Category Archives: Community Interest

Book Review – Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time

Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time
By Amos Elon

Excerpted from
Meyer Amschel Rothschild was born in the Frankfurt ghetto in the mid-eighteenth century, in a city more restrictive in its treatment of Jews than any in Europe. Elon brilliantly depicts Meyer Amschel Rothschild’s position there, and life on the unimaginably cramped Judengasse (the single street of the ghetto), where he lived his whole life – even after becoming one of the richest men in Germany. We read how Rothschild established his small trading and banking business, and forged an uneasy relationship with the financially obsessed Crown Prince Wilhelm of Kassel; how he pushed at and eventually broke through the restrictions that bound him and his family to the ghetto until he found himself essentially paying for the English war effort in the Peninsula in 1810. On a richly delineated canvas the emergence and secularization of a family and Western European Jewry is depicted.

As a student of both history and Judaism, I found this book’s descriptions of life in Europe (particularly Germany) in the 1700’s fascinating. Although Emancipation already had affected other European cities, Frankfurt was slow to grant even basic rights to its Jewish residents. The Rothschild family was able to build a financial dynasty despite facing restrictions on where they could live and work and being required to pay disproportionate taxes based solely on their Jewish status. The book frequently mentions that Rothschild was an observant Jew, but doesn’t speak much about how that impacted his business dealings (e.g., Shabbat restrictions, kashrut, etc.). It was also new to me that there was a Judeo-German language other than Yiddish called Judendeutsch based on Hebrew and the Frankfurt dialect of German. I rate this book a 4 out of 5.

To learn more about Meyer Amschel Rothschild, join us on Sunday, March 15 from 10:15 AM – 11:45 AM for a book discussion with congregant Ken Ackerman. Copies of “Founder” are available for loan from the CEH Library.

Laura Naide

Director of Religious Education


Book Review – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Excerpted review from

What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
This book was a quick read as the author discovers her DNA results, tracks down her biological father, and tries to understand her traditional parents’ decision to turn to a reproductive technology that was new and untested in the 1960s and frowned upon by the Orthodox Jewish movement. At first, she focuses on practical matters such as her biological father’s medical history. Most of the book, however, focuses on the author’s complicated feelings about her adored father and her troubled mother.

As a blond, blue-eyed daughter in an Orthodox Jewish family, the author always identified as an “other.” With the new knowledge of her genealogy, she concludes that she somehow “knew” she was different but couldn’t pinpoint how. This line of analysis is not convincing. Most of the book, however, is thoughtfully written. The relationship she develops with her biological family is believable and demonstrates how people cope with changed circumstances. I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Laura Naide

Director of Religious Education


Fostering Your Child’s Independence at School

Our school year has begun, and you and your child should be settling into a routine. Preschool is a wonderful opportunity to support your child’s independence in a safe and welcoming environment.

Even the youngest child can take ownership of her school experience. At two years of age, children are curious about everything around them. Your child is excited to use their new-found gross motor skills, which you have most likely witnessed as they tried climbing a bookcase. Encourage your child to walk up and down the stairs upon arrival. You may feel they are taking too long or they are slowing down others, but that’s okay. Giving them the time needed on the stairs can really help build confidence and provides an opportunity to show off their new skills to the world. Your child is also more interested in dressing and undressing themselves. While they will still need help putting a coat on and starting the zipper, they should be able to zip and unzip a jacket with assistance for you.

At three, your child is able to carry their own backpack, as well as hang it and their jacket on a hook at school. This routine not only helps them settle into the day, but it is another opportunity for them to demonstrate to you or your child’s caregiver what they are capable of doing for themselves. Better yet, it will encourage them to want to do the same at home. If you don’t have a low place for your child to hang their own coat or backpack, simply attach a 3M hook to the wall at their level.

A four-year-old is ready to dress for school. At two, they still needed a great deal of assistance, but now they can do it on their own. For many parents, this is a tough one. We often ask ourselves, “Do I let my child out of the house wearing striped pants with a polka-dot shirt on backwards?” and the answer should always be yes! Praise them for dressing independently. You may want to mention the backwards shirt, but if they want to wear it backwards, that’s okay. Some children enjoy the way clothes and shoes feel when worn backwards.

Giving your children ownership of these small tasks can go a long way towards fostering independence. As parents, we are all well aware that the days are long, but the years are short. It’s our job to help our children grow into confident, independent citizens of the world, and it all starts right here at Etz Hayim Preschool.

