Born the same year as Israel, Ohr Kodesh Congregation celebrates 75th

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Visitors check out booths promoting local businesses, artists and organizations. Photo courtesy of Ohr Kodesh Congregation

It’s a serendipitous year for Ohr Kodesh Congregation. The Chevy Chase synagogue is not only celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday, but the 75th anniversary of its own founding.

The congregation marked those two noteworthy anniversaries last month at the ISRAELAT75 Street Fair.

Ohr Kodesh has been holding milepost events and programs based on its anniversary since the year began. In January, congregants connected for Shabbat dinners and lunches. In February, Cantor Hinda Eisen Labovitz performed with other area cantors in “Bimah to Broadway.”

As Yom Ha’atzmaut drew closer, the synagogue’s leadership decided to celebrate Israel’s founding along with Ohr Kodesh’s, said Rabbi Batya Glazer, director of lifelong learning.

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The dual birthdays were a “happy coincidence,” Glazer said, and presented an opportunity for the synagogue to celebrate its relationship with Israel.

Established in 1948, Ohr Kodesh was the first synagogue in Montgomery County. Its founders felt Washington’s other congregations were unwelcoming to transplants and wanted an alternative, according to the article “Jewish Community Life is Born in Montgomery County,” by Stan Cohen.

After a few years of meeting in homes, the congregation opened its building in 1952. It took the name Ohr Kodesh, or “holy light,” in 1966.

A street fair was chosen as the format for the event because Ohr Kodesh has held similar events in the past that were well received, Glazer said. The event’s website described it as “Israeli style” with Israeli food, live music, local vendors and Judaica artists.

Community organizations working with Israel, like Israeli House, also had informational booths to promote their work.

Ohr Kodesh partnered with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and MoEd, the Hebrew afterschool and summer program that the synagogue hosts.

Glazer said the event was an opportunity for the congregation to gather.

“After COVID-19, we’re still adjusting to a reality where we can come together in person,” Glazer said. “It felt wonderful to have everyone together. The weather was perfect, and I don’t know about other people, but I spent a lot of money.”

She added that the ISRAELAT75 Street Fair was a community event in addition to an Ohr Kodesh event, and that it was nice to see people who did not belong to the synagogue still coming out to celebrate.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with the wider community. I feel that Ohr Kodesh is there for the neighborhood,” Glazer said. “We’re there for Jews in the region, and in the wider DMV Jewish community. I think it was good that we gave people an opportunity to celebrate Israel.” ■

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