Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Mission and History

Our Mission

The mission of our unique and flexible coalition is to establish a spiritual home and an extended Jewish family for our members, who reside in different towns in and around Litchfield County in northwestern Connecticut, as well as Fairfield County and New York. As a religious group, we strive to create a strong sense of warmth, connection and personal belonging and to enrich our community with a variety of stimulating religious, spiritual, cultural, educational and social experiences through which Judaism can be explored and practiced communally.

Many of our members count the people they meet through the Coalition as among their closest friends. For some members the Coalition serves as an alternative traditional synagogue experience,  and for others it is a supplement to their synagogue membership.


It was in the late summer of 1994 that Susan Haber and Sharon Ruchman had a dream: start a Jewish community for families, young people and adults in Washington Depot, Connecticut. They were encouraged by friends to pursue their dream.

Later that fall, the first seed was planted. “The Jewish Life Series” program for families, funded by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, was launched. The group met in the First Congregational Church on the Washington Green where there were activities and programs for those of all ages.  Jewish life cycle events were celebrated; ethical Jewish living, the history and culture of Judaism were studied and discussed.

A bold initiative at the time, Susan and Sharon were unsure what the interest level or response would be to their daring “startup.” They didn’t have to wait long to find out. The first service in the fall of ’94 was attended by 55 people, and the following spring 81 people joined them for the Passover seder. All very exciting and encouraging, but time to move on..

In 1996, they moved to the Washington Club Hall for High Holiday services.  A student rabbi was hired, a Torah and ark were borrowed and more than 100 people walked through the door to attend the service. People were moved and remarked that they felt that they had “come home.” With creativity and hard work the GWCJL had grown in size, scope and now became official:  the group was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) operation.

The GWCJL had come a long way from its early days when Susan and Sharon stuffed envelopes on the floor of their family office, and peeked out the window before each event to see if anyone was coming.

Over the years, both weekenders and full-time residents have expressed a sense of gratitude to them both for creating the Coalition. Susan and Sharon have been told that the group has enriched life for many in Litchfield County — reconnected members to Judaism, offered new friendships and provided a true sense of community. How gratifying and proud they are to have been a part of this.

– Susan Haber

Interests and Values

Our mission and interests are to create a welcoming group for those wishing to share their Jewish heritage and beliefs with others. At the same time, our organization is open to the more secular aspects of Jewish life for educational, cultural, and social experiences as well such as a book club, cooking classes, hiking, concerts, luncheons, occasional trips and other events as they arise.


The Coalition is centered around two co-presidents, a Board of Directors, a part-time administrator and our spiritual leader, Rabbi James Greene. Members volunteer to head and join committees such as Shabbat, High Holidays, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover and Sukkot among others. They also represent the group on community initiatives, launch various collaborative projects and arrange different activities. We have a yearly calendar that we follow with modifications as the year progresses.  We are incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit religious organization, and follow a set of organization bylaws to guide board decisions and operations.