Mailing address:

Beth Chai

6301 River Road

Bethesda, MD 20817

Sunday School and Adult Education usually meet at Burning Tree Elementary School, 7900 Beech Tree Rd, Bethesda

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About Beth Chai

A Humanist Approach to Judaism

Beth Chai Jewish Humanist Congregation of Greater Washington is an open, welcoming community that celebrates Jewish values, history, ethnicity, music and culture. We believe that it is up to humans to create the world we wish to live in, and we work to bring alive the principles of tikkun olam--“repair the world.”


We welcome all, including people who believe in God and those who do not, as well as interfaith families searching for a place where everybody feels at home.


Throughout the year, Beth Chai members gather for holiday services and celebrations and for a robust set of adult education and cultural events, as well as social action activities. Our Sunday School offers Jewish education beginning at pre-K, through our moving and personal B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies.

Our Sunday School meets at Burning Tree Elementary School, and our high holiday services are held at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, both in Bethesda, MD. Rabbi Debbie Cohen is also available to officiate wedding and baby naming ceremonies. 


Our congregation is devoted to understanding and expressing Jewish heritage and culture in the light of humanistic principles and values. We deepen our Jewish identity by interpreting the history and traditions of Jewish civilization in a modern spirit.


Beth Chai is the perfect place for people looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Judaism that speaks to their values.


Bodin Cohen

Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen was born and raised in Maryland. After graduating from the Honors English program at the University of Michigan, she worked in Washington at various public interest groups, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She then studied at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and New York.

Since ordination in 1997, Rabbi Cohen has served Beth Shalom in Cary, N.C., Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J., Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., and Ohef Sholom Congregation in Norfolk, Va.

Rabbi Cohen, who goes by Debbie, is also a noted author. She has published seven Jewish children’s books, a teen novel and two teacher manuals, with another children’s book in production. Her many literary prizes include a National Jewish Book Award. She is also the founder and owner of the Story House, a mobile bookstore for children and teens. Rabbi Cohen has been involved in numerous communal and interfaith organizations and currently serves on the Rockville Human Rights Commission.

Rabbi Cohen and her husband, David, a journalist, are joyfully raising three children-- Arianna, Jesse and Ezra--in Rockville. A rather unruly Collie, named Indigo, completes the family.


Our History

Four decades of Jewish humanism in DC

Beth Chai was formed in 1978 by a group of Jews in Washington looking for an alternative approach to Judaism rooted in humanism, heritage, culture and values. We were originally affiliated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, but for many years now, Beth Chai has been independent.


In 1987, Arthur Blecher (pictured) joined the lay-led group as rabbi. Ordained in the conservative movement, he found himself more comfortable with a humanistic approach, and helped Beth Chai grow in numbers and ambition. We added a Sunday School, increased our programming, formalized our social action work and found our high holiday services expanding every year. (Read more about Rabbi Blecher's journey here).


In the summer of 2017, Rabbi Blecher retired, and Rabbi Deborah Cohen joined us.

Rabbi Blecher

Our Leadership

Beth Chai is led by members of the congregation, with the support of our part-time rabbi and part-time education director.

Our leadership includes:

Board president: Jake Stenzler

Past president: Rob Rosenberg

Operations: Rachel Weisz

Secretary: Josh Lubell

Treasurer: Dorothy Chung

Liturgy and RRUUC Liason: Brandon Hemel

Education: Laura Meckler

Volunteers and Fundraising: Seth Garland

Communications chair: Yevgeniya Nusinovich

Membership chair: Dara Kessler

Adult Education Program chair: Marion Zatz

Social Action chair: Lisa Spain

High Holidays: Meredith Bowers

Director of IT: Ronnie Kinglsey

Paid staff include:

Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen and bookkeeper Diane Page