By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein, Congregation Ner Shalom
In an era when most houses of worship are wondering where our 18-30 year olds are, imagine the pleasant surprise at Congregation Ner Shalom when 18-year-old Noah Kaplan wandered into the synagogue for a sabbath service. The Kaplans had been members of the synagogue when Noah was young. He told us he just felt called to join us again for a Friday night.
Noah came to services in uniform that night and had to head to a shift as a firefighter-in-training later that night. While socializing before services, our Cantorial soloist Amanda Jensema commented on his uniform and told him her 2-year-old daughter was really into fire trucks these days. Noah got the idea to bring a fire truck and the safety education for other kids who might also be fascinated by firefighters and their loud engines.
A few days later, Noah reached out to the synagogue again to offer to bring his colleagues from the fire department, along with a fire engine, to the parking lot one Sunday afternoon and give a free fire safety public education to our religious school families. We were more than happy to accept; happy to have an important safety presentation and happy that this young man was interested in providing it for his former religious home.
Due to the cold, the event on Dec. 9 had only moderate attendance, but was enjoyed by those who attended. We will be offering it again when the weather warms.
A Return to Congregation Ner Shalom
When Noah came to our Shabbat service, I recognized his name, though I was not yet the rabbi here when his family last were members. I had a prayerbook with his name on it in my office! Through talking with Noah more recently, I learned that his family had been members of the Congregation Ner Shalom when Noah was young. He only has vague, though pleasant, memories of being in Religious School and playing on the playground behind the synagogue. His family lived in Stafford at the time, and the commute came to be too much so they left Ner Shalom and joined the synagogue in Fredericksburg, where Noah had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
We couldn’t quite figure out why the prayerbook – usually a gift for students preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah services – had been purchased and personalized by Ner Shalom, or why it was never given, but at least now it has found its way home to him.
Noah has been back in Woodbridge for about a year, and will soon be a full-fledged firefighter. He said he wasn’t sure what inspired him to come join us that Friday night, but he’s glad he did, and will be happy to come back for future community events, as well as to bring the fire trucks again. Something just called to him that Shabbat, and while here he was struck by how lively a service with barely 15 people could be.
We at Congregation Ner Shalom would love to welcome back all the now adult alumni of our religious school, and all former members. We strive to be the kind of spiritual and cultural home that any Jewish person, or any person seeking Judaism, could walk in and feel comfortable, embraced, like you too grew up here. We’re happy that we have members and leaders like Amanda Jensema, who also grew up at Ner Shalom, and young adults like Noah willing to visit and give back to the community in some fashion. Come meet all our wonderful community at the next Fire Safety Public Education (exact date TBD), or on any Friday night.
Lizz Goldstein is the rabbi at Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge, the only synagogue in Prince William County. She resides in Vienna and also works to build Jewish community among millennial activists in the DC area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through nershalomva.org/