Beth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist CongregationBeth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation

Beth Chai FAQ

  1. Is Beth Chai exclusively for Jews who don’t believe (or who question belief) in a God?
  2. Does Beth Chai hold regular Shabbat services? How much of the Shabbat service and of other services is conducted in Hebrew? Does Beth Chai have a Tot Shabbat Program?
  3. May a non-member of Beth Chai attend a Shabbat or High Holy Day service?
  4. Where are High Holy Day services held?
  5. How large is the Beth Chai congregation?
  6. Who is Beth Chai’s Rabbi?
  7. Do you have a schedule of this year’s Adult Education classes?
  8. Is Beth Chai’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony different from the traditional ritual?  What’s it like?
  9. Is Beth Chai affiliated with a particular denomination of Judaism?
  10. How does Beth Chai view the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (“healing the world” or reforming society)?
  11. What does membership cost?
  12. Does Beth Chai have a Sunday School?  What is the cost?
  13. Does Beth Chai have any teen activities?
  14. If I have to purchase something for Beth Chai’s official use, how can I be reimbursed?

 


 

1. Is Beth Chai exclusively for Jews who don’t believe (or who question belief) in a God?

Not at all. Beth Chai isn’t held together by any particular attitude toward God. In fact, we welcome a wide range of views on the subject. What characterizes Beth Chai members is not a uniform attitude about a supreme being, but a shared sense that the power to change the world comes from the inhabitants of this earth.

All members of interfaith families are valued as full members of Beth Chai.

2. Does Beth Chai hold regular Shabbat services? How much of the Shabbat service and of other services is conducted in Hebrew? Does Beth Chai have a Tot Shabbat Program?

We hold monthly Shabbat evenings at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 6301 River Road in Bethesda. We begin at 7:00 p.m. with a social hour that features an optional light supper. A short service (about 20 minutes long) follows at 8 p.m. It is conducted primarily in English but includes some blessings and songs in Hebrew, with English translation following. After the ceremony comes a program that usually ends in a discussion. Please see our Shabbat page for the Shabbat schedule and monthly program description.

We offer a Tot Shabbat program immediately preceding most Shabbat services, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Please visit our Tot Shabbat page for more details. 

3. May a non-member of Beth Chai attend a Shabbat or High Holy Day service?

Visitors are always welcome at our Shabbat services and Sunday morning programs. So that we may be able to greet you and answer any questions you may have, we ask that you contact our Membership committee beforehand to let us know you are planning to come so that we can make sure to greet you. Such visits are free of charge, and we encourage you to attend a couple of Shabbat or Adult Education programs before committing to join the congregation.

High Holy Day tickets are included in the cost of membership. Non-members can purchase tickets for our High Holy Day services for $105 per service per adult. Non-member tickets for our Family Services (held on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) may be purchased for $105 per service per family. Admission to the Family Service is free of charge for families or adults holding tickets to the regular service. Please complete the High Holy Day Services form (coming shortly) and send it in with your check payable to Beth Chai. Our address is Beth Chai, c/o River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Road, Bethesda, Maryland 20817. Your ticket(s) will be held for you for pickup at the door prior to the service. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.

If you have questions, please leave us a message at 301-229-7400. If after attending services you decide to join our congregation, the cost of your tickets will be deducted from your dues.

4. Where are High Holy Day services held?

Beth Chai Congregation, under a longstanding arrangement, meets at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as for monthly Shabbat services, Passover Seders, and other Jewish holidays. RRUUC is located just about two miles inside the Beltway (at 6301 River Rd., with entrance to the ample parking lot from Whittier Blvd.). Child care is provided free of charge for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur morning services.

5. How large is the Beth Chai congregation?

We currently have 130 membership households from all over the metropolitan Washington area. Newcomers are always welcome!

6. Who is Beth Chai’s Rabbi?

Beth Chai is truly fortunate to be led by Dr. Arthur C. Blecher, received his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. A practicing psychotherapist as well, Rabbi Blecher holds all the privileges, including those of confidentiality, that are granted by law to members of the clergy and of the therapeutic professions. Learn more about Rabbi Blecher here.

