Category Archives: Events

Teen trip to Philadelphia Recap

This year’s teen field trip was to historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We kept busy with a tour of the Museum of American Jewish History where we learned about different waves of Jewish immigration to the United States, starting in the 17th Century up to the present day. Some highlights were an original pair of Levi Strauss jeans and a letter from George Washington to the Jewish community with the famous quote, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”
We also toured the Eastern State Penitentiary where we saw the restored synagogue that Jewish inmates used to pray and hold religious events such as seders.

In between “educational” stops we sampled delicious Philadephia food at Reading Terminal Market, the Bourse, Su Xing kosher Chinese restaurant, and Federal Donuts. We also had some time for shopping and touring the historic area that houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Finally, we “escaped” from Alcatraz in under one hour at an escape room adventure.

Next year we go back to New York to learn more about Judaism and to eat more delicious food!

Thank you to Dan & Hannah Rosman who chaperoned.

All-Shul Learning: Shabbat Recap

On Sunday, February 3, 2019, all ages learned together at our All-Shul Learning: Shabbat event. We started the day with a minyan service and then discussed the 39 Melachot, or categories of work that are prohibited on Shabbat. Rabbi Bass explained that these categories relate to the building of the Mishkan, the portable, temporary version of the Holy Temple that the Jews carried throughout their forty years in the desert. For example, we cannot sew on Shabbat because our ancestors sewed curtains for the Mishkan.

Next, we broke into groups and travelled through four stations. At one station, Will Rivlin and Abby Cohen led the group in a spirited Shabbat song session. At another station, Lital Burr and Jeannie Sklar helped the group make wooden plaques to display the words of the Hamotzi prayer. At our third station, Maddy Naide and Jeana Kimelheim showed the group how to create fabric hallah covers to use on Shabbat. At our fourth station, Rabbi Bass, Leah Edgar and Jennifer Bachus taught the group how to braid and decorate party hallah.

At the hallah station, Rabbi Bass explained the mitzvah of “taking hallah.” This phrase refers to separating a portion of the dough before braiding. In the days of the Temple, this portion of dough was set aside as a tithe for the priests, or kohanim. In modern times, we separate a small piece of dough — about the size of an olive — and either burn it or dispose of it respectfully, rendering inedible the portion that God commanded be set aside.

As the day drew to a close, we held a Kahoot (online) quiz in the sanctuary to test participants’ knowledge of the Saturday morning service. Questions such as “What is a Gabbai” (someone who assists with the Torah reading and the service) and “What is the Hagbaha” (lifting the Torah after the reading) did not stump the crowd. We know our Shabbat stuff!

We hope that congregants will join us on March 10, 2019, for our next All-Shul Learning event, which will cover the aspects of kashrut.

Thank you to everyone who helped prepare for the event and run the stations: Rabbi Bass, Lital Burr, Will Rivlin, Jeannie Sklar, Jennifer Bachus, Leah Edgar, Jeana Kimelheim, Abby Cohen & Maddy Naide.

Roller Skate Havdalah Recap

On Saturday, January 26 approximately 15 people from Etz Hayim including parents and students gathered at Arlington’s Thomas Jefferson Community Center to participate in a Havdalah ceremony and enjoy an evening of roller skating. Havdalah (Hebrew: הַבְדָּלָה ‬, “separation”) is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Sabbath and ushers in the new week. The ritual involves lighting a special havdalah candle with several wicks, blessing a cup of wine and smelling sweet spices. Moreh Will led us in a musical version of the Havdalah ceremony and the students helped us with the ritual objects.

Havdalah is a short and sweet ceremony that is easy to incorporate into your family’s traditions. You can learn the music from this video:

When you follow Havdalah with roller skating, it makes for a fantastic Saturday evening.

Thank you to Alexis Joyce & Laura Naide for planning the event and to Moreh Will for leading Havdalah

Arlington MLK Day of Service Recap

On Monday, January 21 somewhere between 25 CEH members and friends braved the bitter cold and wind to warmly join friends and neighbors this morning for the Arlington MLK Day of Service. CEH was publicly thanked for being a sponsor of the event. Members had the chance to meet and chat with County Board members Katie Cristol and Matt Ferranti before heading off to participate in many different service projects, helping Arlington non-profits such as AFAC, Doorways and Aspire. A great time was had by all!!! 

