Agudas Achim Congregation (Alexandria, Virginia)
|Agudas Achim Congregation|
|Location||2908 Valley Drive,
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
38° 49' 50" N
|Year consecrated||1963 (dedication date of new building; congregation dates from 1914)|
|Leadership||Rabbi Jack Moline|
Agudas Achim Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located at 2908 Valley Drive in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. The synagogue was founded in 1914, and its cemetery was founded in 1933.
The synagogue considers itself an egalitarian Conservative institution.
The synagogue was founded in 1914. Agudas Achim Congregation developed as a breakaway congregation from Alexandria's Beth El Hebrew Congregation, founded in 1859, after new Eastern European immigrants who did not like Beth El's classical Reform approach left and established Agudas Achim Congregation. In 1927, the congregation acquired a large Italianate building at 508 Wolfe Street, built around 1850, for the synagogue. In 1946, the synagogue sold the building to a post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In 1958, the synagogue's president, Murray J. Goldberg, joined other Virginia Jewish leaders in backing free rabbinical expression. They spoke out after Jews in the Southern U.S. were threatened for supporting civil rights for African-Americans and after the bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta.
In 1982, Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia opened as a kindergarten at Agudas Achim Congregation. It was the only Jewish kindergarten in the area offering a complete private-school curriculum, along with instruction in Hebrew and Jewish culture and religion. It relocated to larger quarters in 1994, after outgrowing its space.
In 1985, Agudas Achim Congregation joined Reform Beth El Hebrew Congregation of Alexandria in beginning a joint venture, with both synagogues providing seed money for a pre-school named Keshet Child Development Center. The synagogue took an active role, sitting on the school board. In 2001, however, Agudas Achim withdrew because of issues regarding non-Jewish lay leadership at the pre-school. The synagogue's rabbi, explaining that Agudas Achim had no choice but to withdraw from its involvement, said: "Our congregational charter did not permit the representation by non-Jews, and Keshet's experience was that some of the best leaders were the non-Jewish parents."
In 2005, Agudas Achim Congregation opened a start-up Preschool for the Performing Arts. It was for children ages two to four, using dance, theater, music, and art to teach the children about Jewish holidays and traditions. But three months later, on December 16, 2005, synagogue president Gary Greenbaum sent a letter to congregants saying that the synagogue and the school's founding director had ended their relationship by mutual consent, as a result of different visions as to how to run the school. The synagogue's president said that he wanted the preschool to be integrated better into the synagogue, with regard to programming and a summer camp program. That same year, the school received a $38,165 grant from the federal government in homeland security funds approved by Congress to "harden targets" at its facility, which it used to purchase a heavy-duty security door with audio and visual protective features. The synagogue's rabbi, hazzan, and religious school director regularly participate with the children.
In 2006, Agudas Achim Congregation changed the time that its Friday night services began from 8 PM to 6:30 PM, to increase the number of its congregants attending the services. According to Mirza Lopez, its executive director, early results were encouraging. At the same time, its Saturday morning services were typically attracting 250 congregants.
In 2006–07 Agudas Achim served as the temporary home of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Alexandria during the church's renovations. In a sermon in 2007, Senior Pastor Dr. Larry R. Hayward of the church said that the synagogue's rabbi had told him that when the church performed its renovation: "not only would we be welcome at Agudas Achim, but we would probably cause great collective disappointment to their congregation if we did not worship here." He reminisced that in 2006, the rabbi and several members of the synagogue joined church members at the church, to process to the synagogue, and that: "Then, when a hundred or more of their members formed a line outside their door and welcomed us with handshakes and applause, we were overwhelmed. There wasn't a dry eye on the sidewalk".
Membership and dues
Dues are billed to members, inasmuch as synagogues do not transact money on Shabbat, when members are at the synagogue, and therefore as the synagogue's rabbi noted: "we cannot 'pass the plate'". In 2008, as a financial incentive to attract congregants, the synagogue offered newlyweds dues of $500, and full-time students younger than 30 a dues price of $180.
The current rabbi is Jack Moline, who has been the synagogue's rabbi since 1987 and who was named by Newsweek magazine as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America, placing 26th on the list. The synagogue's executive director credited Moline's weekly dvar Torah as being a big attraction for congregants attending the synagogue's Saturday morning services. The rabbi was noted by The New York Times for giving a sermon giving glowing praise to Inglourious Basterds, pointing out that it was the first Holocaust movie in which Jews were "portrayed as power brokers rather than victims.”
Agudas Achim Congregation Cemetery
The Agudas Achim Congregation Cemetery, founded in January 1933 after the synagogue purchased the property from the City of Alexandria on November 30, 1932, at a "spirited" auction for $250 ($4,300 today), is located on Jefferson Street in Alexandria. A section that has become a "Meditation Garden" was added by the City Council in November 1943, for the use of the synagogue, "so long as the premises is used, kept and maintained by said religious congregation as a cemetery chapel without any manner of excavation."
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