths because everyone is welcome in our sanctuary."
For Bearman, the solution to melding the seemingly contradictory ideals of modern inclusivity and ancient values comes down to joy and family.
"We work hard to infuse joy and meaning in all that we do, whether it's experiencing a special Disney-themed family Shabbat service or volunteering for a community-wide meal packing event," she said. "At TBC, our goal is always to live Judaism in a way that is accessible, relevant, inclusive, and meaningful."
Bearman came to Temple B'nai Chaim after she was ordained five years ago. From the first, she said she "felt drawn to the people in the congregation."
"In a world where all too many of us feel increasingly isolated, joining TBC is like adopting an extended family," she said. "And like many families, we take that relationship very seriously by providing care and support for our members."
That sense of family has permeated Bearman's time at the synagogue.
"I've officiated at weddings, named babies, comforted mourners, and celebrated with over 100 B'nai Mitzvah students," she said. "More than that, I've danced on the bimah with kids of all ages, brought flowers and prayers to people dealing with illness, partnered with other staff and lay leaders to strengthen our congregation, had fascinating conversations with an amazing Torah Study group, taken confirmation students to Washington DC, and studied a wide variety of subjects with dedicated adult learners."
In TBC's drive to continue building an inclusive, family-oriented congregation, the synagogue's leadership has taken the exciting step of introducing a new prayer book for the High Holy Days, Mishkan HaNefesh For Youth, which was specifically created for families.
Bearman was actually part of the team that wrote the book: "In fact, we'll be reading prayers that I wrote!"
"At TBC, our goal is always to live Judaism in a way that is accessible, relevant, inclusive, and meaningful," she said. "Our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Family Services have always been popular, and I can't wait to see how everyone attending these services will experience the holidays now that we have a prayer book that was written with them in mind."
Bearman is understandably excited to incorporate a new prayer book, one she was involved in creating, but she is appropriately humble about the prospect. She's more interested in how it could benefit the congregation she leads.
"Above and beyond my personal excitement is my gratitude for having the exact prayer book that we need to offer a meaningful, joyful, and accessible experience to families with children of all ages," she said.
That being said, it is personal. She feels at home at Temple B'nai Chaim, and Bearman's stated goal is to create for her congregants the same sense of belonging she feels.
"I am dedicated to providing every person who walks through our doors with the same feelings of family and home that I have felt since my first day as TBC's rabbi," she said.
And in the interest of inclusivity, TBC is this year adding an opportunity for non-members who would like to attend family services (only) to purchase High Holy Day Tickets at the special price of $54 each. Normally, this special price is only available to family members of current TBC members, but this year, anyone who wants to attend Family Services has the opportunity to call the office at (203) 544-8695 and purchase special tickets for this lower amount.