Category Archives: Religious Services

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!

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.

4th & 5th Grade Israel Program Recap

On May 5, CEH Fourth and Fifth Graders traveled to Congregation Tifereth Israel for the third in a series of joint Israel programs. The first program focused on Am Yisrael (the People of Israel). The second program focused on Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). This final program focused on Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel).

The day started with an icebreaker designed to teach students about the modern State of Israel. Students had to decide whether statements about Israel were true or false (e.g., you can buy hummus ice cream in Israel). Students then shared knowledge about Israel such as the names of famous Israelis and Israeli inventions.

Our focus then turned to the idea of Israel as a “Start-Up Nation.” We watched a video and learned about many Israeli inventions, such as instant messaging, flash drives, the most popular type of cherry tomato, drip irrigation, and the Waze GPS app. We talked about why such a small nation is a hotbed of innovation. Answers included: necessity, chutzpah, making money, security, and a desire to improve/repair the world.

The students were then tasked to think of something that is tedious (e.g., chores) and invent something to make the task easier. The teams demonstrated amazing creativity! For example, one team created a system to check out and reshelve library books, another created a car that ran on magnetic power, and a third created an automatic book page turner (lots of readers in this group!).

The day finished with Israeli snacks (cherry tomatoes and different flavors of Bissli – an Israeli snack food). Students left with their own set of “Chamesh Avanim” stones. Chamesh Avanim is a popular Israeli game also know as Five Stones. If you are the parent of a Fourth or Fifth Grader, ask them to show you how to play.

To wrap up this programming series, we asked students to tell us how their feelings about Israel have changed from the first class to the final class. Some answers:

* At the beginning of these classes I felt I knew everything about Israel. Now, I know I don’t.
* I didn’t know they were such an environmental country.
* I used to think Israel is two things: war and deserts. Now I think of it as culture and spirit and even ancestry.
* I feel like I have a bigger connection with Israel.

This program was generously funded by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington DC, supported by Congregations Etz Hayim and Tifereth Israel, and created by Laura Naide and Rina Rebibo. We have applied for a follow-on grant to continue the learning next year with a new group of students.

Thank you to Laura Naide, Lital Burr, Melissa Kaps, Emma Rosman, Rina Rebibo (Tifereth Israel Education Director), Jewish Federation of Greater Washington DC ( grant funding), Tifereth Israel staff, and parent drivers Dan Rosman, Stacy Rosenthal, Carmen Harris, Anna Steinberg, Harold Dorfman & Jeanne Howard.

 

2019 Purim Carnival & Partial Megillah Reading and Spiel Recap

Every year our congregation looks forward to a joyous tradition – our annual Purim Celebration. According to the Megillah (scroll of Esther), we observe Purim as a time of “feasting and gladness.” For example, we dress in costumes, feast on hamentashen (cookies shaped like Haman’s hat), perform spiels (silly plays) and enjoy a carnival with games and prizes.

We held our annual Purim carnival on Sunday, March 17. For many years, our CEH carnival has been organized by Jill and Lyn Shenk. Not only is Jill a master organizer, but Lyn has built many of the games! Some of the games included: Sail to Shushan (boat races), Shekel Drop, Gefilte Fish Toss, and Haman’s Hole in One (golf). There was also a moon bounce on our front lawn.

Children and their parents enjoyed playing games, eating hamentashen and other delicious food, collecting tickets and redeeming them for prizes. There was an atmosphere of merriment and celebration. This is an event that brings together many different members of our CEH community as well as their friends and family.

On Wednesday, March 20 our congregation, including our Wednesday Religious School students, participated in a partial Megillah reading and spiel. The spiel was a retelling of the Purim story as a parody of the musical Hamilton. Students in Kitot Gimmel – Zayin (3rd – 7th Grades) presented the spiel to the congregation with accompaniment by Elisa & Hannah Rosman. The spiel itself was written by Mike Stein. Everyone had a great time laughing at the spiel and shaking their graggers (noise makers) to drown out Haman’s name during the Megillah reading.

We’re looking forward to Purim 5781 (2020)!

Thank you to Jill and Lyn Shenk and a large group of volunteers including congregants, RS teachers, and RS students. Partial Megillah Reading & Spiel: Alan Savada (reader), Mike Stein and Elisa & Hannah Rosman (spiel), and congregants and teachers (readers & oneg set up and clean up).

Jewish Comedy: Why Are We So Funny? Recap

On Saturday, March 2, a large group of comedy-lovers, approximately 75 people, including congregants, neighbors, guests from a nearby senior residence, and friends from the Arlington Moishe House, went on a virtual two-hour journey across the map of Jewish comedy in the US, including discussions of Groucho Marx, Gertrude Berg, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, and more. Our hosts, Adam and Ron, provided historical context, showed film clips, and engaged the audience in an interactive quiz (complete with Groucho Marx glasses as prizes).

From vaudeville to the Catskills to radio shows to movies to television shows, we discussed what makes Jewish comedy unique and different. Audience members shared their memories (including a story about how the Marx brothers used to climb back into their apartment late at night) and were transported back to shows and places in their memories. Many of the comedy moments including a healthy dose of Yiddish which added to the general meshugas (craziness)!

We also had a rich discussion about what comedy offers society and whether or not there are limits to humor. Can Jews make jokes about Jews? Can non-Jews make the same jokes? And how have jokes evolved over time?

I’ll end this review with the joke that started this fabulous evening:

“A shul had a problem with squirrels in the attic. The exterminator couldn’t get them out. The rabbi said, I know how to take care of this. I’ll make them bar mitzvahs and they’ll never return to the building!” Oy vey!

Todah Raba to Adam Cohen and Ron Rosenberg who prepared and presented the evening’s content, to Jerry Jacobs who sponsored the refreshments and to Rabbi Bass who helped with shopping.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gebsb-po8jY

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