DC ‘power synagogue’ hires co-senior rabbis


(JTA) — A Washington, D.C., synagogue that hosted President Barack Obama for a speech and counts Congress members and Cabinet officials as members has hired co-senior rabbis.

Adas Israel announced Monday that it hired Rabbis Lauren Holtzblatt and Aaron Alexander, both 40, to succeed Gil Steinlauf, who left the congregation four months ago to create an Innovation Lab for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Steinlauf had brought in Obama to speak in 2015 and Vice President Joe Biden a year later .

Also last year, he was among the Washington-area rabbis urging President Donald Trump to “reconsider” his campaign rhetoric and “the hate crimes it may have unleashed.”

In 2014 Steinlauf, who was married at the time, came out as gay to his congregation.

Several Israeli ambassadors to the U.S., beginning with Yitzhak Rabin, worshipped at Adas Israel, which is part of the Conservative movement.

Adas Israel President Ricki Gerger in the announcement of the new leadership said Holtzblatt and Alexander “are already recognized as two of the most celebrated and prominent rabbis in the nation, and as role models for clergy working in our movement and beyond.”

The rabbis already have been working together at the congregation.

Holtzblatt oversaw adult education at Adas Israel. She also has directed the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington. She previously served as the director of campus initiatives and as associate rabbi at the Yale University Hillel. In 2015 she co-authored a feminist interpretation of the Passover story with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Alexander served for 10 years as associate dean and lecturer in rabbinic and Jewish law at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. He is a sitting member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement, the governing body determining Jewish law and practice for the movement.

The co-rabbi model is rare among synagogues but not unprecedented. A spokesman for Adas said they are only the third set of current co-head rabbis who are not married to each other.

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