The Wandering J brings Purim to the people in MoCo

The Wandering J at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.
Photo by Sonia Owchariw

The Wandering J sat in the early morning sun on Sunday. A van painted blue and white, it would soon leave the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville on its first mission: Bring Purim fun to three Montgomery County synagogues.

First there was the Wandering J’s ribbon cutting. The center had bought and outfitted the van with a $70,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. With the Wandering J, the center has a JCC on wheels to try to reach area Jews who feel they live too far to travel to activities in Rockville.

“The van is a connection that we are able to maintain an ongoing presence for those who haven’t been available to attend functions in and around the Jewish community,” Bender JCC CEO Michael Feinstein said as he cut the ribbon.

The center’s Purim carnival was already underway, and families waited outside the Wandering J for its doors to open, allowing children to climb inside for story time. They boarded one by one to see the inside, with a bookshelf, a USB outlet and an electrical plug that worked when the van was charged.

As the kids lay on the new carpet and the colorful decorative pillows, Lauren Dworkin, director of family engagement at the Bender JCC, read the book “Barnyard Purim.”

“The van gives us an opportunity to have a fun space for the children,” Dworkin said.

Outside the van, Cookie Monster greeted families and offered hamantashen as parents snapped photos.

Then it was time for the Wandering J to leave for its next stop: Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda. The van’s volunteer driver, Deborah Rosenberg, was ready.

Rosenberg slowly pulled the van out the center parking lot. The Wandering J popped with color on the open road.

Arriving at the synagogue, Rosenberg unloaded a spinning wheel game. It quickly attracted kids eager to win prizes.

After Congregation Beth El, Rosenberg drove the Wandering J to Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase for another Purim party. Then to Clarksburg, where Shaare Torah was holding a party at Ovid Hazen Wells Recreational Park, some 17 miles from the Bender JCC.

The Wandering J is part of The Federation’s focus on engaging the next generation, in this case children, according to Alexis Robbins, director of strategic planning and allocations for The Federation.

“The Wandering J is real important, because it brings Jewish programming to families where they are,” she said.

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