Shira Stutman (Part 1): Judaism Unbound Episode 177 - Spreading The Good (Jewish) News


Shira Stutman, who serves as Senior Rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, thinks that Judaism has a ton to offer the world. In the first half of a 2-part conversation with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg, she has the chutzpah to argue that active Jewish outreach, and even forms of Jewish “evangelizing,” might be a pretty worthwhile idea! [1]

(0:01 - 17:05): To begin the episode, Stutman gives an overview of the work that Sixth & I Historic Synagogue does. She looks back at the history of her organization, [2] which in one sense is over 100 years old, but in another sense is quite new, given its rebirth less than 20 years ago. She discusses the importance of having organizations like hers, which focus expressly on young adults and provide space for them to connect with one another. Diving deeper into some of the particular elements of her Washington D.C context, she explores what it means to serve a community with such a transient population, [3] and she also argues that having a centralized body for young adults is preferable to a situation where every synagogue would have its own, smaller “young and Jewish” group.

(17:06 - 27:03): Stutman describes Sixth & I as an “outreach organization” and talks about the ways in which it seeks to bring people closer to Jewish life. In doing so, she cites the diversity of Friday night services there, which may be Reform one week, Conservative next, and a Reconstructionist “Jewish camp style” service the week after that. She also considers some of the strengths of having a building, even as much of the Jewish world has been shifting away from forms of community that revolve around one central edifice. [4] [5]

(27:04 - 41:47): Clarifying that the “secular” and “religious” elements of 6th & I’s programming aren’t entirely separate from one another, Stutman explores some of the Jewish themes that undergird programming (such as celebrity lectures) that might appear at first glance to be a-religious. She also asserts that Judaism as a “meaning-making technology.” Looking back at the idea of kiruv (outreach/bringing-near) that Stutman introduced earlier, she explores what it is, precisely, that we should be looking to bring people near to. She closes the 1st half of this two-part conversation by arguing that we shouldn’t necessarily understand “evangelize” as a dirty word in Jewish life.

[1] Learn more about Shira Stutman here. Check out Sixth & I Historic Synagogue’s website at SixthAndI.org, and read a New York Times article about the organization here.

[2] Check out Sixth & I’s historic timeline, dating all the way back to the 19th century, at this link.

[3] For a couple articles that explore the transient nature of Washington D.C’s population — both the perceptions of transience and the realities — see these articles: from WAMU.org, from GGWash.org

[4] Here, Lex alludes to the Jewish Emergent Network, a national organization that includes Sixth & I as one of its member organizations. Learn more at JewishEmergentNetwork.org.

[5] Stutman quickly cites the idea of “third space” in discussing the role that Sixth & I’s building plays in its programming. Explore the related idea of “third space” through a Jewish lens by checking out this eJewishPhilanthropy piece by Alex Weissman.