Exciting and Engaging Activities at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County

Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County. Courtesy of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County.

Passover is a highly important time for any synagogue, and the same holds true for Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, which added an array of exciting engagement opportunities to its Passover activities this year, including a fun Passover bingo card to track members’ involvement in the various programs offered.

This style of engagement is something that the congregants at the Bethesda synagogue have responded well to, as the bingo card and Passover activities brought additional excitement and an extra level of enjoyment to their involvement.

“We wanted to encourage people [to participate] in ways that are meaningful to them and span the breadth of the generations. We have things for young kids to do, we have things for older adults, we have things that are related to coming along in our volunteer efforts,” said Heather Garrett, Beth El’s executive director.

There’s been a lot of variation in recent Passover services given the impact of the pandemic on religious services and, while some former events have returned, Garrett said that the synagogue leadership noticed that most people had a strong desire to be together, and that was greater than the proportion of people looking to return strictly to traditional services.

“Some people are just looking for that community and I think especially now more than ever there’s that comfort and [a heightened] importance of community,” Garrett said. “Especially with Passover as an important holiday and the story of Passover and given where we’re at this year in the world and how we can bring current events and relate it to older stories.”

The war in the Middle East has also certainly influenced the synagogue’s Passover services this year, as Garrett mentioned that the Beth El leadership was searching for ways to deal with the difficult topic and relate the stories coming out of Israel today to the story of Passover and the various emotions that people are feeling.

“Judaism is a living religion. We’re a living people, so it’s always evolving and we’re always taking the wisdom of our traditions to us in what’s happening today,” Garrett said.

Garrett added that the synagogue has done some supplemental Passover readings and discussed with congregants where the Jewish people find themselves now during a war and the notion of celebrating freedom when there are so many who are currently being deprived of it.

But even with all this new dialogue, Garrett said that some things that were old are new again, like Beth El’s revived Café Pesach program now that the worst of the pandemic is over, and the synagogue is still doing plenty of traditional services and retelling the Passover story.

Beth El is also hard at work looking to provide opportunities for people to come out and be together at fun events filled with Jewish values.

“We’re going to do an add your own chocolate matzah bar … We are doing some tikkun olam efforts and we have a green congregation. So, we have some initiatives around the environment and marking Earth Day,” Garrett said.

Garrett said that the synagogue has been very intentional in providing various and frequent options of programming to bring people in who otherwise might be somewhat less involved.
“We’ve been intentional about [providing for] the younger kids, but we’ve also been intentional about our adults — our seniors and our older adults that are empty nesters that may not [be as involved] because people have a reason to come to the building when their kids are in religious school,” Garrett said.

The congregation has also been doing a lot of work to help the people in Israel as the war continues to drag on, with Senior Rabbi Greg Harris leading a trip to Israel in February with around 10 members of the congregation.

Garrett added that since the trip people have been putting in significant time working on initiatives to assist people in Israel and help them reshape their future for when the war is over.

“People show up. Something happens and then the Jewish community says if you need me, here I am,” Garrett said.

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