NoVa congregation cleans up Wiehle Avenue

Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation members gather in November 2019 to pick up trash along a two-mile stretch of Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation members gather in November 2019 to pick up trash along a two-mile stretch of Wiehle Avenue in Reston. (Photo courtesy of Jim Kranzberg)

Picking up trash along the highway may not sound like fun, but it’s a task Jim Kranzberg takes pride in. The Herndon resident first got involved with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program through his son’s Boy Scout troop.

Then Kranzberg got his synagogue on board. For about a year, members of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation have been responsible for picking up litter along a two-mile stretch of Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

The Reform congregation’s participation in the Adopt-A-Highway program is coordinated through the NVHC Green Team, a synagogue committee created in 2019.

“As the name implies, the Green Team’s purpose was really to support NVHC’s commitment and values toward a sustainable future,” Kranzberg said. “And its purpose was to identify and implement specific solutions to reduce NVHC’s carbon footprint.”

The group started out organizing guest speaker events and went on to perform an energy audit on the synagogue building. Kranzberg and his wife, Michelle Kranzberg, introduced the Green Team to the Adopt-A-Highway program and encouraged them to participate. The program is meant to encourage families, businesses and civic groups to clean up litter. Each year, 23,000 volunteers collect 44,000 bags of trash along Virginia’s highways, according to the program’s website.

“We just figured it would be a good opportunity to involve those within NVHC with activities that were somehow tied to the Green Team,” Kranzberg said. “Jewish text teaches and demands us to work toward a sustainable future for all humanity by living out the values of tikkun olam, and there are other values that come into play. So it’s really part of the Green Team’s value and purpose. And this is just a small and easy way to work on those values.”

Kranzberg said the group picked its road because it’s close to the synagogue and walkable. As a test run, a group of 10 congregants gathered in November 2019 to clean the road. But since the pandemic hit, the Kranzbergs have been cleaning the road by themselves to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus.

“But clearly we look forward to being able to involve a lot more people from either the Green Team or NVHC congregants, just so that they can be aware of the effort,” Kranzberg said.

The couple uses grabbers to pick up the trash — most of it cigarette butts, liquor bottles and fast food wrappers. Kranzberg said he’s found a lot of face masks. And on occasion he’s found money and lost wallets.

Rabbi Michael Holzman described the congregation’s participation in the Adopt-A-Highway program as an “obvious move,” as the church next door had already done so.

“We are in a community that is highly connected to nature and trees and preservation of green space. So it’s built into the ethic of both the community and the synagogue community,” Holzman said. “[The program has] brought people together and formed really meaningful relationships. So it’s not just about the road and the environment, but it’s also about the people who are involved.”

The synagogue is waiting for VDOT to erect a sign recognizing the synagogue’s adoption of the road. In the meantime, Kranzberg and his wife will continue to pick up the trash.

“I’m hopeful that as time goes by, after the COVID lockdown, that we can do more of it,” Kranzberg said. “And maybe adopt even more of a stretch because I think a lot of people enjoy doing that sort of thing.”

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