FROM THE VINE: ‘Til 120!

By Rielle Miller Gabriel

As I write this article in mid-August, our congregation’s 60th anniversary has just occurred. The occasion was noted during the week’s Shabbat services, but otherwise the milestone passed without much fanfare. That we didn’t make much of a fuss about it is actually quite “Micah” of us—but that doesn’t mean this anniversary is not important. We will celebrate our 60th throughout the year by reflecting on who we were then, who we are now, and who we want to be through the next 60 years.

In its first days, our congregation was very much about doing. Sixty years ago, congregants did just about everything needed to run and maintain the congregation. They set up the chairs for services, taught the Sunday school, and even wrote out the rabbi’s weekly paycheck. While tasks such as these now belong to our professional office staff, our congregation still draws upon this can-do spirit today. This past year, we returned to our congregant-hosted onegs and kiddushes. This is such a beautiful tradition: one that not only helps give Micah that “home” feeling, but also gives congregants an opportunity to work with and meet other members.

Our congregation was founded on egalitarian principles, with each congregant giving to the group what they could. Our founders decided there would be no plaques or other recognition of individual donors. We have proudly continued this tradition, even when we built our current building in the 1990s and were told it was impossible to fundraise without such recognition. Just this year, we kept our egalitarian principles at the forefront of our decisions, voting in new by-laws to expand membership and make voting as easy as possible. The board continues to look for ways to ensure all members feel heard, represented, and supported, devoting resources to initiatives such as the Roadmap project and the Belonging Project.

Partnered with that focus on egalitarianism has been a devotion to innovation. As the saying around here goes, “if it’s not broken, break it!” From the mundane to the spiritual, Micah has been a congregation willing to try, and fail, in our desire to build and live our American Jewish lives. We have experimented with Jewish education: having parents attend Boker Tov with their children each Sunday session (breaking the traditional drop-off religious school trope), and holding a monthly fifth and sixth grade class on Shabbat morning (breaking the “Sunday” model). We experimented with our space: we built the first new synagogue in the District in almost 40 years. We shared worship space with St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (for 28 years!) and even considered a houseboat as a permanent home. We experiment with worship: during the pandemic, our rabbis took our Shabbat services back to the dining table, and over the past few years our congregation’s Storefront Project has pushed Jewish worship into unexpected spaces (such as ice cream parlors and breweries). Through it all we have taken our Judaism seriously, but not ourselves.

From those early days to today, Micah has been a place where we engage with people beyond our walls to deepen both our connections to the world around us and our own learning and understanding of Judaism. Our annual Underwear Drive continues to not only be congregant-led, but youth-led as well. This year’s sixth graders are once again gearing up to collect, organize, and distribute the thousands upon thousands of pieces of underwear, socks, and other undergarments needed by our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

And our Micah House board, comprised entirely of Temple Micah congregants since its founding in 1989, continues to support women recovering from addiction and homelessness –with the ongoing support of our congregants’ time, skills, and donations.

Over the past 60 years, we have grown from a small, do-it-yourself congregation without a permanent home to a roughly 670-household congregation in a mortgage-free, history-making building. On our path to maturity we have outgrown some things, but our essence remains. Micah is a home for everyone. If we continue to build upon this strong foundation and focus on our key values, Micah will be on the right path to celebrate its 120th anniversary.

Note: Many of the historical facts I mention above can be found on our website under “History” and at the Living History Project website. I encourage you all to read through these sites; there is so much more fascinating history!

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of the Vine.

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