Category Archives: Committee & Board Meetings

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


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.

It takes a village by Scott Burka

Usually when we hear this, we think of child rearing, but this phrase hit home with me this past week of October 14th. There was too much sadness.

First, the owner of the storefront where CEH began passed away. Then we lost the only male congregant to ever be awarded honorary membership in the Sisterhood for being such a mensch, and then the mother of a board member.

Yes, it’s all part of life and we will all face sadness at some point in our lives. But this article is not about sadness. It’s about all the positive I saw around that sadness.

I saw the Rabbi, exhausted from Yom Kippur, console a family and conduct a funeral the day after Yom Kippur.

I saw a large group of congregants come together to honor and remember our congregant even when the family did not feel connected to CEH. We remembered how he always had a smart-aleck or snarky response, we joked about his always talking during services, and I cried when I looked down at the tie I was wearing that day and recalled him always giving me a hard time if I even put a tie on.

I saw a Board member leave one funeral to make arrangements for another and still take time to acknowledge an email from me and send regrets for not making the board meeting. I saw several of her friends drive all the way to Newport News to stand in solidarity.

Etz Hayim is its own village and, as villagers, I am awed at how we always come together in both good times and bad.

L’chaim.

President’s Message

I confess it’s been some time since I’ve written an article for the Chronicle but with us now in the month of Elul and the High Holidays fast approaching, it feels like an opportune time to be reflective and grateful.

This is my 25th year making CEH my spiritual home and as I reflect back on that time frame, I can scarcely imagine what Marcy’s and my lives would be without the CEH component. Our spiritual awakening, our children’s education, the life cycle events, the friendships, the social component. We have gained so much from the CEH community and have tried to give back as well. 

As I look back at 1994 when we first joined and forward to 2020, I see so much opportunity for our close-knit shul. And yet, there are so many forces pulling people away. Work lives seem to be more hectic than ever, school and sport commitments are more demanding, and even how people view their spiritual lives and their relationship with a synagogue seems to be changing.

Starting this past summer, the Board began undertaking an exercise to not only continue to try and deliver what people want but to also start a discussion of who we want to be in the future. 

It will be an interesting and I think, fruitful exercise.We will reach out to you for feedback, and we will keep you apprised as we travel down this road.

As you prepare for observance of the Yamim Noraim, I encourage you to reflect on your relationship with CEH, your Judaism, and our shared Jewish culture and find the time to reflect while knowing that we are all part of the CEH and Jewish communities.

Scott Burka, President

Election of 2018-2019 Board of Directors

Mazal tov to the fiscal year 2018-2019 Congregation Etz Hayim Board of Directors and Executive Officers who were elected at the spring State of the Membership meeting on May 6, 2018.

President: Scott Burka
1st Vice President: Mike Stein
VP, Religious Affairs: Naomi Halpern
VP, Youth & Education: Deb Cohen
VP, Membership: Naomi Harris
VP, Fundraising: Jerry Jacobs
VP, Operations: Jonathan Golner
Treasurer: Jeremy Bronheim
Secretary: Stacey Viera
Board Member: Jeanne Briskin
Board Member: Jill Clark-Foulkes
Board Member: Jordan Fried
Board Member: Leslee Friedman
Board Member: Barry Ginsberg
Board Member: Jeanne Howard
Board Member: Mike Jacobs
Board Member: Ron Rosenberg
Board Member: Stephen Schwartz
Board Member: Jill Shenk

Please join us to install the new Board during Shabbat services on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Stay afterwards for kiddush and kibbitz.

Thank you to everyone who served on the Board this past year.

Membership & Communications Committee Meeting Recap

The Membership & Communications Committee had its monthly meeting on Tuesday night, September 19.

Items discussed included:

-CEH’s participation at Baby2Tot Fest at the JCCNV, Sunday, October 22, 11am-3:30pm. We’ll have a display booth for both our congregation and our preschool.

-CEH’s participation in the Great Big Challah Bake, being held on Thurs night, Oct 26 at Gesher Jewish Day School. You can RSVP here: www.thegreatbigchallahbakenova.brownpapertickets.com

Establishing a Photographer “Corps” to chronicle CEH events. We are seeking members (teen through adult) to take photos at CEH events. Once on the list, volunteers will be contacted for availability for various events. Sign-up info coming soon!

Tweaks to online and paper membership forms to make them easier to use and to enable user to distinguish between expressing interest in Participation in various activities vs. Leading those activities.

-Using the new online form to communicate before and after all synagogue events, to share what’s going on at CEH with members and others perusing our website.

How to grow this committee. Email vp.membership@etzhayim.net if you are interested in joining! We focus on both “in-reach” (bringing our membership together as a community via fun, religious and educational activities) and “out-reach” (growing our membership).

Upcoming event: Come help us build the CEH sukkah on Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 10am!

Thank you,

Sharon Beth Bronheim

VP, Membership

Chairperson, Membership & Communications Committee