Background & Philosophy
In June 1964, 20 families in Montgomery County and the surrounding area who desired a congregation with a progressive approach to Judaism formed the Bethesda Jewish Congregation. From that humble beginning, our congregation has grown into a unique and vibrant community. Under the leadership of Rabbi Elhanan ‘Sunny’ Schnitzer, BJC is a leader in cutting edge contemporary Jewish practice and thought, while maintaining a strong connection to tradition.
BJC is truly representative of Klal Yisrael (all Israel), serving Jews from traditional and liberal religious backgrounds, as well as secular Jews, intermarried couples, and their families. We are concerned with bringing a new vitality to our tradition, while maintaining continuity with our heritage, our people, and our history to preserve our unique way of life and value system. We have always enjoyed the benefits of diversity among our membership, and we seek like-minded individuals to join with us and enrich our explorations with their experiences and points of view.
We feel that our synagogue should take form naturally in response to the needs of its members as they interact with life and with Judaism. In terms of congregational life, this means that in all of our synagogue’s activities, both for adults and children, we strive for programs that enable our members to fully engage our traditions no matter how extensive an individual’s level of Jewish knowledge. We evaluate our programs according to how deeply each participant is moved and how effectively the connection to community is strengthened.
BJC functions as a community of individuals who do not necessarily subscribe to a single doctrine of Judaism or Jewish practice. It makes no attempt to impose a prevailing consensus of views on religious, national, or ethnic questions upon its members. The congregation recognizes the wide differences of its members’ backgrounds, with complete respect for these differences as a right. The congregation’s philosophy and practice stress equal participation for women in all aspects of congregational life. We accept as Jews children of either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father. We encourage full participation of non-Jewish family members, without distinction, in all events.
Bethesda Jewish Congregation subscribes to the view that Judaism and the Jewish people are evolving and dynamic. The message of Judaism is at once the oldest and the newest. In every age the Jewish people have revisited their texts and traditions, reinterpreting and reinventing them so that they are relevant and have continued meaning. At BJC, we wish to do our part in the development of the world’s understanding of the human condition and the perfection of the same through a Jewish lens. We are truly partners in the work of creation, performing Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world.
Judaism is a religion, but it is more than a religion. Jews are a people, but they are more than a people. One practices Judaism because it is a part of one’s emotional and existential being, and if practiced creatively will enrich one’s life. It is a direction of self-realization, as well as an ethical system.
The congregation follows many paths of Jewish observance. The congregation’s philosophy and practice stress equal participation of all members in all aspects of congregational life.
As a small congregation, BJC depends on the involvement of its membership. The congregational leadership also believes that volunteer opportunities must be fulfilling and it designs its governance and committee structures to meet that end. Our goal is that all of our members will want to give their time to make BJC into the type of community they want it to be. All board and committee meetings are open, and the ultimate authority in all matters resides with the congregation.