PLEASE bring your donations to our AFAC collection box in the lobby. AFAC needs even more donations to keep up with the increased demand of the furloughed federal workers. Canned proteins, low sodium soups and low sugar cereals are especially needed. Stay tuned for other fun and exciting events being planned by the CEH Social Action Committee! And let’s make CEH participation in next year’s MLK Day of Service even bigger!

Thank you to the CEH Board of Directors for having CEH be a sponsor of the event. And many thanks to the CEH members and friends who joined us for a wonderful day of service.

Donut Wars Recap

On Wednesday, December 5, we celebrated Hanukkah with a donut decorating challenge called “Donut Wars”. We had a total of 45 people!

Students were randomly divided into teams of 4. Each team participated in 3 rounds of donut decorating, ala the cooking show “Chopped”. Each round had a theme (“Lights”, “Maccabees” and “Miracles”) and a mystery ingredient. In addition to the donuts and the mystery ingredient, students could use items from a central pantry. The pantry held treats such as chocolate chips, frosting, candy sprinkles, and colorful cereals.

Students had 8 minutes for each round to decorate their donuts. The donuts were judged by an esteemed panel of CEH Religious School teachers. Teams were judged on presentation, taste, and creative use of the mystery ingredients. Prizes went to the 3 top teams, plus a special prize to the team that kept their workplace the cleanest.

Our students worked together beautifully and created surprising interpretations of our Hanukkah themes. During the second round (“Maccabees”), several teams decorated their donuts with a hammer motif. In all three rounds, there was an abundance of creativity, enthusiasm, and sugar. Food Network watch out – we have some stars on the rise!

Thank you to RS Teachers: Adam Wassell, Robyn Norrbom, Lital Burr, Amanda Sky, Emma Rosman, Hannah Rosman, Jeana Kimelheim, Rabbi Bass, and Edgar Rendon.

–Laura Naide                                                                                                                Director of Religious Education


Volunteer Arlington MLK Day of Service

Congregation Etz Hayim is a SPONSOR for this family-friendly event to benefit over 20 local non-profit organizations. Join your CEH friends as well as other community members to make this holiday a “day on rather than a day off” and work together to move closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”.

Anyone can join us! There will be volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.

Location: Washington Lee High School

When: Monday, January 21, 8:30am – 12:00pm

Afterward, CEH friends will meet for lunch at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery at Lee-Harrison Shopping Center – around 1:00pm.

Please, CLICK HERE and register as soon as possible to get the volunteer job of your choice – especially if you are trying to sign up as a group of friends. This is a popular community event that fills quickly. For more information:

Questions, email Paula Levin-Alcorn:

–Paula Levin-Alcorn

What’s Jewish About Bubbies? Recap

On Sunday, November 18, 2018, grandparents, parents, and children gathered at CEH to learn “What’s Jewish About Bubbies?”

Bubby (plural: bubbies or bubbes) is a Yiddish term for grandmother. The Yiddish term for grandfather is Zayde. We call our grandparents many other terms of endearment (e.g., granny, pop-pop, savta, saba, mimi, grandpa), but bubbe and zayde are very well-known terms among many Jewish families.

Jewish law and tradition emphasize the responsibility to honor our parents and grandparents. From the Ten Commandments (“Honor Your Mother and Father”) to the recitation of our ancestors at every prayer service, we are reminded to show respect and reverence to the generations before us. Grandparents play an especially important role in teaching Jewish traditions to their families.

To celebrate grandparents, we ate cookies and milk, sang songs, read stories about Jewish values, created grandparent awards, and played grandparent bingo. We learned that the group strongly preferred chocolate chip cookies although gingerbread/ginger snaps were a strong runner up. Moreh Will taught us the Hebrew words for family members such as father (Abba) and mother (Ima). We also played several exciting games of dreidel in our new “spinagogue.” We had around 30 people ranging in age from newborn to grandparents.

The most important lesson of the day was how special it is to spend time with our families. Based on the success of this event, we are now planning another grandparent-focused celebration for Spring 2019.

Next Event: What’s Jewish About Libraries?

When: 02/10/2019

–Alexis Joyce, Laura Naide, Will Rivlin

Shabbat-Hanukkah Party

Our monthly first-Friday night potluck is turning into a Hanukkah party on December 7! And we’re serving up the latkes!