Upcoming Preschool Dates to Remember:

September 30th and October 1st: School Closed for Rosh Hashanah
October 8th: Pilim Day Out (Long Branch Nature Center) – School Closes at 12:30 for Kol Nidre
October 9th: School Closed for Yom Kippur
October 14th and 15th: School Closed for Sukkot
October 21st: School Closed for Shemini Atzeret
October 22nd: School Closed for Simchat Torah

September 30th and October 1st: Rosh Hashanah Tot Services at 10am. Please RSVP in the office.
October 9th: Yom Kippur Tot Service at 10am. Please RSVP in the office.
October 16th and 17th: Class Sukkot Celebrations
October 20th: Sukkah Hop with Pozez JCC Northern Virginia 2pm-3pm. Please RSVP in the office.
October 29th and 30th: School Picture Day

5780 High Holiday message from Rabbi Lia Bass

Shalom Friends,

We are starting the Hebrew month of Elul. The letters of the name of this month are an anagram for Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li, which means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This quote from the Song of Songs is a metaphor for a loving romantic relationship; each one is central in the other person’s life, each gives a piece of themselves to the other, and each person holds within themselves a part of their beloved’s unique self. As we approach a new Jewish year, 5780, we can take this metaphor to a different direction.

As the New Year, and with it, the Days of Awe draw near, we begin the process of accounting for our actions in the year that passed.

  • Did we act mindfully in this world, giving everything we can to make this world a better place?
  • Did we achieve our goals?
  • Did we live our lives to the fullest, enjoying every moment and learning from our experiences?

As we think about these questions, we will recognize that probably most of our answers cannot be an unmitigated YES. As human beings we will fall short, we will sometimes miss the mark and we will make mistakes. We are not always able to be the person we aspire to be. Elul, if seen through the lenses of the things we haven’t accomplished, can become a month of trembling as we review our lives.

We can choose, however, to see this time as a time of reflection and rejoicing about the things we have accomplished. According to our tradition, the month of Elul is also a month of spiritual union between the people of Israel and the Divine. The Divine is our beloved and we belong to the Divine. We have a part of ourselves that belongs to the Divine and a part of the Divine that belongs to us. We are made in the Divine’s image, in Tzelem Elohim, and that connection has to be celebrated at this time of the year. Just as each partner in a loving relationship is able to see each other’s actions with tenderness and friendship, God gives us the opportunity to rejoice in our accomplishments, with tenderness, without harsh criticism.

With that insight in mind, reviewing the year doesn’t have to be a moment of dread. In the month of Elul, we review the past year and scrutinize our actions with the awareness that God welcomes our Teshuvah (repentance, turning back to God) with the love and fondness of a partner. In this month of Elul we are not supposed to be perfect; we are supposed to recognize our mistakes and ask forgiveness for them, while balancing this recognition with the enjoyment of the things we did right. We can truly look into ourselves and be confident that God is standing by our side, encouraging us to be better people. We eliminate the feelings of guilt over our shortcomings and we celebrate the accomplishments of a life well lived. We can trust in the love found in our relationship with the Divine.

I wish for all of us, at Congregation Etz Hayim, a truly balanced month of Elul. I hope that we can start the process of Teshuvah and trust that the Divine is cheering us on, helping us to have a balanced view of our past year. As we go through this process of spiritual growth may we be blessed with recognition of the tenderness, friendship, love and fondness, so we can truly celebrate our accomplishments, recognize our shortcomings in order to better ourselves and have a meaningful, balanced, and blessed new year.

Shana Tova U’metukah / A Good and Sweet Year / שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
Rabbi Lia Bass

Tefillin with Rabbi Bass By Caleb Malovany, age 10

My name is Caleb Malovany, and I’m in 4th grade. I go to religious school here at Etz Hayim, and over the years, I’ve learned a lot – including how to ask more questions! When I saw people at Sunday morning minyan wearing those black boxes with black straps, I was curious. I knew they were called “tefillin,” but I didn’t know what they were for. So I asked Rabbi Bass if I could come meet with her so she could teach me. She agreed, so I went to her office with my grandma on a summer morning. I brought my great-grandfather’s tefillin with me, to show her. My great-grandfather’s tefillin were too fragile to use, and Rabbi Bass was also concerned that they weren’t kosher because she couldn’t see the letter “shin” on them. So she brought out her set and let me try it on. She taught me what’s in the black boxes and that I can’t officially wear them until I’m 13 (bar mitzvah). My grandma was very proud to be with me during this meeting with the Rabbi. I would like to thank Rabbi Bass for teaching me all this stuff!

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

Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem – Summer 2019

This summer I had the incredible experience of attending a 3-week summer session at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I’ve been to Israel as both a tourist and a student including a 10-day session at Hebrew Union College as part of my Masters program. This was my first experience, however, attending a Hebrew ulpan (immersive Hebrew language instruction) and studying Talmud and Torah using the original texts (i.e., not translated). 

At the CY, I studied Modern Hebrew 5 days a week for 3 hours a day in ulpan. In ulpan, there is no English. Everything we need to say and all of our questions must be in Hebrew! Before ulpan, my Modern Hebrew skills were limited to ordering in restaurants and asking for directions to the bathroom. The college classes I took in Biblical Hebrew were of limited help (it’s analogous to speaking Modern English v. Shakespearean English). Thanks to a wonderful teacher, Nitza, and my motivated classmates, my Hebrew improved greatly.

