Growing up in Chicago, Rabbi Toby Manewith thought she was going to be a lawyer.
”I sort of always wanted to be a lawyer,” the 42-year-old says. ”I always liked to read and I always liked to talk, so I thought I would be a good lawyer.”
But Manewith didn’t become a lawyer.
Instead, at 16, she found a different calling, thanks in part to the encouragement of Rabbi Michael Weinberg, who worked with a high school youth group that included Manewith.
”Every time I did something, he would just encourage me,” she says. ”And I thought being a rabbi is everything that I ever wanted to do. It’s every interest that I ever had, all sort of wrapped into one thing.”
On July 1, Manewith, a 12-year D.C. resident, officially starts her tenure as the new rabbi for Bet Mishpachah(www.betmishpachah.org), D.C.’s predominantly GLBT-Jewish congregation. Services are usually held at the DC Jewish Community Center at 1529 16th St. NW. Members of the GLBT community founded the congregation 34 years ago. Manewith, who is straight, says she identifies as an ally.
”I think that one of the great things about the congregation is that it’s so welcoming. It just doesn’t matter who you are or who you love,” she says. ”I want to help the congregation sort of continue to emphasize that this is a place where everyone is welcome, and where everyone can find community.”
Manewith will also be responsible for helping the congregation continue its social-justice efforts.
”There are lots of people in the world who think that they are finished doing something good because they’ve sent a check,” says Manewith, “but the members of Bet Mishpachah were out last weekend delivering food to hungry people.’
Manewith is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where she earned a master’s degree. Since 2005, she’s served as the associate rabbi at D.C.’s Temple Micah.
Elke Martin, president of Bet Mishpachah, could not be reached for comment during Passover, but in an April 3 press release noted, ”[Manewith] will be a worthy successor for [Rabbi Bob Saks], and we are excited about entering this new phase of our congregational life with Rabbi Manewith.”
Manewith returns the vote of confidence with zeal:
”I’m just excited to get to know all the people in the community. It’s large enough that there are different kinds of people, but it’s small enough that I will be able to meet everybody.”