DC Minyan began when a group of Jews in the DC area met informally to discuss forming a new minyan (prayer group). The individuals who attended this meeting came from a diverse set of Jewish backgrounds — some had been attending Conservative synagogues, others had been going to Orthodox synagogues — and had differing conceptions of what this new community would look like. Some goals that many of the initial organizers shared included affording women a significant role in services; creating a friendly community; retaining a sense of fidelity to halakhah (Jewish law); empowering community members to shape services and events through a lay-led organizational structure; and holding meaningful and inspiring services.
At this initial meeting, individuals expressed interest in exploring halakhic (Jewish legal) issues surrounding the role of women in prayer. The group decided to explore this topic by convening classes on three issues related to women and prayer: women reading from the Torah; women serving as shlichei tzibur (prayer leaders); and women counting in a minyan (quorum). Approximately 60 people attended these classes.
Following the initial conversation and the three classes, four individuals — Beth Tritter, Kenny Jeruchim, Jessica Lieberman, and Adam Szubin — expressed interest in committing time to help organize a minyan that would be committed to both halakhah and egalitarianism. These four individuals represented a spectrum of Jewish experience: they had grown up in Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox settings. At the time, two were attending a Conservative synagogue and two were attending an Orthodox synagogue.
Informed by their own diverse experiences, these four people decided to form a community that could accommodate people from a variety of Jewish backgrounds. There was consensus among the group that services should be fully egalitarian, meaning that women and men would lead all parts of the service and read Torah. On the issue of composing a minyan/quorum, there were different halakhic interpretations as to whether a minyan should consist of 10 men only or of 10 people (men and women). One feasible solution was to require 10 men AND 10 women to make a minyan. This model would ensure that 10 men would be present for those who believed that was necessary, but would also require the presence of 10 women to ensure that the necessary quorum for starting services was an egalitarian one. After considering the alternatives, the “10 and 10″ policy was deemed the best way to accommodate the diverse opinions of those who had attended the classes and expressed interest in participating in this new community. The group also decided to have separate seating for men and women without a mechitzah (separation or partition between men and women), a practice that is used by a small minority of Conservative and Orthodox synagogues.
The group called itself DC Minyan (it was meant to be a temporary name but, as you can tell, it stuck) and first met for Shabbat services in February 2002 at Luna Books in Dupont Circle. Initially, the group planned to meet every other week. Services consistently attracted 50-60 people, and it became clear that DC Minyan needed a larger space. In the late spring of 2002, DC Minyan moved to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.
In fall 2002, DC Minyan held High Holiday services on Yom Kippur. In connection with its Yom Kippur services, DC Minyan instituted membership as a way of raising revenue to pay for its meeting space. Also in the fall of 2002, a group of individuals founded DC Beit Midrash, DC Minyan’s flagship study program that continues to meet weekly on Monday nights.
Since DC Minyan’s beginnings in 2002, our community has continued to grow and thrive. We now have nearly 300 members. Current DC Minyan programs include (but are not limited to) Shabbat morning services on the first and third Saturdays of each month, Shabbat evening services on the second and fourth Friday nights of each month, High Holiday and other holiday services, social action programs, Hannukah and Purim events, lunch/dinner-and-learn speakers, Seudah Shlishit learning events, and children’s programming. Weekly attendance averages around 100-120 people on Saturday mornings and 50-80 people on Friday nights.