For three afternoons each week, I studied Talmud with Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva). The portion we studied was a discussion about the Noachide Laws. The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach) are a set of imperatives which were given by God as a binding set of laws for the “children of Noah” – that is, all of humanity. The Seven Laws include prohibitions against worshipping idols, cursing God, murder, adultery and sexual immorality, theft, eating flesh torn from a living animal, as well as the obligation to establish courts of justice. 

Of course studying Talmud is never straightforward. In 27 hours of class time we only translated and studied two pages of text! We spent many hours in small group discussion about the content of the seven laws and whether there were parallels elsewhere in the Torah and/or the Ten Commandments. We also discussed how these laws were enforced (or not) among the non-Jewish population living after the flood. 

I also participated in a Tanach (Torah) class taught by Vered Hollander-Goldfarb. Our topic was the story of Jacob and Esau which I thought I knew well. But what started out as a story of sibling rivalry and trickery quickly turned into a much broader statement about transfers of power and morality throughout the Bible. Did you know, for example, that Mordechai is a descendant of Jacob and Haman a descendant of Esau? The prophecy given to Rebecca, that there were two nations in her womb, continues to resonate throughout our Jewish narrative. 

The Conservative Yeshiva attracts students from all over the world and from all walks of life. Several students were fellow Jewish educators. Others were academics, clergy, and/or recent converts to Judaism. There were students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and Hong Kong. The collective experiences of my fellow classmates added to the richness and value of my studies.

When I wasn’t studying, I spent time wandering around Jerusalem. I prayed at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and put notes in the Wall from our Religious School students. I visited the Israel Museum, Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Museum), the Yishuv Museum, and the Hebrew Music Museum. I traveled to the shuk (market) many times and enjoyed fresh figs, falafel, hummus, bourekas, and other delicious foods.

The CY Summer Program is open to anyone who wants to study in a liberal Jewish environment in Jerusalem. You can drop in for a day if you are visiting Israel. If you are interested in learning at the CY I would be happy to share more of my experiences with you. Thank you to the congregation for supporting my learning and professional development. I look forward to implementing my new knowledge and skills in our Religious School and Adult Education programming. 

Israel Fest at the Northern VA JCC Recap

On June 2nd, hundreds of Northern VA folks came by the CEH booth at this year’s Israel Fest, held at the Northern VA JCC.

This year’s Israel Fest focused on Israeli InNOVAtions – highlighting technology, arts, food, consumer products, and song and dance from Israel. In addition to sharing general CEH info, the CEH booth displayed a large poster and shared an interactive activity about encryption: in the early 1970s, Israeli Adi Shamir, along with two co-creators, Ron Rivest and Leonard Adleman devised a novel encryption algorithm: RSA (or Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) encryption. This encryption is used every day for transmitting personal information across the internet.

Thanks to Ben Simon and Courtney Schwartz for pulling together an informative presentation and an interactive encryption demo for the Israel Fest.

Walking Tour of Jewish Washington, DC Recap

On a beautiful sunny day, CEH members and friends enjoyed a walking tour of Jewish Washington, DC. The tour focused on the historic Seventh Street, NW, neighborhood during the years 1850 to 1950. We saw four former synagogue buildings, including two that were the home of Adas Israel and one that was the home of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

We started our tour at the new location of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum, which just moved for the third (and hopefully last) time. The synagogue, which opened its doors in 1876 as the first home of Adas Israel, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and the Historic American Buildings Survey. In 2021, it will open as the Capital Jewish Museum.

The historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue may be the oldest synagogue structure in Washington, but Adas Israel is not the oldest congregation. Formed in 1852, Washington Hebrew Congregation was the city’s first Jewish congregation. In 1869, 38 members of the 17-year-old Washington Hebrew Congregation resigned in order to return to more traditional, orthodox Jewish rituals. That group formed Adas Israel congregation.

Our second tour stop was the Chinese Community Church at 500 I St., N.W. Founded in 1852 by U.S. Capitol architect Thomas Ustick Walter as a Presbyterian church, the building served as a Jewish temple and Baptist church before being purchased by the Chinese Community Church in 2006. The stained glass windows still have partial depictions of the Star of David.

Our third tour stop was 6th & I Synagogue, also a former home of Adas Israel. The 6th & I Synagogue was dedicated on January 8, 1908, near what was then the main commercial district in town and the center of the Jewish community in Washington. After going through several transformations (including one as an A.M.E. Church), the synagogue was purchased by a Jewish philanthropist, and rededicated as a space for Jewish and cultural life in 2004.

The tour’s final stop was the former home of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 816 8th St., N.W. (now the home of Greater New Hope Baptist Church). WHC worshipped at this location for 56 years before moving. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman laid the cornerstone of the congregation’s current home on Macomb Street NW, which was dedicated on May 6, 1955, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Our thanks to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington for an engaging and informative afternoon.