Join us for Shabbat services which begin at 6:15pm and end around 7:30pm. After kiddush and motzi, we’ll serve latkes to complement the potluck, sing songs with Moreh Will and play Hanukkah games. Bring your entire family!

When: Friday, December 7 here at CEH

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED! If you can help serve latkes or lead a Hanukkah game, please contact Naomi Harris at


2018 Artist Expo Recap

On November 4, hundreds of congregants and members of the greater Arlington community attended the 14th Annual Etz Hayim Artist Expo and Bake Sale.

The 14th Annual Etz Hayim Artist Expo and Bake Sale was once again a great success as a fundraiser and community-building activity. On Sunday, November 4, from 11:30am to 4pm, more than 30 vendors filled our converted sanctuary space with fine art photographs, pottery, jewelry, glassworks, Judaica, and so much more.

Several generous artists donated handmade textiles and other items to the raffle, which generated additional funds.

Though the bake sale was scheduled to begin at 11:30, the purchasing and noshing began well before then. Homemade cookies, cakes, challah, and other treats crafted by our own talented congregants earned more than $350 for our synagogue.

New in 2018, religious school families were further enticed to linger after school with opportunities to purchase bagged lunches made by CEH volunteers and free face painting for kids of all ages.

Preliminary estimates show that the artist expo and bake sale earned more than $4,000 for Etz Hayim, and the camaraderie generated was priceless.

Thank you to Naomi Harris and the Malovany family for their leadership and support to make the art expo such a success as well as the scores of volunteers who aided exhibitors, worked in the kitchen, toiled over ovens for the bake sale, and did so much more to execute a marvelous event!

Mike Stein’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Bar Mitzvah Speech

Shabbat shalom. Fifty years ago, I celebrated my bar mitzvah with this sedrah. I read the entire Torah – annual cycle, which I did not inflict on you today – and the haftarah. But I didn’t lead the service as well. And there’s one other thing I didn’t do. Because of the peculiarities of my preparation – we moved from Peoria to Milwaukee just a few months before my bar mitzvah – it never got explained to me that I was supposed to give a d’var Torah. Maybe that turned out for the best, because back then I didn’t have the experience and insight for what I’m about to say. So today I’m going to make up for that omission – in spades. Make yourselves comfortable, because I’m afraid this is going to rise to the level of an actual sermon.

In today’s reading, we have the famous story of the Tower of Bavel, or Babel as it’s more commonly known in English. Supposedly a bunch of people decided to build a city with a tower reaching to heaven. God took exception to this for some unexplainable reason – like they really were going to be able to reach heaven before the air got too thin to breathe, right? – and created all the different languages, so they couldn’t understand one another. And that’s why they stopped building the city and tower and scattered all over the world.

At the risk of being called a heretic, I don’t believe that story. There are many reasons to be skeptical. As I said, what did God have to be upset about? But to me, the main reason is this: people can misunderstand one another perfectly in the same language. Here’s the real story: some people thought the tower to heaven was symbolic, and some thought it was literal, and they got to arguing, and they completely unable to work together, so nothing got done. They split into red neighborhoods and blue neighborhoods, and then ….

OK, maybe that’s not what happened either. But I think that’s a lot more likely than the story we read today.

In “The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Language is the source of misunderstanding”. That’s a clever turn of phrase, but I don’t believe that either. I think the biggest reason people misunderstand each other is because of the experiences, assumptions, and biases we bring to the conversation. People interpret the words – and the actions – of others through the lens of their own preconceptions.

People do this even when they are ignoring meanings that would be the immediate first choice for an independent newcomer who knew nothing about the speaker. The more we interpret according to our preconceptions, rather than actively listening and seeking the interpretation most favorable to the speaker, the more we build our own tower of Babel.

One reason for misunderstanding is different knowledge. Person A has facts that Person B doesn’t have. Think back – have you ever thought of a time when someone said something that didn’t make sense, until you found out a new piece of information – and then everything made sense? If someone misunderstands you, allow for the possibility that you know something they don’t – or that they know something you don’t. As Ben Zoma said, “Who is wise? One who learns from all people”. Be like Ben Zoma. And – a very important point – be willing to admit when you’re wrong. This will be on the test.

