Like many local synagogues, Chabad of Silver Spring has undergone significant changes to its programming since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks. Programming has shifted toward Israel and focuses on the spirit of giving to help its congregants and the people impacted by these tragic events.
Chabad of Silver Spring has increased the amount of donation opportunities, is doing significantly more events than normal at this time of year and making its presence known in the community by doing as much good as possible.
“Every day our goal is to bring the light of Judaism, to bring the light of Yiddishkeit, to bring the theme of light helping to dispel darkness. And the more light we create, the more it removes the room for such negativity in the darkness that’s painfully persuasive,” Chabad of Silver Spring Co-Director Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky said.
Rabbi Wolvovsky said the synagogue is planning to do events for each night of Chanukah across the Silver Spring area where they can cater to the youth, elderly and families of the community and spread positivity.
Chabad of Silver Spring is also making sure to include events in support of Israel, something that is deeply important to its members, which is helping them deal with the tragedy by being able to show support in a substantive way.
Recently, the synagogue hosted a dinner where it focused on the plight of the hostages taken by Hamas and had every attendee paired up with an empty chair and a hostage poster for every person taken.
“The community came together; we had a Friday night meal. 240 people [came], and each participant had the picture of one of the hostages in front of them,” Rabbi Wolvovsky said. “Our goal was to show that we’re not only thinking of them, we’re celebrating Shabbos for them, davening for them, praying for them. It was something that really moved the community. The fact that so many people came out for this Friday night meal [was incredible], and they found it as a source of strength for each other.”
The synagogue is also having another event on Nov. 19, where it it will host an evening for men featuring a whiskey tasting, with the special caveat of only having Israeli whiskey to provide a small boost to Israeli businesses.
Rabbi Wolvovsky said that shul attendance has also gone up since the conflict began, with people coming in due to the situation in Israel being foremost in their mind. He added that people have been constantly asking if they can do more or in what ways they can help, which has been very inspiring to see.
Another challenge is centered around how members of the congregation and religious leaders will approach the topic of Israel with young children, as the synagogue has a Hebrew School that plays an important role in its activities.
The synagogue has worked on a range of solutions, including providing resources to parents and others impacted by the situation, such as bringing in a psychologist to help people work through their feelings.
“We had a psychologist come in and talk to them about how to navigate your feelings during these times and how to speak to your children. It was a very informative discussion and parents really appreciated that in terms of what we’re doing for Israel,” said Co-Director Mrs. Chaya Wolvovsky.
Mrs. Wolvovsky addressed the importance of being very sensitive and age-appropriate when it comes to talking with children about the war but noted that it’s impossible not to mention it because kids are too smart to not notice the issue weighing heavily on their parents.
The children have been doing positive things that can help support Israel, like making “Am Yisrael Chai” bracelets and incorporating a prayer for the Israel Defense Forces into morning programming. Mrs. Wolvovsky said that these things help keep the mood brighter.
“The preschool is a very happy place in a world of darkness,” she said. “You come in and see children smiling and singing and connecting as they get ready now for Thanksgiving and Chanukah. There’s a joy.”
And the synagogue is also making efforts to support Israeli families affected and displaced by the war, with one family already being taken in and assisted. Mrs. Wolvovsky said that they’re doing whatever they can to help Israelis seeking aid.
It’s part of the spirit of giving and helpfulness that defines Chabad of Silver Spring’s recent efforts, and it’s having an impact on their congregants, something the synagogue is looking to continue.
“People keep saying thank you for giving us an opportunity to give because when things are so hard, the only way out is through giving. People feel much better when they’re giving. Otherwise, it can be quite depressing when you think about it too much,” Wolvovsky said.