Events, News, and Shmooz

Rabbi Hannah's Letter

Dear Friends,

This week’s parsha is a hard one to read: Shemini, in which a father loses his children in a devastating way. Moses’ brother Aaron has been given the responsibility of serving as Kohen HaGadol, High Priest, which means that he and his sons will be in charge of the sacrifices that are meant to viscerally connect the Israelites to the Divine. They’ve been given incredibly specific instructions on how to implement these sacrifices… but then two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a “strange fire” to God, something unexpected in some way; and the consequences are dire. God swallows them up in fire, right in front of Aaron’s eyes, and they are, suddenly, gone.

The story is tragic for obvious reasons -- but there’s a midrash from Sifra Mekhilta d’Millu’im, written in the early talmudic period, that makes it even more heartwrenching for me to read. The midrash teaches that Aaron had already been incredibly anxious as these offerings were being given, because he was worried about his relationship with God being severely damaged ever since he’d come up with the idea to comfort his people with a Golden Calf several parshayot ago. 

This offering could have been an opportunity for Aaron and his family to feel a sense of reconnection with God, but it ended up being the opposite in the absolute worst possible way imaginable. All of Aaron’s fears about never being able to get it right, and never being able to make up for what he did, ended up being realized beyond belief.

But then Moses, Aaron’s brother, gets involved, and something shifts: Scholar Aviva Richman points out, “Moshe refuses to let Aharon see this as a punishment for a reenactment of his own sin… Nadav and Avihu are not sinners; they wanted to come close to God. This was a sanctification, not desecration, of God’s name (Leviticus 10:4).” Then, Moses tells Aaron and his remaining sons something that might be surprising: They are not to leave the mishkan, the sacred sacrificial space. They are supposed to stay inside it. As Richman puts it, “It conveys that these deaths are not a sign of rejection and punishment. God wants to hold Aharon close even in these tragic circumstances.”

I’m moved by the idea that, even when things feel broken and painful, our tradition points us towards hanging in there, believing in the possibility of some sort of repair, and believing in an overarching connection that will see us through. Aaron grieves, but he does not go off the grid and leave his community behind. He continues to lead, to serve, and to stay engaged in this delicate, difficult divine relationship. 

So too may we have the strength to hang in there and to continue to believe in ourselves after a crisis. Like Aaron, another chapter exists for us.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Hannah


To learn more about these events (including how to register, which we require for almost all events), please visit our website calendar HERE.

All events are in person and indoors, unless otherwise noted. 

Saturday, April 6th

Tot Shabbat

at 9:00 am

Shabbat Morning Service & Henry Nathanson's Bar Mitzvah

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Sunday, April 7th

March & Rally to Free the Hostages

at 2:30 pm

at the Washington Monument & Lincoln Memorial

[more information down below]

Tuesday, April 9th

Jewish Kids Club

at 5:00 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, April 13th

Tot Shabbat

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Hill Havurah Annual Gala

at 7:00 pm

at the Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum (573 3rd St., NW)

[more information down below]

Saturday, April 14th

Spiritual Practices for adults

at 9:30 am

at Digital Pioneers Academy (709 12th St., SE)

Friday, April 19th

Kabbalat Shabbat Service & Potluck Dinner

at 6:30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, April 20th

Kira Neufeld's Bat Mitzvah

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Tuesday, April 23rd

Hill Havurah Community Seder

at 5;30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Wednesday, May 1st

10th-12th Grade Kulam

at 5:30 pm

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

Saturday, May 4th

Tot Shabbat

at 9:00 am

Shabbat Morning Service & Jacob Simon's Bar Mitzvah

at 10:00 am

at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE)

For information about upcoming events not run by Hill Havurah that might be of interest to our community, click HERE.

News and Shmooz

4/23 Community Seder --

Registration Open for Members!

Registration for our Tuesday, April 23rd, Community Seder at 5:30 pm at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE) is now open for Hill Havurah members.

Registration will remain open until we reach maximum capacity or Monday, April 15th, at 5:00 pm, whichever comes sooner. If we still have seats available on Friday, April 12th, we will open registration to non-members too.

For more information, including how to register, click here. To go directly to the registration page, click here.


Last Call for Hill Havurah Board Nominations!

Please consider joining the Hill Havurah Board of Directors. Nominations will be accepted until Tuesday!

Every two years, at our May annual meeting, we select a new slate of leaders from across our community. We are committed to building a diverse board with representation from every part of our congregation. No prior board experience is necessary.

Between our monthly meetings, Board members continue to lead and participate in different aspects of Hill Havurah. From Tot Shabbat to Sages, from fundraisers and security experts to tikkun olam activists and ritual committee veterans, we take all kinds!  

To learn more about our expectations for Board service, please read our new policy here.

If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else you think would be great for the job, please email to let us know and request an application.

