Beth El of Winchester Experiencing a Busy Stretch of Congregational Changes

Beth El Congregants gather for their 2023 Seder. Photo Courtesy of Beth El Congregation.

Beth El Congregation in Winchester may be somewhat of a smaller congregation, but that hasn’t stopped the Northern Virginia synagogue from experiencing a surge in exciting developments relating to its staff, religious services and security measures that indicate an increase in excitement and engagement in the congregation and among its members.

This upcoming year the synagogue is expecting an unusually high number of b’nai mitzvahs, it recently extended the contract of its head rabbi and it implemented security measures to deal with rising antisemitism that’s been especially prevalent the last few years.

“Like a lot of nonprofits, and certainly other temples and religious organizations, 2023 was a year where we felt like we had fully returned to what temple life looked like prior to COVID. And to that extent, it has been a very, very busy year here,” Beth El President Larry Weiss said.

Weiss said that the congregation is very excited to be expecting seven b’nai mitzvahs this year, which is more than they typically get over the span of a half-decade or longer. The community and synagogue leadership will have a lot more on their hands than they’re used to in dealing with the preparation for these important and exciting lifecycle events.

Another positive development for the synagogue is the recent contract extension of its head rabbi, Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky, who Weiss said brings a lot of energy to the building and has been able to successfully connect with the congregation since he arrived in 2020.

“We’ve been blessed over the last year or two to see a number of new families move into our area who have young, in some cases, even preschool-aged children. With that combination, as well as the fact that we’ve had a large b’nai mitzvah class moving through the grades the last few years, having a young, dynamic rabbi has worked out really well,” Weiss said.

Weiss added that Stucker-Rozovsky enjoys working with the community and agreed to stay for a large stretch of time in part because of the congregation’s willingness to be flexible with his schedule, as he is a military chaplain in addition to a synagogue rabbi.

Those duties sometimes require Stucker-Rozovsky to be away on assignment and other leaders in the temple must step up to fill in, which Weiss said they are happy to do. He added that Beth El’s leadership is glad do this due to how well the rabbi and congregation get along and because of a shared responsibility to give back to those who sacrifice for us through their military service.

“We also recognize that organizations like ours do have a responsibility to support the military that supports us and provides our freedoms. It’s a compromise that we’re more than happy to make,” Weiss said.

The synagogue has also invested in enhanced security measures for its congregants over the past several years, which Weiss said has left congregants feeling safe coming to the building and that’s reflected in attendance figures.

Weiss gave credit to the building and grounds crew for their efforts over the last two years and said their work played a large part in allowing the synagogue to complete these extensive upgrades that have been necessary and beneficial to congregants given the current climate.

“Members have expressed the fact that they do feel secure when they see visitors and persons unknown to them come for a service. They know that there’s armed security there who’s going to process these people properly and make sure that none of them are representing a threat to our community,” Weiss said.

Weiss said that the synagogue aggressively pursued funding in the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh and that funding, in addition to other grants from various sources, allowed them to implement a video security system, more fortified entrances points and additional emergency exits.

They were able to begin fully implementing the security changes during 2021 and were able to have everything in place by the time people were beginning to return fully after the pandemic.

Weiss said that since the additional safety measures were put into action and with the dangers of the pandemic fading there’s been a new energy and sense of engagement with the congregation that they haven’t seen since prior to the pandemic.

“It’s expressed more in actions than words and we do see that we’ve returned to the kind of attendance levels that we would have seen before the pandemic and before that latest round of tragedies. So, to that extent, we’re seeing people kind of vote with their feet,” Weiss said.

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