Social action for the holidays at Congregation Olam Tikvah

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Families enjoyed last year’s Chanukah party at Congregation Olam Tikvah. Photo courtesy of Congregation Olam Tikvah.

 

Every year, the social action committee at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax visits seniors at The Virginian and the Brown/Berish Group Home. They light candles, sing Chanukah songs and have a party.

“The residents there love to celebrate Chanukah, they love to have people come in from outside and sing songs and light candles,” said Programming Director Erin Dreyfuss.


The committee also celebrates other holidays throughout the year with these group homes.

“I think what is particularly powerful and meaningful about vibrant Jewish life is that it encourages us and demands of us that we both look inward as well as outward,” said Rabbi David Kalender. “What we want to do is create a world of satisfaction and happiness and sanctity both for ourselves as well as feeling the responsibility of doing that for others too.”

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The Conservative congregation has a plethora of other Chanukah events in December. The holiday begins at sundown on Dec. 22. Its Young Families program, aimed at educating parents on how to host holidays, will have a pre-Chanukah craft event on Dec. 8. Plus, a Chanukah bazaar will open on Dec. 8 so congregants can shop for holiday gifts.

Olam Tikvah’s youth groups will have Chanukah celebrations to look forward to. The Machar group, for kids in grades 3-5, will make edible chanukiyot Dec. 8. The Kadima group, for grades 6-8, will have a Chocolate Palooza with chocolate fondue on Dec. 15. And on Dec. 14, the USY group for high schoolers will have a pre-Chanukah limo hop.


Kalender said he’s excited about the opportunities that allow congregants of all generations to celebrate together.

“We purposely don’t splinter into just hanging out with the people who are my own age, whoever I might be,” Kalender said.

For all ages, there will be a family Chanukah celebration on Dec. 24 featuring a dreidel tournament, storytelling, latkes and candlelighting.

And the social action committee does a few other holiday-specific outreach programs as well. Families from Olam Tikvah can bring in wrapped shoeboxes filled with essentials like toothbrushes, deodorant, gloves and underwear. The synagogue then donates the shoeboxes to So Others Might Eat (SOME), an interfaith organization supporting those living in homelessness and poverty.

“The great thing about the shoeboxes for some is that families can do it,” said Dreyfuss. She said families often bring their children to stores to help put together the boxes. “Those kinds of events are harder to find for families, and particularly families that want to take their kids to social action.”

Though the social action committee is active throughout the year, Kalender said there are extra opportunities in December.

“We organize things around Christmas, not just because it’s a time when people are feeling fellowship,” Kalender said, “but also it frees people up to celebrate their faith with their families, knowing that other members of the community are still being taken care of.”

Volunteers who aren’t celebrating Christmas take overnight shifts at the yearly Christmas Eve homeless shelter that the Fairfax interfaith community puts together. This year, it will be at Messiah United Methodist Church.

Plus, congregants from Olam Tikvah take the place of regular Meals on Wheels volunteers on Christmas Day so that they can spend Christmas with their families.

“We’ve very proud of our social action programs at this time of year because we have so much going on. People feel like it’s a great way to give back, and many of them are interfaith focused,” Dreyfuss said. “It’s a nice way of connecting with the season in a Jewish capacity, to say this is tikkun olam for your Christmas season.”

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Twitter: @jacqbh58

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