When Jeremy Sandler moved to Northern Virginia three years ago, he did a Google search for synagogues with programming for young adults, and hit upon Temple Rodef Shalom’s Rodef 2100 group.
“I started attending a Rodef 2100 program and I liked the sense of community there was at the event,” said Sandler, who joined the board in 2019, and became president last year.
Rodef 2100 is a group for Jews in their 20s and 30s to gather, relax, worship and socialize, said Sandler, 34. It is attached to Temple Rodef Shalom, although one does not need to be a member of the synagogue to join the group.
“Our goal and our mission [is to] create Jewish environments in a variety of settings, spiritual and secular, and welcome all those interested to engage in the level that they choose,” Sandler said.
Sandler said typically 10 to 20 people attend Rodef 2100 events.
Cantor Rachel Rhodes said she and the temple formed the group about six years ago.
“I was a new cantor at the Temple and noticed that a group of around 10 people in their 20s and 30s started coming regularly for Shabbat,” Rhodes said. “Of course, I was thrilled, but I realized we did not have any programming geared toward their needs.
“By not requiring people to be members of our congregation, we have been able to welcome everyone in without the pressure of dues or long-term commitment,” Rhodes said. “Some Rodef 2100 members have joined Temple Rodef Shalom, but that is not our end goal – we simply want to provide meaningful Jewish experiences. Rodef 2100 has helped Temple Rodef Shalom be a more inclusive and welcoming congregation by expanding the interpretation of what it means to engage with the Jewish community.”
Before the pandemic, Sandler said, the group did a lot of in-person events — a monthly Shabbat dinner at the synagogue, trivia get-togethers, a Passover seder and other activities.
In 2020, the group went online as COVID-19 restrictions limited gatherings. “I think the past 16 months have been really telling what makes us so vibrant and special in the lives of our community members,” Sandler said.
Sandler said the virtual programming has included an online seder, virtual Shabbat get-togethers, letter writing campaigns to homebound synagogue members and guest speakers discussing topics ranging from behind-the-scenes stories of Purim and how to practice resiliency during difficult times.
“We could see that people, relative to our age, as a result of social distancing and working from home, were trying to create a sense of community. So what we wanted to do was create a lot of different types of programming to give people that space to interact and engage with one another,” Sandler said.
Sandler said one of the things which has helped Rodef 2100 weather the pandemic is that the group has been intentional in its community building, and in working to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for everyone.
This summer, following guidelines from the CDC and the Temple Rodef Shalom advisory group, Rodef 2100 held picnic and text reading in June and a Sunday afternoon hike in the park in July, and will hold a “Havdallah and S’Mores” event this weekend.
Jodi Abrams, the membership chair of the Rodef 2100 board, said that enthusiasm for in-person events has been tremendous.
“Everyone was smiling and laughing,” Abrams said. “People enjoyed making new friends and seeing familiar faces especially outside the Zoom grid on their computers. I think seeing people, making connections and ‘normalcy’ is what people missed most. The feedback and reactions have been extremely positive.”
Abrams grew up in the Temple Rodef Shalom community, attending the synagogue since 1995, and now works as an early childhood educator in the synagogue’s religious school she once attended.
She first found out about Rodef 2100 when a survey went out among the congregation asking if people would be interested in joining the group and its board.
“I have benefitted from this group tremendously,” Abrams said. “I have met many individuals who I have become friends with, networked with and introduced individuals to others who I thought would make great friends. In addition, I have also gained personal and professional experiences serving on the board.”
Sandler said being president of Rodef 2100 has been a great experience in giving to others.
“This is being part of something bigger than yourself and it’s been really meaningful, especially at a time in the past year and a half when people have really been craving connection and community. I think we all want to be a little less alone in the world, and if Rodef 2100 can achieve that for the people who attend our programs, that is something very invaluable,” Sandler said. “I’m just very fortunate to be a part of that.”
People interested in learning more about Rodef 2100 can go to their website at https://www.templerodefshalom.org/rodef-2100/ and fill out the embedded Google Form, email [email protected], or go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Rodef2100/.
The group will co-host a tashlich with the group GatherNoVA on Sunday, Sept. 12 and a break fast on Thursday, Sept. 16.