Over the last few years, a growing number of young families have joined Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase. According to Rabbi Lyle A. Fishman, these families embrace the traditional Conservative outlook of the synagogue and are involved in synagogue programming at many levels.
“A lot of them come from an observant background where going to shul on Shabbat was something they were already doing,” Fishman says. “I think most importantly we try to respond to all demographic cohorts and welcome people of different points of view. And thankfully we’ve been able to welcome many families with young children and involve them in our congregation,” Fishman says.
Fishman says he doesn’t know how many young families have joined the synagogue, but the growth can be seen in the number of students enrolled in Ohr Kodesh’s religious school. Six years ago, the school had 24 students, says Cantor Hinda Labovitz, the religious school director. Now there are 75. Parents, too, are becoming involved.
“Many of those young families who’ve joined have jumped right in to help lead programs and take leadership positions and really have contributed amazingly well to the synagogue community,” says Ohr Kodesh’s president, Seth Yoskowitz.
In fact, young members have made it to the top. Yoskowitz says his immediate predecessor, Barbara Libbin, was 35 when she became president, the synagogue’s youngest leader in its more than 70-year existence.
And they’re there to help in a pinch. Last Yom Kippur, a member who was to lead a service fell ill. One of the younger members stepped in with just a day’s notice.
“I would say that in most cases in our congregation, the question is not how old you are, but do you have the commitment and skill to do [a certain] job,” says Fishman.
Ohr Kodesh now has a group for young parents, meal trains for families with new babies, music education events and more.
Fishman attributes the success of the synagogue in attracting young members in part to its closeness to the District.
“I think a lot of younger people come to D.C. for their first jobs and they stay and begin their families and they want to stay in D.C. and we represent a good location and a good congregational profile and openness,” Fishman says.