Celebrating Chanukah with Ilana Rothberg

Ilana Rothberg, her family and friends celebrate Chanukah. Photo courtesy of Ilana Rothberg

Ilana Rothberg, 41, is a leader at both Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, serving on the boards of both.

Before becoming a full-time mother, she worked for Capital One in product and project management. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in business and marketing. She lives in Arlington with her husband, Ira, 8-year-old twins, Rahm and Havi, and their poodle, Chase.

Tell us about Agudas Achim’s Chanukah celebration.

We have Hanukkah in the Hood. A different family in our synagogue community hosted a lovely candle lighting outside their home and invited people within their neighborhood to join them. Then the final night we all come together outside at the synagogue and had a performance by Kol Sasson, the Jewish a cappella group at University of Maryland. Then we wrapped it up with sufganiyot for everyone. It was a really nice way to bring the community back together.

Photo courtesy of Ilana Rothberg

What do you do in your volunteer job with Agudas Achim?

I’m vice president of member services and engagement and was recently joined by Co-Vice President Melissa Weinstock. We create community by building programs for the synagogue and bringing in new members. We also oversee the young families program in the synagogue.

We recently established a young adult leaders group that includes people in their 20s and 30s who are not necessarily members of the synagogue. We also started an interfaith family engagement committee where we are building programming and resources for interfaith families to come together socially and educationally.

What do you find most rewarding about volunteering for your synagogue?

Meeting new people and bringing new members into the Agudas community. I appreciate hearing how much they appreciate becoming connected.

How would you characterize the Jewish community in Northern Virginia?

I would say the Jewish community is strong, but sometimes understated. There was a Brandeis University study that showed that the Northern Virginia community was growing even though people might not realize it. You have to seek it out more than in other parts of the Washington, D.C., area. Parts of Montgomery County, Maryland, have a lot of kosher restaurants and many synagogues. There’s more infrastructure for the Jewish community there and it’s not so much here yet. But the Jewish community in Northern Virginia is getting more attention.

What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Chanukah. It’s a joyous holiday, a celebration of strength and happiness. What I like most about it is being with family and friends and celebrating good occasions and traditions together. This past week we celebrated with our synagogue community and our Gesher [Jewish Day School] community.

How has Agudas Achim fared during the pandemic?

We’ve seen a significant growth in membership even through the pandemic. Our membership held very steady. We have 525 families, which grew from 500 families since the start of the pandemic.  We have people who are looking to connect with a community again after all we have gone through and experienced in the past year and a half. I established a Facebook group and helped organize virtual congregant-led workshops and monthly chats for seniors.

What do you like to do for fun?

I am an avid Peloton rider. I enjoy hiking, traveling, knitting and watching University of Maryland’s basketball games.

What brought you closer to Judaism?

I was very active in USY on a regional and national level when I was growing up and made several trips to Israel. In my teenage years, it really helped me form a stronger connection to Judaism. That’s when my engagement started.

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