Bet Mishpachah

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Rabbi Toby Manewith, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Bet Mishpachah, lights the Hanukkah Menorah on World AIDS Day, 2010
Bet Mishpachah
Address For mail:
P.O.Box 1410
Washington, D.C. 20013
Worship services:
1529 16th St, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(Washington, D.C. JCC)
Rabbi Toby Manewith
Public transit Dupont Circle (Washington Metro), Red Line, Q Street Exit
Sabbath/Shabbat Worship Friday evenings
2nd & 4th Sat mornings

Bet Mishpachah (Hebrew: בית משפחה) is a Jewish egalitarian worshiping community in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C. It is one of a number of national and international Jewish communities of "LGBT affirming congregations" that specifically welcome and "embrace" the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community, along with all others who "wish to participate in an inclusive, egalitarian, and mutually supportive community." Membership is open to all singles, couples, and families, regardless of religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or gender identity.[1]

Special worship services, programs, and events are sometimes held in various locations in the Dupont Circle area based on space or scheduling requirements, but the normal location for Sabbath worship is the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center (DCJCC).


Bet Mishpachah was founded in 1975, as the "Metropolitan Community Temple Mishpocheh." In 1976, it hosted the First International Conference of Gay & Lesbian Jews, which was organized in response to the United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, in an effort to create a forum for communications and mutual support among gay and lesbian Jews.

In 1978, the congregation elected a Board of Directors, and began holding weekly worship services, using rented spaces in Washington, D.C. The following year, the congregation received a Torah Scroll, rescued from The Holocaust, on permanent loan from the Westminster Synagogue in London. The scroll (a Sefer Torah, in Hebrew) once belonged to a small 500-year-old Jewish community in Dolní Kounice, a town destroyed in 1940, in the former Czechoslovakia.

In 1980, the congregation formally adopted its present name, Bet Mishpachah, "House of Family," and co-founded the World Congress of Gay & Lesbian Jews at the Third International Conference of Gay & Lesbian Jews, in San Francisco, California. In 1985, the congregation hosted the Ninth International Conference of the World Congress of Gay & Lesbian Jews.

In 1991, Bet Mishpachah hired its first rabbi—on a part-time basis, Robert Saks. During that same year, it purchased its second Torah Scroll. Like the first one, this was an historic scroll. It was written in 1917 in Czarist Russia, but never mounted on Etzei Chaim, the wooden poles to which the parchment is attached, and never used in synagogue services.

Also in 1991, the synagogue published its own siddur, prayerbook, for Sabbath/Shabbat and festivals. In 1992, a second prayerbook, Ti'filot Nachumim (Prayers of Consolation), was created for use during shiva worship—special prayers during the first week following the death of a loved one, and memorial services.

In 1997, the congregation moved to the newly restored and reopened Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center (closed since 1968). The following year, 1998, work was completed on a special five-volume High Holy Days machzor, prayerbook, "Chadeish Yameinu" ("Renew Our Days").

In 1998, the congregation hosted the Eighth Eastern Regional Conference of the World Congress of GLBT Jews, and in 2000, engaged its second rabbi, again on a part-time basis, Rabbi Leila Gal Berner. Rabbi Berner remained with the congregation through 2004.

In 2009, Rabbi Saks retired and became the official rabbi emeritus of the congregation. That same year, Rabbi Toby Manewith began serving as rabbi.

Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, Home of Bet Mishpachah

The congregation has also started a cemetery located in SE DC called Bet Mishpachah Cemetery

Worship, education, and special events[edit]

The congregation is known as a "House of Family"—a place of "homecoming"—true to its name.[2] Programs offer opportunities for education, celebration, social interaction—including home hospitality, and in cooperation with other local, national, and international organizations, opportunities to promote freedom, faith, social justice, and human rights.

However, at the heart of congregational activities are worship services. As of 2010, Friday evening Sabbath Eve services are held weekly and Saturday morning Sabbath services are held on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month, at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center. At special times, such as the High Holy Days, when larger spaces are needed, services are held elsewhere in the Washington, D.C. area.

Music is an integral element of Bet Mishpachah, and its choir, Tach'shitim (Jewels), originally formed as a trio in the 1980s, has added to worship services and special events for the congregation, and has also been featured in Jewish and interfaith services and concerts at other settings within the D.C. and Baltimore areas. Additionally, the choir released the recording, "Family and Friends," in 2000, and in 2004 it participated in the 7th International GALA Choruses Festival, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The choir was also featured in the 2006 documentary, "Why We Sing."

Leadership for individual worship services is rotated between lay leaders, Rabbi Manewith, and occasional guest rabbis.

Networking and goals[edit]

Bet Mishpachah is an active partner with organizations within the LGBT Jewish community, the LGBT community of all faiths, and the larger Jewish community, made up of men and women of all individual identities and sexual orientations. It is a founding member of Keshet Ga’avah - the World Congress of GLBTQ Jews, and the "Celebration of the Spirit Coalition." It is a participating member of the Network of Independent Jewish Communities & Havurot, administered by The Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community of Greater Washington; the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington; and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington.

Keshet Ga'avah[edit]

The participation of Bet Mishpachah in Keshet Ga'avah, the World Congress of GLBTQ Jews, is an especially important and ongoing effort, to create a structure of networking among national and international communities, including those in Israel, and to promote the organization's vision of "an environment where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews worldwide can enjoy free and fulfilling lives." In support of that vision, it seeks to:

  • be the worldwide voice of LGBT Jews
  • support, inspire, and strengthen local groups
  • foster a sense of community among diverse individuals and organizations
  • and, to achieve equality and security for LGBT Jews worldwide.

To achieve these goals, the organization's guiding principles are to value, promote, and support:

  • diversity among groups and individuals;
  • self-determination and respect for the autonomy of local organizations and individuals;
  • transparent organizational structure; and
  • close ties between LGBT Israelis and LGBT Jews around the world.

Celebration of the Spirit Coalition[edit]

In addition to Bet Mishpachah's participation in efforts to support the larger LGBT Jewish community, one of its primary opportunities to be part of LGBT interfaith efforts is the Celebration of the Spirit Coalition.

This coalition of faith communities supports and celebrates the rights of LGBT religious groups who practice both their spirituality and their personal identities openly, freely, and joyously. Partner organizations include communities representing the Abrahamic religion of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Eastern religions including Buddhism and Hinduism; and a host of other paths to spiritual understanding and strength, including Pagan, Wiccan, and Earth religions. The coalition "celebrates the diversity of these communities as well as their common bonds."[3]

In addition to ongoing support of individual congregations and communities, the Coalition coordinates an annual service, open to everyone who supports their vision of celebrating spiritual and personal diversity.


In 2010, the congregation received the Mautner Project Healing Works Award.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bet Mishpachah website.
  2. ^ "In the House: Bet Mishpachah Opens Arms, Homes, and Hearts," Metro Weekly, April 13, 2008.
  3. ^ Celebration of the Spirit Coalition website.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°54′39″N 77°02′10″W / 38.91091°N 77.03610°W / 38.91091; -77.03610