Kesher Israel, a synagogue about 14 blocks from the White House, might be one of the only things Orthodox in Washington, D.C.
The same handsome three-story building has been home since 1931. Modern Orthodox services take place three times a day, and are congregant-led. Men and women sit apart during prayers, with the women mostly on the balcony level and the men on the ground floor.
Yet, the synagogue, whose first name, kesher, is Hebrew for to connect, and is focused on bringing people together.
“At least 50% of our congregation is made up of young professionals,” said Shoshana Danon-Perkins, Kesher’s administrator. “We get people fresh out of college, working for the Hill. They tend to bring their friends to services, lectures, and meals.”
Danon-Perkins says Kesher allows people who live in the urban area to get to synagogue by foot. This gives them an opportunity to mix Judaism with the cultural happenings and walkability of the city.
“(At Kesher) young people can form social groups, make friends, and do things together,” said Danon-Perkins.
The synagogue is also home to many lawyers, government workers, and political officials who live downtown.
Danon-Perkins confirmed that Senator Joe Lieberman is a member, but, “we have people on both sides of the aisle.”
“Being a synagogue, we can’t take a political view,” said Danon-Perkins. “Everything is always kept neutral.”
Kesher Israel is currently celebrating its centennial year. To celebrate the occasion, there will be panel discussions in the spring and summer on religious institutions and denominations.
Kesher Israel is home to an institute for adult education, the Dr. H. Harold Gelfand Institute. Through the institute, Rabbi Barry Freundel offers two weekly classes, on great Jewish thought and thinkers, and the history of Parsha. There are also regular beginner’s Hebrew classes, lectures by scholars on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, a “Lunch and Learn,” lecture series, and seminars on practical Halacha.
There are a number of households with children at Kesher Israel. The synagogue has three different services for children: Cookie Minyan, for toddlers and preschoolers, which parents also attend; Middle Minyan, for the pre-kindergarten crowd through 3rd graders; and Shabbat Club, for fourth-graders through preteens. Middle Minyan and Shabbat Club members often get together to study Parsha, and for events such as the Sukkah Hop.
“They go to different peoples’ houses, different sukkahs, throughout the neighborhood, and end up at the rabbi and rebbeitzin’s house. They usually have age-appropriate trivia and a “build-your-own-sukkah” activity,” said Danon-Perkins.
Kesher Israel has many events that feature women. These include a Rosh Chodesh women’s study group, religious scholars whose talks focus on women in the Torah, and on Purim, a reading of the Megillah, “by women for women,” said Danon-Perkins.
Danon-Perkins says services have an Ashkenazi bent, but welcome, any and all. At about 300 households, Kesher Israel is a growing synagogue. There is also a steady stream of people studying to convert.
"We try to be open to everyone while still remaining an Orthodox synagogue,” said Danon-Perkins.