All posts by Etz Hayim Office

Jewish Artists in the Smithsonian Recap

On December 15, 2019, CEH’s Adult Education program sponsored a trip to the Smithsonian American Art Museum led by Deborah Kaplan, CEH member and SAAM docent. CEH members and their families enjoyed a 90-minute tour of paintings and sculptures created by Jews who immigrated to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. The tour then moved forward in time and explored the influential work of Jewish American artists in the second half of the twentieth century. The tour finished in the elegant but often bypassed Luce Gallery on SAAM’s third floor.

Deborah provided a wealth of information about the artwork and artists that the group encountered. In the earlier time period (1880 – 1920), there was a tight knit community of Jewish artists in the US. Many knew each other and worked together in government-sponsored programs such as the Public Works of Art Project. The group learned about Jewish artists such as Frank C. Kirk who painted in the style of Social Realism, which depicts the life of poor people and the working class in positive ways. The group also saw and discussed art by Moses Sawyer, Adolph Gottlieb, Ilya Bolotowsky, Louise Nevelson and Helen Frankenthaler. We learned about different schools of art and techniques including Abstract Impressionism, Avant-Garde, and Color Field Painting. Several participant remained after the tour to explore the Luce Gallery which features a unique visible art storage program.

Congregation Etz Hayim offers a diverse schedule of Adult Education programs including Torah study, tefilla how-tos, Jewish values, and social justice. The 2019-2020 schedule is available on our website under the Education tab. CEH is grateful for the Jean Koshar and Samuel Rothstein Memorial Fund which supports our Adult Education program.

A Message from Rabbi Bass

Dear Etz Hayim family,

As we enter 2020, it is time for us to have a new vision. After much consideration and a process of discernment, it became clear to me that it is time for both Etz Hayim and for me to explore other paths. I will be leaving our congregation at the end of June.

It has been my honor and my pleasure to serve our congregation for almost 19 years. We accomplished a lot together! As we start a new decade, it is time for another rabbi with another vision to guide this congregation. The congregation has many opportunities, including the knowledge that Northern Virginia now has the largest Jewish population of the Washington DC Metropolitan area. There are many ways to take advantage of these opportunities, and the partnership between a new rabbi and the lay leadership will choose the new way for the congregation to go.

I am not clear yet on where the new decade’s road will take me personally. Yet reflecting on our time together, I am filled with gratitude, for me and for my family. You have welcomed Benjamin to this world, gave him support and a loving community, and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with us. You celebrated my 10 years in the congregation with a beautiful quilt (that hangs in our Sanctuary), and you gave me a “Bat Mitzvah” celebration. Together we celebrated many wonderful occasions and helped each other through difficult times. I thank you for the opportunity of being your rabbi, and for the honor of serving you.

After I return from sabbatical on January 17, I will continue to work with the staff and lay leadership in all aspects of my position until the end of June.

May 2020 bring a new clarity of vision to all of us. I will be out of the office until January 17, and after that please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want or need anything.

B’virkat Shalom, Rabbi Lia Bass

Message from CEH President

Dear Etz Hayim Family: 

As you know, after nearly 19 years of service, Rabbi Lia Bass has communicated her intention to leave the congregation at the end of June 2020. We are deeply saddened to see her go. Over her nearly two decades as Congregation Etz Hayim’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Bass has accomplished much and forged deep bonds here. 

We will miss her very much and wish her all the best in her future endeavors. Rabbi Bass, her son Benjamin, and her mother Ides will always be a part of our CEH family. As June approaches, we will share information regarding farewell activities. 

Meanwhile, we appreciate that for these next six months, Rabbi Bass has committed to continue working closely with the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors and the staff to ensure that CEH maintains the level of attention to Shabbat, holidays, religious and adult education, b’nai mitzvah, and lifecycle events that congregants and school families expect. The Rabbi will be on a planned sabbatical through January 16 and available when she returns for anything you may need.  

Change is hard, but it is also an opportunity. As Rabbi Bass moves on, our congregation will seize this moment to assess our goals and strategies for the 2020s and beyond. Sitting just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., we are remarkably positioned to attract clergy, staff, and members. In recent years, the most Jewish growth in the D.C. region has been in Northern Virginia, which now makes up more than 40 percent of the area’s Jewish community. As the literal center of Jewish life in Arlington, we must expand ways to engage active members and re-envision ways to engage others. At a time in this country when many synagogues face membership challenges and anti-Semitism is on the rise, we must prioritize relationships and develop new ways to connect authentically with each other. We must be in the community to meet people how and where they are. 

Yet as things change, they remain the same. Our CEH Religious School and Preschool, led by our talented directors Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce, will continue to teach and nurture our children. Our core vision to be a warm, inclusive, egalitarian Conservative congregation is unchanged. Our connection to the rich heritage of our Jewish tradition and teachings remains strong. Our commitment to respecting the diversity of individuals’ backgrounds and chosen paths in Judaism continues to mesh with our commitment to communal participation that fills our shul with shared energy and joy. Our presence as a community service partner, dedicated to tikkun olam, is unwavering. 

