Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s choice of a new home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood suggests they may soon make another choice: a new synagogue.
As Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath each Saturday by abstaining from driving, riding buses or trains or using electronics, Trump and Kushner were seeking a house within walking distance of a Jewish community.
The house they have reportedly picked, on Tracy Place NW, is about half a mile from TheShul of the Nation’s Capital, a synagogue run by the active Orthodox Jewish organization Chabad. That’s about half the distance of Kesher Israel, the prominent Georgetown synagogue earlier rumored as a likely choice before the couple selected a place to live.
Reached on Wednesday, representatives of Kushner and Trump would not comment on where the family will worship when they move from New York to Washington. And Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who leads TheShul, cited his policy of not discussing any of his conversations with prospective worshipers.
“Our shul is a beautiful seven- to ten-minute’s walk from the address of the house they have reportedly rented,” Shemtov said.
Norman Eisen, a lawyer who was special counsel to President Barack Obama and ambassador to the Czech Republic, said people who work in politics at a high level, whether Democrats or Republicans, are frequently welcomed at TheShul, where he worships.
“They welcome everybody of every political orientation to TheShul. Its what we call a haimish minyan: It’s a comfortable, friendly, intimate minyan,” he said. “If that ends up being Ivanka and Jared’s spiritual home, prayer home, it will be a wonderful one.”
Since Donald Trump’s election, the District’s Jewish community has been buzzing about where Ivanka Trump, who will be the first Jewish member of a first family in the nation’s history, will worship and will send her children to school.
Jewish Primary Day School has been named as a potential pick for the couple’s oldest child, who is in kindergarten, and people close to Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, say the couple have inquired about the preschool there for their middle child.
As for Shabbat worship, speculation initially swirled around Ohev Sholom and Kesher Israel, the District’s two Modern Orthodox synagogues, which more closely match Kehilath Jeshurun, where Trump and Kushner worship in New York City. Ohev Sholom, on 16th Street NW near the border between the District and Maryland, is more than five miles, too far away for a Kalorama family of five to regularly walk to a synagogue. Kesher Israel in Georgetown is a more feasible distance from Kalorama, at just over 20 minutes’ walking distance, but less convenient than TheShul.
TheShul, which attracts at least 50 worshipers on a typical Friday night, is one of 3,300 Chabad-Lubavitch centers in the world. The Orthodox organization is known for its fervent outreach into the most remote places where Jews might be found. It operates in dozens of countries, and recently dispatched a rabbi to South Dakota so that it now has a presence in all 50 states.
Shemtov, who leads not only the D.C. congregation but the Washington office of the organization American Friends of Lubavitch, has long been an energetic leader working to make Judaism more visible in Washington – from getting a special permit to build a hut for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, to explaining to congressmen which dates their Jewish colleagues could not work.
His best-known annual event is the national menorah lighting, on the White House Ellipse near the national Christmas tree. Thousands of people request tickets to see Chabad rabbis lifted up by heavy construction equipment so that they can light the massive candleholder. Shemtov’s father, a D.C. Chabad rabbi before him, created the national menorah lighting in 1979.
Shemtov became director of American Friends of Lubavitch’s Washington office in the early 1990s and was known as the “rabbi of Capitol Hill” before the organization opened the center in Kalorama in 1999. Housed in a five-story rowhouse that was once part of the Italian Embassy and has several embassies as neighbors, including those of Guinea and Nepal, TheShul has frequently hosted VIPs.
Some of Washington’s highest-profile observant Jews, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and longtime senator and 2000 vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman, sometimes attend services at TheShul as an alternative to Kesher Israel, where they more frequently spend Shabbat. Numerous Jewish ambassadors from foreign countries have chosen to worship at TheShul.
As part of the organization’s aggressive outreach efforts, Chabad centers all over the world gladly welcome Jews who belong to other synagogues or no synagogue but wish to attend Chabad services and programs occasionally.
In addition to Shabbat services, TheShul offers a full slate of children’s programming, including Shabbat activities, Hebrew school, day camps during summer and winter breaks – activities the three young Kushner children could eventually take part in.
Want more stories about faith? Follow Acts of Faith on Twitter or sign up for our newsletter.