Scientists in Synagogues Recap

Congregation Etz Hayim presented and/or participated in three programs that were supported by the Scientists in Synagogues grant. Based on the feedback we received, our congregants appreciated the opportunity to discuss the intersection of faith and science. Our participation in the grant program has encouraged us to include more STEM-focused programming for learners of all ages.

Our first program, “The Science of Noah,” was held on November 1, 2020. We presented an online panel of two speakers. The first, Dr. Helmut Bruckner, spoke on “Noah’s Flood – Probing an Ancient Narrative Using Geoscience.” The second, Dr. Kristine Garroway, spoke on “Why the Gods Destroyed Humans: A Comparative Look at the Biblical and Babylonian Flood Narratives.” We had approximately fifty attendees in the Zoom session, which we publicized both inside and outside of our congregation. The speakers were engaging, and our main takeaway was that we should have scheduled a longer session to allow for more discussion. Our average number of participants for Adult Education is 10-15 people, so this was a very well-attended session by our metrics. 

On that same date, we provided online STEM programming about the Noah story to our Religious School students. Approximately sixty students participated. The program was written and presented by scientists in our congregation. Susan Hamm, an expert in geothermal technologies, wrote lesson plans for three different age groups (K-2, 3-6, 7-9). Each group read the Noah story and performed experiments related to the narrative. For example, our youngest students used prisms to create rainbows and tried to guess how much excrement the animals on the ark would produce (we used brown M&Ms to simulate the excrement). Our older students created model arks out of aluminum foil and tested them with metal washers to see if they would float.

In Fall 2021, we created High Holiday STEM programming to complement our Youth Services. For Rosh Hashanah, we provided learning stations that focused on the five senses and about bees, pollination, and honey production. For Yom Kippur, we had lessons on emotions (i.e., how our bodies react to and process information) and ocean life (with Jonah and the whale as a starting point). Our congregation’s Preschool teachers joined us as staff members for these activities and approximately seventy-five students participated. This program was open to both CEH members and non-members. 

On January 19, 2022, CEH co-sponsored an online panel discussion with the Haberman Foundation called “And in the Seventh Year: Shmita Then and Now.” Our rabbi, Rav Natan Freller, moderated presentations from Bruce Spierer (Hazon) and Rabbi David Seidenberg ( The panel addressed questions such as “How was shmita actually practiced in Biblical and later times?” and “What are the social and ecological repercussions of shmita?’ This event was widely publicized and approximately 125 people attended. 

We learned from our participation in Scientists and Synagogues that there is a great deal of interest in scientific discussions in our faith community. The scientific perspective made the discussions and activities more engaging and relevant for many of our learners. We also learned of the depth of scientific talent and knowledge that exists in our congregation. Based on our participation, we plan to add more science-based topics to our programming.

About Us            Contact Us

2920 Arlington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22204