7. Do you have a schedule of this year’s Adult Education classes?

You can click here to find out more about our classes. Program notes are added to the schedule about one month ahead of time. Topics of recent Adult Education series include:

  •  Philosophy and Theology – The Messianic Tradition in Judaism
  •  History – The Bible and Archaeology: Where They Meet, Where They Don’t, and Why
  •  Culture – East European Jewry’s Passage into Modern Times
  •  Practice – Modernizing Jewish Ritual Practices: Adaptation, Reform, or Cheating?
  •  Classical Texts: Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers)
  •  Social Issues: Intermarriage Through the Ages

We’re always open to suggestions from members and attendees, so if there’s a subject of special interest to you, by all means contact us with your ideas. 

8. Is Beth Chai’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony different from the traditional ritual? What’s it like?

One of Beth Chai’s most appealing aspects for both children and their parents is the opportunity to bring the child’s unique interests and expression to this important coming-of-age ceremony. Each Beth Chai Mitzvah girl or boy develops her or his own service with the guidance of Rabbi Blecher. These services may be as traditional as the reading of the weekly Torah portion or as unconventional as a research project on Yiddish theatre in the 1920s. The spacious and simple great hall of RRUUC typically provides the setting for the ceremony, which is always on a Saturday morning. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah date is selected up to one year in advance in consultation with the family and Rabbi. Beth Chai does not assign dates, nor are there “double” ceremonies; each Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration is for one person only. For more information, be sure to read our Mitzvah page.

9. Is Beth Chai affiliated with a particular denomination of Judaism?

Beth Chai is an independent congregation run by a board of directors elected from among its members. The congregation follows a humanistic philosophy, but it is not affiliated with any national policy-making organization and thus is not bound to share its dues with any other organization. Beth Chai also is free to develop its own education materials, rather than following a curriculum created by a national committee. Denominationally directed congregations are often required to support stands on specific religious questions — for example, conversion or circumcision — or to sign onto positions about international or national politics that may not always be in line with the views of individual members. Beth Chai prefers to let each individual take a stand (or not) on such matters. We at Beth Chai feel that our congregation is the most welcoming place for Jews who do not want anyone else to tell them what to believe.

10. How does Beth Chai view the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (“healing the world” or reforming society)?

Beth Chai teaches that we all have an obligation to practice Tikkun Olam in our daily lives. Throughout the year Beth Chai supports projects that give members of all ages hands-on opportunities to help others in need, through its annually scheduled all-congregation work days (Mitzvah Day, Community Work Day, Tikkun Olam Day) and through its ongoing partnerships with certain nonprofit organizations (for example, the Latino Transitional Housing Partnership, which helps immigrant families in need). See our Social Action page to learn about our current activities. What Beth Chai does not do is attempt to impose a particular activist agenda on its members; it does not presume to dictate what sorts of reforms to support or how such support should be implemented. The congregation generally takes no stands on political issues of the day, but it often puts out information on topical matters through its Friday evening and Sunday morning programs, designed to encourage discussion and exchange of views among our members and guest speakers. Beth Chai encourages holders of views all across the political spectrum to participate in our programs, to educate themselves about the world around them, and to decide on their own what path to follow in carrying out their obligations to Tikkun Olam.

11. What does membership cost?

One of our principles is to make membership in Beth Chai available to as many people as possible. Unlike many congregations, Beth Chai does not charge dues based on income. Our annual membership dues are among the most reasonable in the Washington, DC, area. Please contact us or download our membership application. We would be delighted to send you our current brochure.

12. Does Beth Chai have a Sunday School?  What is the cost?

Beth Chai has a Sunday School for grades Pre-K through 8, led by our Education Director, Roni Rosenthal. Please visit our pages for a wealth of information and to view our curriculum.

13. Does Beth Chai have any teen activities?

Beth Chai recently instituted a Teen Program for children in the 6th grade and older. The program has proven quite popular. Please visit our Teen Program page for details.

14. If I have to purchase something for Beth Chai's official use, how can I be reimbursed?

Sometimes Beth Chai members purchase items for the congregation’s use (e.g., supplies for Family School classrooms) and then need to have those costs reimbursed.  To facilitate this process, please download this form (reimbursement request form), print it, fill it out and follow instructions to include receipts, and either hand it to our Treasurer (Joe Gitchell) during Family School or mail it to the Treasurer’s attention at our mailing address: Beth Chai at RRUUC 6301 River Road Bethesda, Maryland 20817.