And if you have any questions at all, please reach out to the nominating committee at or to Board Chair Aaron Hiller at

Hill Havurah Annual Meeting

Wednesday, May 22nd, at 7:30 pm

All Hill Havurah members are invited to attend our annual meeting on May 22nd from 7:30-9:00 pm in the Parish Hall at Reformation (212 E. Capitol St., NE). On the agenda will be the annual review from Board Chair Aaron Hiller, reports from Rabbi Hannah and Executive Director Alan Shusterman, consideration of the 2024-25 budget, the election of a new slate of Directors of the Hill Havurah Board, and other important business.

Dessert and beverages (alcoholic and other) will be served.

If you have any questions, feel free to email Board Chair Aaron Hiller at If you plan to attend, please register here.

Help with the Empty Shabbat Table Initiative

A group of volunteers has been setting up an Empty Shabbat Table on the National Mall every Friday since mid-October to maintain attention to the hostages being held in Gaza. We are always seeking volunteers to help both in person and/or financially to keep this initiative going. Here are some ways you can help:

1. Sign up here to volunteer in person.

2. Join us on WhatsApp.

3. Make a donation: Go Fund Me site Empty Shabbat Table - DC, organized by Yosh Halberstam.

Join the Hill Havurah Listserv

The Hill Havurah listserv (a Google Group) is the place to let the community know about everything from cultural or social action events to new restaurants, reliable auto mechanics, spring giveaways, and carpooling possibilities.

If you're interested in joining, email Executive Director Alan Shusterman at

Celebrate Your Special Day with the Havurah

Do you or a loved one have a special occasion like a birthday, anniversary, or other milestone coming up? A great way to celebrate is to sponsor a Hill Havurah monthly Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat ($150)! We're still looking for sponsors for May and beyond.

Email Executive Director Alan Shusterman at to sign up now and reserve your sponsorship month.

2024 Hill Havurah Gala

Saturday, April 13th, at 7:00 pm

For information about this year's Gala (now just 8 days away!), including how to become a sponsor or buy tickets, click here.

Migrant Solidarity Support Needs

We are continuing our migrant solidarity work, and continue to need all hands on deck. There are so many ways to contribute to the effort -- sign up to volunteer here or click here to make a donation.

Lifecycle Events

Happy birthday, Adah Svetlik!

Happy 14th birthday,

Sebastian Spykerman!

Happy 13th birthday, Caspar Schorr!

Happy 3rd birthday,

Julian O'Connor!

Happy 8th birthday,

Claire Mendelson!

Happy 13th birthday,

Milo Buchman!

Happy birthday, Meredith Shaffer!

Happy birthday,

Ellen Opper-Weiner!

Happy birthday, Marc Mayerson!

Happy birthday, Alan Shusterman!

Upcoming Yahrzeits

The following yahrzeits are coming up this week:

  • Eugene M. Lang, z"l, father of Jane Lang

  • Allan Crystal, z"l, father of Howard Crystal

If you've not entered yahrzeit information about your deceased loved ones in your account, you can at any time. If you need any help, you can email Alan Shusterman for assistance.

Mi Shebeirach L'Cholim -- Prayers for Healing

May the One who blessed our ancestors -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah -- bless and heal:

Emma Schulman, Ron Levin, & Udi (Mowgly) Becker.

May the Holy Blessed One overflow with compassion upon them, to restore them, to heal them, to strengthen them, to enliven them, along with all the ill among the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say: Amen.

If you or a loved one are in need of healing, and you'd appreciate the community keeping you in mind, please reach out to Alan Shusterman so he can add you or your loved one to our Shmoozy Nuz Mi Shebeirach list. If it's time to take a name off the list for any reason, let Alan know that as well. Feel free to include their English and/or Hebrew name. 

Please make sure to get your loved one's consent before having their name added to the list -- or, if they prefer privacy, we can instead add, "Loved One of [Insert Your Name]." 


Hill Havurah is an independent Jewish community based on Capitol Hill serving people from across the Washington metropolitan area. Our mission is to anticipate and meet the spiritual, educational, religious, cultural, and life cycle needs of a growing and evolving Jewish community. Hill Havurah's many activities support our members' interests in advancing Jewish culture, identity, education, and a commitment to community service. A warm, inclusive, and informal spirit is part of what has made Hill Havurah so special for more than two decades.

Contact Information:

Address: 212 East Capitol Street, NE

Washington, DC 20003

Phone: 202-729-3515

Rabbi Hannah Spiro, Rabbi

Alan Shusterman, Executive Director

Melissa Werbow, Education Director

Tina Brimo, Gan Shalom Director

Rebecca Freund, B Mitzvah Coordinator

Jocelyn Donahue, Operations Coordinator

Brittany Schibuola, Community Associate