Reimagining ‘home for the holidays’

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Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax introduced new programming earlier this year to help young families become familiar and confident in leading their own Shabbat and holiday celebrations.

Olam Tikvah’s Director of Education Debra Beland Ackerman said she was talking to members of the congregation’s Young Families group when it struck her how many people were “going home” for the holidays rather than staying in the community.


That got Beland Ackerman thinking. “What could we do to give people the tools — both physically, but also the ideas and the content and the confidence — to really not just leave the kids table and sit at the adults table, but to have it be their table,” she said in a phone interview.

With help from a 2019 Impact Grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Olam Tikvah will be offering instructional programs — focused on Sukkot, Shabbat, and Passover, respectively — over the course of the coming year at no cost to
participants.

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The first event focused on Sukkot on Sept. 22.

During the events, Olam Tikvah will provide free childcare so that parents can focus on their learning. This is not a kids’ program, but it will impact the kids, said Rabbi David Kalender.


“I think when things are focused on kids, the learning is at a kid level, and the participation from parents is to help their kid do a kid-oriented activity,” Beland Ackerman added. “I think what’s really missing in our community is an opportunity to learn at an adult level but with the focus on their children.”

With 640 families, Olam Tikvah is the largest Conservative congregation in the state, according to the Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. The Young Families group is an independent, congregant-led group at the synagogue, but one doesn’t have to be an Olam Tikvah member to participate. Beland Ackerman emphasized that the synagogue is not taking over the Young Families group, but rather adding to it.

“We came to them with this idea and we said, ‘We want to be a part of it because we think we can add value’ … but not because we think the program’s broken,” she said. “Instead of talking about the potential of something, we get to do it. People get to see how incredible it can be, and what we can continue to do.”

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Twitter: @jacqbh58

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