Congregation Ner Shalom, in Woodbridge, is not just preparing to celebrate the high holidays among its own members. Services are planned with the intention of reaching the Reform synagogue’s neighbors regardless of faith, in an effort to foster meaningful relationships.
The holiday season kicked off before Labor Day with the annual open house picnic. Some 30 members attended to eat, play yard games and register their children for Hebrew school, according to Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein.
Ner Shalom has a full schedule planned for the high holidays, including two youth programs for Rosh Hashanah and one for Yom Kippur, each aimed at specific age groups.
“What we found was that it wasn’t serving our community to just have traditional services,” said Goldstein. “We changed it up last year and found it worked, so we’re doing it again this year. We’re really going to serve those age groups better.”
For children under the age of 5, families may join in a craft-based story-time activity. There will also be a Youth Kippur service for school-aged children between services on Yom Kippur afternoon. This will allow for more explanation and to discuss what the holidays are about, Goldstein said.
On Sept. 9, Ner Shalom plans to hold its annual Patriot Shabbat, which honors first responders and local leaders.
Local police officers and firefighters, regardless of their faith, from the county departments and in the city of Manassas are traditionally invited to the event. “We always invite the police and fire chiefs to speak if they want to,” Goldstein said. Local delegates and county supervisors are also invited.
“It’s a nice tie for people to meet each other,” Goldstein said. “They serve the community but there’s not really a sense that they know the community and that the community knows them.”
Goldstein said the Shabbat service allows them to see the congregation in action, especially as a minority community. “We want to make Prince William County a safe place to affiliate,” she said.
According to Goldstein, the service is mostly about the local leadership. She said the service is typically scheduled for the Friday closest to Sept. 11, a moment in history they want to pay their respects to being so close to the nation’s capital. Veterans and veteran groups are invited to attend as well.
For this first time, Goldstein invited a spokesperson from the Human Rights Campaign to attend the Patriot Shabbat. “I think it’s also really important that we acknowledge community relations in keeping our community safe,” Goldstein said.