Shira Stutman (Part 2) - Judaism Unbound Episode 178: I-Wish-I-Had-This-Itis


Shira Stutman, who serves as Senior Rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for the second half of a 2-part conversation. [1] Together they ask some big questions about the ecosystem of 21st century Judaism, working to combat a disease (not physical!) they term “Wish-I-Had-This-Itis” in the process. [2]

(0:01 - 17:13): Picking up the conversation that began in Part 1, Stutman discusses the challenges associated with people “aging out” of their synagogue due to its focus on people in their 20s and 30s. She then argues that the biggest markers of Sixth & I’s success relate not to the number of people who attend their programs, but how they connect Jewishly in the years that follow. [3] In addition, she claims that it is better for the Jewish people to have a large central body for a large group of people (in this case, Jews and loved ones in their 20s and 30s) than to have many smaller groups associated with a high number of Jewish institutions. She also explores, with respect to the broader Jewish ecosystem, whether it may be necessary for many institutions to close or merge. [4]

(17:14 - 30:22): Lex opens up a conversation about “Wish-I-Had-This-Itis” — not quite an actual disease, but a fear he has that people will hear episodes of this show and the main takeaway will be “Oy! Wish we had that in our community. Bummer that we don’t.” Stutman names a variety of crucial elements that any Jewish community of any size could embody that are characteristics of Sixth & I. Turning to the topic of conversion, Stutman asks (and answers) a question that might seem strange: “Is Judaism good, or is Judaism not good?” In doing so, she analyzes ways in which non-Jewish loved ones are often the ones who notice the most exciting, powerful elements of Judaism to a greater extent than those who are themselves Jewish. She then considers a few needs that are common to many Jews in their 20s and 30s.

(30:23 - 45:07): Stutman invokes another question — asked of her by her husband over 20 years ago — that had a lasting impact. “Who is Rashi?” [5] She details why this question, asked in preparation for the D’var Torah (sermonette) he’d be giving on their wedding day, helped her think more expansively about the power of people who don’t carry the ‘have-tos’ and ‘we’ve-always-done-it-this-ways’ of Judaism. To close the episode, Stutman names a core element of Sixth & I’s thinking — “The Torah can take it” — and calls on American Jews to really internalize that teaching.

Sixth & I.png

[1] Listen to the first half of this two-part conversation by clicking here: Episode 177: Spreading The Good (Jewish) News - Shira Stutman.

[2] Learn more about Shira Stutman by clicking here. Learn more about Sixth & I Historic Synagogue at SixthAndI.org.

[3] For a Judaism Unbound episode that explores the metrics Jewish institutions use to measure success, see Episode 110: Glean - Elan Babchuck.

[4] Here, Lex refers to an article on the history of endowments in Jewish life. Access the piece, written by past Judaism Unbound guest Lila Corwin Berman, by clicking here.

[5] Part of the importance of the story Stutman tells is that people who don’t know who Rashi was have a great deal to teach us about Judaism. That said, if you want to learn about who Rashi was, click here!