Here’s what’s happening at Beth El Hebrew Congregation

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The Chapel in the Woods offers lessons on nature to the younger members of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria.
(Photo courtesy of Liz Bayer, Beth El Hebrew Congregation)

Leadership at Beth El Hebrew Congregation, in
Alexandria, is dreaming up new ways to foster
meaningful relationships within the community,
according to the congregation’s newsletter, Beth
El Bulletin.

After two years on hiatus, the High Holiday Adult Choir
will return for this year’s services. “I have missed the voices
of our choir terribly,” wrote Cantor Jason Kaufman.
Those interested in participating this year can still sign
up online.


In addition to the return of the adult choir, Kaufman
announced the inaugural intergenerational High Holiday
Family Choir, which will be open to Beth El members of
all ages. The new choir will maintain a rehearsal schedule
different from the schedule of the High Holiday Adult
Choir to allow for greater participation.

“To get the choir back together, it just means so much.
You can hear me smiling,” said Rabbi David Spinrad in an
interview.

https://www.washingtonjewishweek.com/enewsletter/

REIMAGINING COMMUNITY
Executive Director Liz Bayer wrote that there is a new
eight-seater picnic table just outside the front doors, as
well as four café-style tables in the lobby. By the end of
the fall, a new coffee table and plush side chairs will be
added, she wrote. Beth El also purchased a new coffee
machine for members to foster greater community within
the congregation.

“We know that small interactions, like sharing coffee or
wine, and connecting with others in big ways, like during
services or in small conversation with a fellow member,
are the way we create more connections,” wrote Bayer. She
added that the updated technology will benefit services,
and that Shabbat Social Hour will have a wider range of
food choices.


“Liz is a visionary,” Spinrad said. “We’re just trying to
create spaces where people can come and connect and
feel good.”

NEW GROWTH
Outdoors, Beth El’s Chapel in the Woods has been offering
a serene place for quiet meditation and prayer, while also
teaching children about nature and the environment.
However, over the years the section of the forest has
become overrun with more than 20 invasive species.
“There is a lot of bad news,” the newsletter states. The
Chapel in the Woods lost three of its largest oak trees
due to climate change, when repeated cycles of drought
and heavy rain resulted in an insect infestation. Between
inclement weather and poor attendance, volunteer
maintenance was delayed, allowing the invasive species
to cause harm.

Hope is lost, though. Beth El says the heavy rains
have brought on an influx of raspberries where invasive
porcelain berries and ivy used to grow. Adult and
student volunteers have begun planting native grass
and wildflowers in the area, replacing any harmful plant
species. Preschoolers also planted a silky dogwood tree, a
gift from the Packard family in honor of their daughters
Maya and Olivia. The students who planted the tree have
named it “May-livia.”

REACHING BEYOND THEIR WALLS
Beth El’s Hebrew Congregation isn’t just about fostering
community between its members. It has gone beyond the
synagogue walls to “adopt” refugee families.
Many religious institutions and their communities have
taken it upon themselves Beth El Bulletin recalled a family
who arrived in Virginia from Afghanistan in 2017. Beth El
welcomed the family and assisted in its resettlement. Now
the family members are American citizens.

The congregation is assisting another refugee family:
enrolling members in English classes, obtaining jobs and
keeping in contact with extended family members who
have been resettled in Maryland and Canada.

The tradition of Beth El sponsoring the resettlement of
refugees dates back to the 1970s when there was an influx
of Vietnamese immigrants due to the war. “We accept our
responsibility to repair the world,” Spinrad said.

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