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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Congratulations Rabbi Cohen

March 24, 2019

Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen, who has nurtured and inspired our congregation during our recent period of transition, has been named permanent rabbi. 


We congratulate Rabbi Cohen and we are excited about her leadership as we continue to fulfill our vision for a thriving, thoughtful and respectful community grounded in the values of humanist judaism.


Beth Chai President Robert Rosenberg shared this letter with the community as he announced the selection of Rabbi Cohen: 


In September, the congregation embarked on an expansive search for a permanent Rabbi, led by Michele McNally and a committee representing a range of perspective in our community.


I am pleased to report that upon the committee's recommendation and the Board's unanimous approval, the position of permanent Rabbi has been offered to and accepted by our very own Rabbi Debbie Cohen.


Even putting aside the terrific work Debbie has done as our interim rabbi, she was clearly the standout candidate. By way of example, Debbie did an extraordinary job for the 10-minute teach section. Reviewing the provided liturgy, Debbie asked the committee why as a Humanist congregation we would have Avinu Malkeinu included in our liturgy. The committee explained to her that the reasoning behind the liturgy group's decision was that the sound of the music/chanting resonated so strongly with many members that it was worth including but with a compromise that the translation (our father our king) would not be provided. Debbie thought that as a community that prides itself on understanding facts and seeking truth, there might be a different approach to explaining the inclusion of Avinu Malkeinu in the liturgy than just avoiding the hard-to-reconcile language. Debbie proceeded to teach the committee approximately eight different contextual interpretations of how a humanist might be able to reconcile the use of Avinu Malkeinu, including Talmudic, historical, and musical references.


This discussion highlighted Debbie's depth in Jewish history and Jewish texts, her intellectual creativity in providing such a broad array of ideas, and the savvy to navigate such a tricky issue, especially when dealing with the incredibly smart, independent humanist congregation we are. Furthermore, it showed her desire to both respect the content we have developed as a community, but also educate and challenge us so we don't stay in an intellectual rut.


Stay tuned for details on a "listening tour," where Debbie will meet with members of Beth Chai in locations around the region. We also are planning a special celebration for May.


The process and journey we have been on as a community since the announcement of Art's retirement, through the development of our vision document, has been incredible. From long-standing members bringing their deep appreciation and knowledge of the community, to new members bringing fresh ideas and different energy, it has been amazing seeing everyone come together and actively participate. Beth Chai is truly a volunteer-driven community at its finest. I look forward to continuing this journey to build and advance Beth Chai, now with Debbie as our permanent Rabbi and with all of you, my friends and fellow community members.



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