Olam Tikvah Approaches Its 60th Anniversary With Excitement and Celebration

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Ben Sigal, Photo Courtesy of Olam Tikvah.

Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary on March 9 amid a wave of positive developments, including the hiring of a new assistant rabbi and synagogue leadership saying that Olam Tikvah’s membership is the largest it’s ever been.

The anniversary will serve as a time to reflect on the synagogue’s history as it pushes forward to exciting new heights. About a third of the congregation registered to go to the anniversary celebration shortly after it was announced, which quickly hit capacity.

“[Olam Tikvah] is really a place to make friends and then celebrate with friends and constantly be enjoying the joy of Judaism together. That’s really the culture that we’ve been trying to create. And I feel that we’ve succeeded,” said Marnie Fienberg, chair of the Communications Committee.

Fienberg added that Olam Tikvah is one of a select few Conservative shuls that is expanding, with the environment and culture being two major pieces behind the synagogue’s appeal to the broader community.

The congregation will be celebrating this culture and the legacy of its founders with a “denim and diamonds anniversary party” featuring an in-house produced video tribute to the founders and congregational milestones, dancing, dinner and several surprises.

“The 60th anniversary, it’s just the opportunity to take a look back at where we’ve been in the journey that our founders made to create a Conservative synagogue in the middle of Northern Virginia,” Fienberg said.

Part of that look back will almost certainly include reflection behind how the synagogue became one of about ten Conservative shuls that have expanded their membership since the pandemic, a statistic cited by Olam Tikvah board member Steven Tepp.

“There are so many reasons why that [rare expansion is] the case. From the leadership from Rabbi [David] Kalender and the assistant rabbis – we currently have Rabbi [Viktoria] Bedo – to the professional staff to the leadership both in services and beyond in the community of the congregation. It’s from the top down,” Tepp said.

The culture of outreach and warmth beyond that of an average synagogue is something Tepp said really drove him to join Olam Tikvah when he was “shul shopping” around 15 years ago, and it comes from a mixture of founding families and new additions they’ve welcomed and made part of the community.

Both Tepp and Fienberg said that there is a large number of young, new families joining them, which is what really helped push the membership numbers sky high and has the religious school bursting at the seams with its current enrollment, which is a good problem to have, according to Fienberg.

In addition to bringing in a lot of new members, the synagogue is also bringing in a new assistant rabbi, Rabbi Ben Sigal, to fill the role of Rabbi Bedo, who is moving to New York as she embarks on the next step of her rabbinical journey.

Fienberg said that the synagogue had three candidates for the job, which isn’t extremely common and is a testament to the synagogue’s reputation and the strong desire that young rabbis have to work with the community.

“I think he’s [Sigal] the right fit. All three of the rabbi candidates were extremely strong candidates. They were all really wonderful. But I think we all felt that Ben was the best fit and luckily, he agreed with us,” Fienberg said.

She added that Sigal had shown a strong interest in working with the kids in the burgeoning religious school program.

“Our religious school is something we take enormous pride in and it’s really a strong program for us. And I think our assistant rabbi had to be somebody that had a real interest in actively participating in that. So, I think Rabbi Sigal is going to be a wonderful addition to our community,” Fienberg said.

Sigal will start later this year, Tepp and Fienberg confirmed, and will work to maintain the culture that’s drawn in so many people who call Olam Tikvah their home.

As the 60th anniversary passes, people can look back and remind themselves of their personal journey and think about what led them to the congregation, Fienberg said, noting that she feels right at home with the community.

“I’ve been a member for 15 years and I definitely think of Olam Tikvah as my home away from home. Unquestionably,” she said.

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