Category Archives: Community Interest

Arlington MLK Day of Service – Recap

CEH was again a Sponsor of this event that drew 1300 people. CEH had a group of about 30 dedicated volunteers there.

CEH members participated in various volunteer opportunities supporting local nonprofit organizations, including OAR (promoting restorative justice) and Aspire After School Learning (literacy programming for grades 3-5).

Thank you to the CEH Board of Directors for committing to be a Sponsor for the second year. Thanks also to everyone who came to volunteer on a cold January morning!

 

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

Washington Nationals

In the last minutes of Wednesday night, October 30, I sat in my house praying that Daniel Hudson would throw the right pitches and bring the World Series Championship to Washington DC. This has been an incredible run by the Nationals, the team that taught me about baseball, and a lot about community.

As I see sports, baseball is the most intricate mixture of individual and communal efforts in group sports. The pitcher stands alone at the mound, pitching to the individual batter, who is at home plate. At that moment, the attention is focused on the battle between two individuals, the batter and the pitcher.

One might be tempted to think that they alone matter. Yet, being a group sport, there is more to the picture. Baseball is a group effort, and the team must have a catcher to pick up the pitch, and a defense positioned to stop the batter from running bases.

The game of baseball can be seen as a metaphor for a congregation: the individual can only excel with the help of the community. People come to services to experience an individual connection to the Divine, a moment when each of us can feel a deep bond with something greater than ourselves. We have to be present at the moment of prayer, ensuring that beforehand we had advanced preparation by studying, practicing, and engaging in our Jewish learning.

Just like the members of a baseball team, we train and develop individually to be able to stand in a congregation, ready to feel the connection with the Divine. But we do not stand alone. In the same way that an athlete had coaches and trainers and dedicated many hours a week to perfect their trade, we had rabbis and teachers, books, and a rich Jewish tradition to guide us in our Jewish journey. Individuals come together forming a community, supporting each other as we go through the good and the difficult moments of life. We practice as individuals and we connect with God as individuals, infused by our collective history, in the context and with the support of a community.

In a Jewish community, sometimes we are the pitchers, sometimes we are the catchers, sometimes we are batters, sometimes we are pinch hitters, closers, managers, and coaches. Our individual roles are best realized in the setting of our community.

On Wednesday night, I was very proud of the Washington Nationals. Being a sports fan, I have learned that as one falls in love with a team, one has to take the good moments with the bad, the struggles with the victories. And no matter how many years you supported the team, you might never experience the elation of being part of the supporters of a team that became the champions. Yet you enjoy all the fun there is in the process, in the ups and downs of the whole season. In the beginning of this baseball season, no one thought that the Nationals were going to make the playoffs. In May, their record was abysmal. They had the third worst record of the MLB, in front of only the Orioles and the Marlins. Then, they changed. They rallied together, the team and the managers supporting each other, encouraging each other to give their best, celebrating every hit, and not dwelling on errors or on their past. They loved each other like brothers and were having fun. They kept their sights on the important issues, coalesced into a true team, into a group of individuals that understood they were better as a whole – and as a result, won the greatest prize.

What an amazing example for our Congregation! We have much to learn from baseball and from the Washington Nationals. From baseball, we learn that individual and communal needs are always connected and that we can grow as individuals, but can only realize our full potential in a community. From the Washington Nationals we learn that to be the finest, we have to love and support each other, to encourage each other to give our best, celebrate every accomplishment, and not dwell on mistakes. We can unite into a true team, every individual committing to making this community all that it can be. The Washington Nationals believed that they could make it, and they did. We celebrate our team, and learn the lessons that they taught us this season.

Library Shabbat Recap

On Friday, November 15, 2019, our congregation celebrated the re-dedication of the library. This event was well-timed to coincide with Jewish Book Month which takes place annually in November. To recognize these occasions, there was a special presentation during Shabbat services and our oneg was held upstairs in the library.

During services, Laura Naide and Marcia Zimmet spoke about the effort to refurbish the library and the importance of books to the Jewish people. Over the past three years, many volunteers transformed the CEH library. We removed over 2000 books and either donated, recycled, or buried them depending on their condition and contents. We logged the remaining 1000 or so books into an online database, adding bar codes and Dewey decimal classifications. Edgar Rendon did a beautiful job painting the room and we purchased a new rug and bookshelves. The Rosman family donated a couch and loveseat. The Cohen family donated a large screen tv so our students could watch movies. Marcia Zimmet donated many beautiful items of Jewish art. And our rabbi, Lia Bass, made a beautiful quilt to add warmth and color to the room.

Marcia Zimmet reminded congregants that Jews are known as the “People of the Book.” She shared many Jewish references to the holiness of books. For example, in 998 CE Rabbi Hai Gaon commented that “three possessions should you prize. a field, a friend and a book.” Rabbi Shamuel ha Nigid, a Talmudic scholar in the early 11th century wrote “the wise of heart will abandon ease and pleasure for in his library he will find treasures.” And Rabbi Yehuda ha Levi, a poet of the 12th century wrote of the importance of books by commenting: “my pen is my harp and lyre, my library is my garden and orchard.”

We hope that all congregants will make the trip upstairs to spend time in our library. Our online database can be accessed at www.tinyurl.com/cehlibrary. Please use this resource to find books on whatever Jewish topics are of interest to you! If there are books you think should be in our collection, send your suggestions to Laura Naide at school@etzhayim.net.

Thank you to Laura Naide, Marcia Zimmet, Marcy Burka, Edgar Rendon!

Don’t forget to join us for Adult Education: What Five Books Should You Read to be An Educated Jew? On Sunday, February 2 at 10:15am.

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.