Local News

Rabbi dreidels for 1st Amendment

October 4, 2013
Rabbi Hannah Goldstein takes a spin during National Parks closure.
By David Holzel
Senior Writer
Chanukah in October: Rabbi Hannah Goldstein tests the bounds of religious freedom. Photo by Cantor Jason Kaufman

Chanukah in October: Rabbi Hannah Goldstein tests the bounds of religious freedom. Photo by Cantor Jason Kaufman

Rabbi Hannah Goldstein hardly had her first High Holiday sermon under her belt when she answered the call to defend freedom of religion during her morning run Friday on the streets of Washington.

Goldstein, assistant rabbi at Temple Sinai in the District, entered a park near the William Tecumseh Sherman monument, accompanied by her friend Jason Kaufman, cantor of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria. Stopping near a gate, she pulled out a small plastic dreidel and some coins, and engaged in the age-old Chanukah pastime.

“I don’t typically run with a dreidel,” says Goldstein, who was ordained a Reform rabbi in May and came to Temple Sinai in July. “It was a premeditated act.”

She explains: On the park gate there is a sign that says, “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service Area is closed, except for 1st Amendment activities.”

New York magazine had cheekily suggested that someone test the loophole by bringing a menorah into the park. “A friend sent me the article and said, ‘Your time has come,’” Goldstein says.

As she was exercising her 1st Amendment rights, runners passed by in the closed park as officers of the law looked on, the loophole apparently larger than mere dreideling.

But why a dreidel? Why not a challah or the suggested menorah?

As her action was a performance piece and not a ritual, “I didn’t want to profane something that was a sacred symbol,” she says.

But her silliness underscores the less amusing antics that have resulted in the government shutdown and the closure of Gen. Sherman’s park.

“It’s a funny introduction to being a rabbi in D.C.,” she says.

Rabbi Hannah Goldstein will be installed at Temple Sinai on Oct. 18.

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com Twitter: @davidholzel

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