At Congregation Etz Hayim, a month of Chanukah celebrations

Kids at the Chanukah party for young children. Photo by Miriam Roochvarg, Naomi Harris, Danielle Pasch and Leeyat Tessler

Congregation Etz Hayim had a big calendar of activities during the month of December.

“We really fill the days with Chanukah celebrations that make kids feel not isolated and proud of who they are,” said Natalie Roisman, chair of the communications committee at the Conservative synagogue in Arlington. About 125 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’re 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 Dec. 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 doughnuts) 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 Path Forward.

Synagogue members were also encouraged to bring new unwrapped socks to be delivered to Bridges to Independence, another service 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 Chanukah party on Dec. 14 “to be sensitive to adults who felt uncomfortable with an in-person celebration,” Roisman said. “We played Chanukah Jeopardy. It was a really nice way for people who otherwise might have been feeling a little bit lonely and isolated to connect around Chanukah as well.”

Two days later, Etz Hayim had a Chanukah-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 Dec. 18, families with young children attended a party. There was a gift swap for toddlers to preschoolers.

On Dec. 22, the synagogue held a beit midrash with Rabbi Freller on the history of “Ma’oz Tzur,” the Chanukah 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.”

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