1964 was a pivotal moment in American History: The Beatles invaded New York City and played “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time, Muhammad Ali, then called Cassius Clay, defeated Sonny Liston by technical knock out, in Miami Beach, Florida, to take the heavyweight boxing crown, and Olam Tikvah was formed by six families in Fairfax, Virginia. Now, fifty years later, OT boasts nearly 630 families, as it celebrates its half-century anniversary.
The conservative movement synagogue, 15 miles from downtown Washington, DC, held a fitting simcha last night bringing together Diaspora Jews from across the Country.
“We have folks here who have traveled great distances to be with us,” said current shul president Harold G. Belkowitz. “We have people from California, Florida and even Maryland,” he joked during his opening remarks following havdalah, which was led by full-time Assistant Rabbi Ita Paskind.
Welcoming more than 1,500 people during the high holidays, OT held its Charter Membership meeting on 24 May 1964. Hoping to “build something for [their] children,” the founding members came together in area churches and schools to pray until property could be purchased for a permanent home. The congregation’s first high holiday services were held in the autumn of 1964. The “real” inspiration for forming, a religious school, also opened in the fall of 1964. The original property was purchased in 1966, followed by expansion in 1972, a social hall in 1983, purchase of additional property in 2003, and “major expansion” and remodeling in 2010.
Rabbi David Kalendar, a tall, mid-westerner, with a dry wit, and a smile like he “gets” the joke, whatever the joke may be, has been the spiritual leader of OT since 1998. Amongst his other pastoral duties, Rabbi Kalendar is leading a congregational trip to Israel this summer. The trip is over-subscribed with a wait list.
The physical structure of the sanctuary boasts gorgeous pale bricks reminiscent of Jerusalem stones, a centered bima, and exceptional natural light. “From generation to generation, we celebrate our past, and build our future at Olam Tikvah. As we celebrate OT’s 50th anniversary, each of us has the opportunity to create and experience new connections within our special community,” wrote Ilan Sussan, in the commemorative program. “We found OT before we were able to locate a house,” said Shari Davidson, a Connecticut transplant, who moved to the area last August. “I think it’s more difficult to find the right synagogue than it is to find a house.”
The congregation’s accomplishment did not go unnoticed by area politicians. Hon. Mark R. Warner, a senator from Virginia, offered his congratulations in a letter to Belkowitz, as did Eileen Filler-Corn, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who was in attendance, last night. “Synagogues have long been a constant source of strength and comfort to the communities they serve within the Commonwealth of Virginia and around the world. This anniversary serves as a celebration and remembrance of the shared commitment to faith, service and leadership that has characterized your congregation since 1964,” wrote Sen. Warner.
Little River Turnpike, in Fairfax, supports three major Jewish institutions within walking distance of each other: The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, Chabad of Northern Virginia and OT. “Olam tikvah is an extraordinary collection of individuals who are following sacred paths,” writes Kalendar. “What makes OT such an usual and inspiring place is that these are not simply private journeys; instead, their experiences lead people toward one another, so that the whole entity is greater than the sum of its parts.”
And with congregations like OT, area Jews have much about which to look forward.