By Jeremy Snow
When visiting the 6th & I Historic Synagogue, named for its address in downtown Washington, D.C., one may first notice the enormous sanctuary where some pray or have a quick discussion with the rabbi. However, stay longer and experience a surprise when the sanctuary turns into a rock venue for some of the most popular artists.
The 6th & I Historic Synagogue is a nondenominational, no-membership-needed synagogue designed specifically for young professionals in D.C. looking for a new way to be involved in Judaism. The 6th & I also regularly schedules musicians, comedians or authors whose performances may not be related to Judaism, to perform or talk at the shul.
“We try to find musicians that are relevant for our target audience, which are young professionals around D.C. we also want to try to get a variety of different organizations or shows at the synagogue,” said 6th & I’s Communications Manager Hannah Ornstein.
The 6th & I’s line-up has hosted major musicians for their concerts. In October, musicians like Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, Mark Lanegan from The Screaming Trees, and Matisyahu have turned the gigantic sanctuary into a festive concert hall.
In November, the 6th & I will be featuring a plethora of well-known indie rockers, like the Canadian Destroyer on Nov. 11. Two days later, singer-songwriter Cat Power will perform. Kevin Devine, a genre-spanning artist, will also perform on Nov. 17.
For those looking for something more mellow, 6th & I will feature world-class mandolin and clarinet player Andy Stratman on Nov. 14, and banjo player Bella Fleck accompanied by string quartet Brooklyn Rider on Nov. 23.
“The music shows are about hearing the actual music than just going to see the artist. I feel like any music lover could come to a show, if they know the artist or not, and love it,” said Ornstein.
Sixth & I is also a host to plenty of other types of entertainment, authors, comedians or politicians. On Dec. 4, the 6th & I will continue its tradition of big-name comedies with Chanu-Comedy: A Festival of Laughs featuring Eugene Mirman (Bob’s Burgers) along with voice actor and comedian Kurt Braunohler, and poet Derrick Brown.
Through the constant concerts and events, there is still a strong sense of a Jewish community at 6th & I, thanks to the synagogues’ various weekly events and services based around Judaism, said Jewish Programming Manager Beth Semel. Each week, the synagogue offers a different type of service for Friday nights, ranging from the only service in D.C. led by Jewish reconstructionist (a branch of Judaism focused on staying connected to tradition while also embracing a modern understanding) to a musically-based spiritual service.
Senior journalism and government and politics major Kaylin Bugos attended services at 6th & I weekly while staying at D.C. for an internship. Bugos found that the synagogue’s modern approach to Judaism, friendly atmosphere, and untraditional services kept her coming back.
“The services are engaging, fun and make you want to be there. It’s hard not to fall in love with it,” Bugos said. “It’s great for people who may have not been to synagogue before or in a while.” Bugos, who is president of the Reform Judaism Community (RJC) on campus, also schedules monthly trips to the synagogue with RJC that are always well received.
Sophomore history and government and politics major Tani Levitt appreciates the concerts and happenings at 6th & I, but is skeptical of the lack of memberships.
“A lot of people want to become a member to a synagogue so they can belong somewhere and support the community,” he said. “Plus, if there are no membership fees but you are charging to get into some events, I really don’t see the difference.”
Despite some doubt, 6th & I still believes their unique outlook on Judaism has given a popular repetition among a younger demographic . Not only do they see themselves as a synagogue with strong religious opportunities, but also as a concert hall that rivals some larger music venues in D.C.