I welcome you to help define the vision of what comes next for Congregation Etz Hayim. On Sunday, January 12, we will hold a Town Hall Meeting from 12:00 – 1:00 pm (religious school children may stay for lunch and activities from 12:30 – 1:00) so that you may share your ideas and questions. You are also welcome to contact me or any member of the Board of Directors. No idea is too small or unwelcome; this is your home, and we need your input. 

We are forming a search committee now that will include CEH staff and members. More information about the search committee will be shared at the January 12Town Hall meeting. We plan to have a new rabbi on board by July 1. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns at president@etzhayim.net. I look forward to working with you all as we enter this next phase for our congregation, and I know you join me in wishing all the best to Rabbi Bass.

B’Shalom,
Scott Burka, President
On behalf of Congregation Etz Hayim Board of Directors


Thoughts on Inclusivity. By Leslee Friedman.

Before I joined CEH, in the months after I’d moved to Arlington, but was still shul shopping, something pretty terrifying—and fortuitous—happened. I was dropping into Friday night services semi-regularly. This was back when excerpts from Rabbi David Wolpe’s Floating on Faith were used as discussion starters for the “study break.”

The fourth, or maybe fifth, time I showed up, the congregant who assigned the discussion leader asked me to perform the role, and I agreed. It went well, and I ended up being asked again a few weeks later. It was perhaps my third month of coming to services here. In kickstarting the discussion that time, I made a point about living as a queer person. Honestly, I hadn’t meant to come out in the middle of a Shabbat service at a shul where I wasn’t even a member, it just happened. I had been out to my family and most anyone who knew me for over twenty years by that point, I wasn’t used to hiding. Even so, as confident as I was in my skin, that was a moment that punched the breath out of me. I went on, acted like I was totally fine, everyone else acted normal, all was well.

Afterward, at the oneg, Rabbi Bass came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you felt safe stating your truth.”

Honestly? It wasn’t that I necessarily hadn’t felt safe, but until that moment, I hadn’t felt comfortable, and those are two very different states of existence. I started advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in my synagogue at twelve years old. I came out there at sixteen. I never felt unsafe. The people at my shul loved me, in spite of how I identified.

The difference at CEH is that from that moment on, I’ve often been made to feel loved because of who I am, and the fact that I am multi-faceted. When I applied for and received a spot in Keshet’s synagogue leadership program, Scott Burka and Harold Dorfman were both at my side as allies and supporters to attend the kick-off and contribute to making the shul a more LGBTQIA+ inclusive space. When I brought up the concept of a Coming Out Shabbat, the Rabbi, Laura Naide, and several board members asked what they could do to help. If you missed that weekend, not only did you miss the most amazing rainbow challah in the world, made by our own CJ Burka, you missed a genuinely moving and insightful study session by Rabbi Avi Strausberg of Hadar as to why we are all just as we are meant to be.

The shul has opened its doors to work with the non-profit Veterans Against Hate, screening a documentary on trans-persons in the military. It is called Transmilitary and available on Amazon Prime: if you have access, I highly recommend it. We have hosted a trans-rights speaker from Equality Virginia, and will be hosting another come January 26, 2020.

LGBTQIA+ Jews have often been taught that either Judaism does not want us, or that it is merely willing to tolerate us. CEH is capable of embracing us, which means more to me than I will ever have the ability to communicate, and I continue to hope that other queer Jews seeking a home come through our doors.

President’s Message

I’m currently reading The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became An American Religion by Steven R. Weisman.

It traces the arrival of Jews to America beginning in revolutionary times but spends the bulk of the book discussing the progression of Judaism in America in the 19th century. The formation of Reform Judaism, the differences in how Jews viewed “traditional “Judaism, and how that eventually led to the rise and separation of Orthodox and Conservative movements.

While the bulk of the discussion takes place roughly 150 years ago, I can’t help but compare it to current times. How people view their Judaism is changing. Societal pressures and influences, technology, people’s connection to their religion (all religions), and what they want from their religion are all in flux just as they were 150 years ago. So again, synagogues are grappling with what they want to be, how they will serve different constituencies, and how they will provide entry points/connections/touch points in a meaningful and fiscally manageable way. Etz Hayim is no exception to this trend.

At the November Board meeting, the Board will begin a dialogue–a journey I think–to address these issues. It will not be a quick process, but coming off of the Board retreat over the summer, and working closely with an outside consultant, the Rabbi and I will present different frameworks to the Board of options available to CEH. Once the Board comes to a consensus, we will be reaching out to the congregation at large for feedback and input. The process will be based on consensus building but will also likely result in some changes.

We are relatively new into the 21st century, but history has a way of repeating itself and forcing change and so while the conversations and the need for them may not be completely new, I suspect that where CEH ends up will include some new and exciting opportunities.

