Young families network in Northern Virginia

Isaac Howard shows off his arm painting at the Baby2Tot Fest Sunday. Photo by Laurie Albert.

As her husband handled nap time at home with their 18-month old son, Diane Greenbaum came to the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia on Sunday looking for guidance. She perused the booths of local organizations, exploring the area’s synagogues and preschools as toddlers crafted and children’s musician Mr. Knick Knack strummed his bedazzled guitar nearby.

Greenbaum was one of about 100 young parents at the Northern Virginia JCC’s Baby2Tot Fest. For her, finding the right congregational and educational fit is a delicate dance. Her husband, Jon, is Christian. The two agreed long ago to raise their son Jewish, even giving him Greenbaum’s last name.

“We really want him to understand his roots by having some community,” Greenbaum, a Reform Jew, said. “Especially growing up Reform in America, sometimes it’s more about community than it is about faith.”

Their spiritual needs were minimal when they moved from North Carolina to Northern Virginia in 2007. But after their son was born last year, Greenbaum found herself seeking out the Jewish community. Greenbaum didn’t know what the Alexandria area, where they live, had to offer, but a growing network of young families quickly made itself available.

“When you have kids, it’s like, ‘OK, now I need the village. I need my tribe.’”

She’s the kind of mother the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia targets through the Growing Jewish Families program. At the Baby2Tot Fest, organizations from soccer camps to dentists came to meet with the growing, but sometimes elusive, Jewish population.

“I think I still don’t know what kind of Jewish population this area has,” Greenbaum said. “I’m still feeling it out.”

According to Laurie Albert, the Northern Virginia JCC’s director of community engagement, it’s as much about connecting families with other families as it is about connecting them with the JCC. Greenbaum, for example, isn’t a JCC member.

Greenbaum said she’s in about 10 different parenting Facebook groups, some composed specifically of Northern Virginia Jews.

She left more informed but not much closer to deciding on a synagogue. There are a lot of considerations, but a comfortable and accepting atmosphere is a top priority. Not only is the couple interfaith, but interracial. So far, she hasn’t had trouble finding synagogues extending open arms, it’s about finding that perfect fit.

“There’s more Conservative in the area than where I grew up, but even all the Conservative synagogues have some Reform members and are very liberal too,” she said. “It’s like, ‘OK, you guys are actually making it harder for me to figure this out.’”

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