Unfortunately, nowadays we increasingly have the phenomenon of people knowing “facts” that aren’t so. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it also permits the unprecedented spread of misinformation. We assume that people are more often honest than dishonest, and we are particularly primed to believe things we are told by friends and family. So, another rule to follow is Abe Lincoln’s famous saying: don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Of course, Lincoln said it – I saw it on the internet! Before you spread the latest “send this to everyone you know” email, check it out. Google. If you can’t find a reliable source for it, it probably is fake news. Don’t spread it. Each bit of misinformation is another brick in the modern Tower of Babel.

Perhaps the most pernicious destroyer of communication: people are
subject to a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. We discount things
that don’t agree with our previous beliefs, but take anything that
agrees as further proof of the correctness of our beliefs. There’s a
saying: if you start with the assumption that someone is basically
good, they will probably prove you right. And if you start with the
opposite assumption, that same person will probably also prove you
right. People also hear what they want to hear, and avoid hearing what
they don’t.

Just yesterday I had a perfect example of the combination of this and the problem with the internet. Discussing the allegations against Kavanaugh, a friend of mine on Facebook said that the entire school was talking about it within days of it. I thought she was talking about the Ramirez incident. She said no, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s said it was Ford.

I couldn’t believe this. Why wasn’t it all over the news? So, I did some searching. In a long post, mostly about a priest accused of homosexual misconduct, someone said almost as an afterthought that in his four years at Georgetown Prep, he heard the story Ford was telling repeated dozens of times.

In a later clarification, it turned out that he was there twenty years after Kavanaugh, and all he meant was that he heard stories just like it. But someone heard what they wanted to hear, even though there was plenty of reason to doubt that interpretation. And then it got spread on the internet. And then people start accusing people of lying, and it goes downhill from there.

There’s a saying: never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity. I’m going to give you a rather extreme example.

About twenty years ago, websites were not what they are now. There was something called Usenet, a distributed bulletin board. One discussion group was called alt.revisionism. It was a group almost entirely devoted to Holocaust denial.

I was fascinated by this from a sociological perspective. How could these people believe that there was not a deliberate effort by the Nazis to wipe out the Jews? So, I joined the discussions.

As you might expect, there was a lot of overt antisemitism. A lot of the exchanges boiled down to “You’re a liar – no, you’re a liar”. I joined in the discussions and refrained from name-calling. I just posted facts, with sources. I got to know some of the “revisionists”, as they styled themselves. And I saw there were differences among them – they were not all just anti-Semites looking for one more way to smear Jews. A lot were, don’t get me wrong, but not all.

Some were ethnic Germans who were psychologically in denial. They could not believe that Germans could do such a horrible thing. It threatened their sense of self as a civilized nation.

Another person never expressed any animus towards Jews. After I learned more of his background, I would say he had what I might call a Don Quixote complex. He had a thing for attaching himself to hopeless causes, the lonely seeker after truth.

One of the most surreal experiences of my life was having dinner with Robert Faurisson, a Frenchman who was one of the leading Holocaust deniers. Also, at that dinner was the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, as well as the Don Quixote type I mentioned previously, who had invited me. Faurisson and I got on OK until I contradicted him – with a statement made by a different Holocaust denier! At that point it’s as if I became a non-person to him.

But the reason I mention all of this is because of one final character, and what happened between us. He was an actual, self-professed Nazi. During one discussion, he said something rather garbled. It made no sense to me. I posted that it was crazy.
The next day, though, I reconsidered. I looked again at what he wrote and found an interpretation that wasn’t crazy.

I posted an apology. Yes, to a Nazi. I stated my new understanding of what he had said, and said that while I disagreed with it, I couldn’t call it crazy. I said, “I don’t know if this will make any difference to him, but it does to me.” To my surprise, he responded to my message. “Actually, it does.”

He is no longer a Nazi. No, it didn’t happen in a blinding flash because of that exchange. But I would like to think that that little unexpected understanding – and my willingness to admit publicly that I was wrong (told you it was going to be on the test) – might have opened a small chink in his mental armor, one that over time grew, and allowed his personal Tower of Babel to crumble.

We live in some pretty scary times. Towers of Babel are going up all around us. Please don’t help build them higher. There are certainly evil people in the world. But there are also misguided people in the world, or ignorant, or mistaken. Try to stay open to the difference. We say that God keeps open the gates of repentance. Let us always do what we can to keep open the gates of understanding. Shabbat shalom.