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Jacob Coleman

What is your full name?
Jacob Lybcher Coleman

Where were you born?
Sibley Hospital. Washington DC

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
December 14, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Since kindergarten

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Vayishlach

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
No

What school do you attend? What is your favorite subject?
Gunston Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Design and Engineering Club, baseball, flag football, watching football and playing video games

What accomplishments are you proud of?
Getting a good grade in school

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
Growing up and becoming an adult in the Jewish Community

2019 Artist Expo & Bake Sale Recap

The CEH building came to life on Sun, Nov 10, with artists, shoppers, face painting and a bake sale piled high with goodies.

A huge thank-you goes to the many, many volunteers who made this event possible. Whether they baked, helped with set-up or advertising, made vendor lunches, welcomed and directed customers, staffed the bake sale, ran errands for the vendors on Sunday, took photos for our website or worked on clean-up crew, these people brought the event to life, in alphabetical order.

Chris Kagy
CJ Burka
Courtney Schwartz
Danielle Tannenbaum-Pasch
Debbie Ainspan
Edgar Rendon
Elisa Rosman
Eva Kleederman
Harris Lechtman
Jacob Coleman
Jane Baldinger
Jeanne Briskin
Jill Clark
Jonathan Golner
Jordan Fried
Laura Hill
Laura Naide
Leslie Sorkowitz
Linda Sparke
Marcy Burka
Marina Grayson
Mike Stein
Mimi Youkeles
Nancy Bondy
Patricia Citro
Rabbi Lia Bass
Rachel Waldstein Kagy
Roberta Wasserman
Scott Burka

Come join us for the next Adult Education session: What the Hell? Jewish Belief in the Afterlife on Sunday, November 24 at 10:15am.

CEH Social Action Event – Refugee and Immigrant Crisis: The Jewish Response

On Sunday, November 3, Congregation Etz Hayim’s Social Action Committee hosted a panel of representatives from local chapters of four non-profit organizations working to mitigate the practical and legal hardships that refugees, asylees and other immigrants face in our community. The representatives provided an historical perspective on U.S. immigration policy, an alert about recent executive action allowing states to ban refugees, and an explanation of the particular issues presented by unaccompanied youth and alien (“honorary”) veterans of the U.S. armed services. Importantly, they outlined the mission and activities of their individual organizations, including the many ways that volunteers can serve as force multipliers in rendering assistance to immigrants (e.g., accompanying subjects to ICE check-ins, providing information on legal rights, political advocacy, material support). After the formal remarks, there was a lively Q&A, which elicited additional substantive information from the expert presenters.

Participant organizations included:

Congregation Action Network/Faith in Action, whose member congregations in the DC/MD/VA region provide support and practical assistance to neighbors, friends, and family who fear being detained, deported or profiled. (Mary Lareau, Northern Virginia Cluster Leader, https://www.congregationactionnetwork.org/).

CASA In Action, the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights. (Miguel Carpizo-Ituarte, Virginia Lead Organizer, https://www.casainaction.org/).

Just Neighbors, which provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia (Erin McKenney, Executive Director, https://www.justneighbors.org/).

Lutheran Social Services, which resettles displaced refugees and provides them wellness and health education and other practical services. (Dana Lea, Director of Community Outreach, https://www.lssnca.org/).

In addition to hosting the formal panel, CEH opened the event to representatives from other immigration advocacy groups to bring their organizations’ materials and speak individually with audience members after the formal portion of the program. Staff from The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Sanctuary DMV set up information tables and fielded questions from attendees, many of whom added themselves to mailing and volunteer lists. This CEH event provided a forum for engaged and compassionate congregants of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community and other faith groups to learn about and take action on behalf of immigrants in crisis, honoring the religious and ethical dictate to “welcome the stranger.”

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Ian Alcorn

What is your full name?
Ian Robert Alcorn

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
November 23, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Preschool to present. Favorite subject: Jewish History

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Hayeii Sarah

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
My sisters: Jenna and Dalia

What school do you attend? What is your favorite subject?
Kenmore Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Drawing, soccer, martial arts (I am a black belt in mixed martial arts), dance

What accomplishments are you proud of?
Black belt in mixed martial arts!

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is an important coming of age event and is a way of maturing as a person

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Matthew Herzfeld

What is your full name?
Matthew Fogarty Herzfeld

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
October 26, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Etz Hayim preschool & religious school since Kindergarten. Favorite subject – history

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Isaiah – Haftorah B’reisheet

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
No

What school do you attend?
Williamsburg Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Baseball, hockey, basketball, piano, ultimate frisbee

What accomplishments are you proud of? Preparing and getting through Bar Mitzvah. Making the Arlington Senators travel baseball team. Piano spring festivals.

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
It means I will feel more like an adult. I will be viewed as an adult in the Jewish community and expect myself to act more like an adult.