Rabbi Aaron Miller (Washington Hebrew Cong.)

 

What brought you to DC?
After looking around at all the jobs out there for new rabbis, I saw pretty quickly that there is nowhere else like Washington Hebrew Congregation. After a nerve-racking placement process (a bizarre fusion between speed dating and the fraternity/sorority pledging system), Washington Hebrew and I were matched, so here we are!

 

What is the dweebiest thing you did as a kid?
Instead of having a bar mitzvah party, I invited Doug Cotler, this Jewish rock and roll musician, to come to my congregation and do a concert. Sample Doug Cotler song lyric: It’s so amazing. The sun is blazing. It’s hard to believe, that the trees have leaves. That concert was pretty awesome.

How did you know that you wanted to be a rabbi?
My dad is a rabbi and my grandfather z’l was a rabbi, so obviously, it was the last thing I wanted to do for most of my childhood. When I was 14, my dad once asked if I’d rather be a garbage man or a rabbi. I could not have said “garbage man” more quickly.

I never really had an “a-ha!” moment when I realized that I wanted to be a rabbi.  I went to Jewish summer camps and youth group growing up, which was amazing. My dad loves being a rabbi, which definitely helped my decision, but actually, I was inspired by some of my Southern Baptist friends in high school who “found Jesus” junior year. I thought, “Maybe there’s something to this whole religion thing after all!” Southern Baptists turned me into a rabbi. Go figure.

Who is your favorite Jew in the Torah and why?
I really like Joshua. Joshua is optimistic, bold, and sometimes a little chutzpadik. Whether it was defending against marauding Philistines or telling the Israelites to quit their whining, I admire Joshua for taking what Moses had to offer and, for the first time, expanding it to deepen what it means to be a Jew. Joshua has a vision for what the Israelites could be and dedicates his entire life to make it happen.

Finish this sentence, the Jews of DC…
… are really, really smart. It seems like living in DC is this Jewish rite of passage for any Jew with a good head on his or her shoulders. For example, I was at a party with some friends schmoozing with this guy about my age.  Turns out he is one of the lead writers for the Washington Post. And he was standing next to Harry Reid’s chief digital media strategist. I was definitely the underachiever in that group.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Washington Hebrew- either on the bima or somewhere close to the cookies. Our onegs are pretty dynamite.

What is Washington Hebrew Congregation famous for?
Besides onegs? We’re a 3,000-family congregation that, once you’re involved, actually feels small. We’re able to offer something for literally everyone, and a lot of people show up. Our programming is out of this world, which is why so many people keep coming.

We are also really committed to tikkun olam. We run an organization called the Carrie Simon house, which is a home and job training center for young single mothers. Also, for the past 20 years, we’ve been doing this event called Mitzvah Day, where thousands of people from all over the city come together for an interfaith day of mitzvahs. We do something similar, though not as huge, during MLK weekend and other times throughout the year.

I love working with the Washington Hebrew staff. Everyone is really outstanding at what they do. It’s like playing for the Yankees or joining the Power Rangers.

What are some great activities that are coming up in the future?
The first we’ve got is an ongoing program called ARK (Acts of Religious Kindness), where Jews in their 20s and 30s embark on organized service trips all over the country and, between trips, do some local tikkun olam in the DC area. There are 24 of us going to Birmingham, Alabama, this MLK weekend to do some home building in communities devastated by last spring’s tornados, and I think it will be terrific.

Another project we have underway is an initiative called the Metro Minyan. In a nutshell, the Metro Minyan will supplement some of DC’s Shabbat options for Reform Jews in their 20s and 30s who are looking for a more intimate, musical, chavurah-style Shabbat experience. Once a month, we’ll be meeting in people’s apartments and/or community rooms all over the city (near metro stops, of course) for a happy hour, Shabbat service, Shabbat dinner, and maybe study a little Torah or something at the end. Ultimately, I’d love to start empowering lay leaders to lead their own Shabbat services so we can have a bunch of Metro Minyanim on the same Friday night all over the city. I’m hoping it will really change what it means to be a young Reform Jew in the DC area.