Practicing Judaism shouldn’t be a matter of affordability, says Elliot Eder, past president of Shoreshim, Reston’s “synagogue without walls.”
The congregation, now in its 36th year, is not affiliated with a Jewish denomination and does not have a building, clergy or professional staff. The idea, says Eder, is to be open to everyone.
“Shoreshim is an unaffiliated chavurah [prayer and study group]. We flow between 45-60 families,” he says. “We don’t subscribe to any particular branch of Judaism.”
Local rabbis do often lead services or discussion groups, Eder adds. “We have a strong rabbinic presence, even though we don’t have our own rabbi.”
Shoreshim holds holiday services and Shabbat services usually twice a month or more. Discussion and Torah study groups meet periodically.
Services are held in churches and other facilities. Events have been staged at community centers, member homes and a local nature center.
“We don’t want to tie ourselves up with the mortgage for a building,” said Eder. “This way, all of our focus goes into programming and providing for our members, rather than the challenges that come with maintaining a building.”
The chavurah has a religious school that runs from kindergarten through sixth grade. Enrollment fluctuates from 25-35 students. Having a school “helps kids realize that they’re not alone in terms of young Jews in the area,” says Eder.
While Shoreshim does not have a formal brotherhood and sisterhood, or a formal board, Eder says that members do fill leadership roles.
“We rely on our members to fulfill the role of the board of directors. We find that it also helps invigorate Shoreshim, that different people bring their own traditions and ideas to the leadership.”
Every fall, the chavurah holds a retreat for its members in West Virginia. This year, the retreat will focus on interfaith families, a topic of interest in a group with several mixed-marriage couples, Eder says.
Often, chavurot are created by synagogues, absorbed into synagogues or if they remain independent, simply dissolve after a few years. Eder attributes Shoreshim’s vitality in large part to Northern Virginia’s growing Jewish population.
“In the past 20 years or so, the Jewish community [in Northern Virginia] has really come into our own,” he says. “It’s much easier to have Jewish activities and affiliations in Northern Virginia than it used to be.”