Reprinted from the Washington Jewish Week
Vol. 58 No. 52
Congregation Etz Hayim had a big calendar of activities during the month of December.
“We really fill the days with Hanukkah celebrations that make kids feel not isolated and proud of who they are.” Natalie Roisman, chair of the communications committee at the conservative synagogue in Arlington. About 135 families belong to Etz Hayim.
Roisman, 48, an attorney who lives in Arlington, said that Jews “are drawn to Etz Hayim for its sense of community. We were able in the month of December, even with our very small congregation, to put on a number of programs so that there was something for everybody.”
Etz Hayim held a party and social action day on December 11. “We haven’t been able to have that in a few years because of the pandemic,” said Roisman.
The synagogue served latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and set up crafts and tables to color and play dreidel. Rabbi Natan Freller dressed up as a dreidel, “which we all really enjoyed,” Roisman said.
That celebration was paired with a social action project, for which volunteers made sandwiches to benefit the homeless through PathForward.
Synagogue members were also encouraged to bring new unwrapped socks to be delivered to Bridges to Independence, another organization for the homeless. Two hundred pairs were collected.
“The timing with the party coincided with the last hour of religious school, so we had not just the congregation but all the students.”
Etz Hayim also held a virtual Hanukkah party on December 14 “to be sensitive to adults who felt uncomfortable with an in-person celebration” Roisman said. “We played Hanukkah Jeopardy. It was a really nice way for people who otherwise might have been feeling a little bit lonely and isolated to connect around Hanukkah as well.”
Two days later, Etz Hayim had a Hanukkah-flavored Shabbat service for families with young children. The event was sponsored by the David Schwartz fund. About 25 kids attended.
And the activities didn’t stop there. On December 18, families with young children attended a party. There was a gift-swap for toddlers to preschoolers.
On December 22, the synagogue held a Beit Midrash with Rav Natan on the history of “Ma’oz Tzur” the Hanukkah liturgical poem sung after lighting the candles.
“I think that it is a challenge this time of year to live in America and either not celebrate Christmas or to celebrate something in addition to Christmas,” Roisman said. “As Jews, it’s really just to fill the days with things that make them excited about being Jewish even though it is a minor holiday, and nobody is trying to compete with any other holiday.”
Roisman said she loves “having as many opportunities to come together with the congregation to do things with other kids and other families.”
Click here to see the article in Washington Jewish Week.