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Jewish Congregation Forms in Tysons

Chabad at Tysons aims to reach out to the unaffiliated.

As Armin Khanzadeh grew older, he felt that the search for life's meaning grew more urgent. Describing his religious upbringing as "jumbled," the Reston resident hadn't gone to Jewish prayer services regularly. He held agnostic beliefs at one point, and taught in a Jewish Reform school at another point in life.

Yet he began attending services at a new Chabad Lubavitch institution in Tysons several months ago, after hearing about the group from his father, who attends a Chabad synagogue.

"By the time you get to your thirties, it becomes more of an issue of fulfilling that part of the curiosity," Khanzadeh said. Chabad at Tysons "has worked out great for me."

The rabbi of the new congregation, Levi Deitsch, said he hopes his congregation will fulfill the spiritual needs of area Jews who don't belong to a synagogue.

"Everybody's welcome, regardless of affiliation, background. You don't have to pay to pray," Levi Deitsch said.

AS MANY AREA people of the Jewish faith prepare to observe the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 26, and Yom Kippur, Oct. 6, those who aren't part of a local synagogue can observe the holidays with Chabad at Tysons, which holds weekly Saturday services at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Tysons Corner.

"We want to teach Judaism and through that, make the world a better place," Levi Deitsch said.

Started up by Levi Deitsch and his wife Miriam last September, Chabad at Tysons seeks to reach out to Jewish people who are unaffiliated with the faith.

"It attracts people who don't have places to go," said Miriam Deitsch.

The Deitsches moved to McLean from Brooklyn last May 2002, after his cousin, Sholom Deitsch, spoke of the need for a congregation that would serve the Vienna, McLean and Great Falls areas. Sholom Deitsch is rabbi at the Congregation Ahavat Israel in Fairfax.

The Deitsches came last May and immediately began organizing. The couple started a women's class in July of last year, and ran out of the 50 prayer books they had brought with them from Brooklyn. They held women's and men's groups in their McLean apartment. High Holiday services kicked-off the weekly services.

Activities have expanded to include lectures, a crash course in Hebrew, children's programming, and one-time events like how to bake challah, a kind of bread.

"We try to cater to every aspect of life," Levi Deitsch said.

Their approach of reaching out to Jewish people of all walks of life attracted Bob Berman of Vienna. Berman, who found out about Chabad at Tysons through a Washington Jewish Week article, had been attending services in Springfield. But he liked how Chabad at Tysons used English and Hebrew in the services.

"It certainly is more convenient. It's more than the location," said Berman. The rabbi "has a very warm and open way about him. An excellent teacher, and a good spiritual leader."

Berman took his son to a service. His son, who had been to all Hebrew services before, also liked the English explanations of the history and traditions.

"It's been very, very positive. The services on Saturdays are especially good. It helps me do what I need to do to get a spiritual frame of mind," continued Berman.

WHILE BERMAN LIKES the accessibility of the services, Heather Glick of McLean enjoys the community aspect of the congregation. Glick, who attends Chabad at Tysons with her husband and their two children, didn't come from a traditional Jewish background but was involved in several Jewish organizations in the area. She said Chabad at Tysons is good for people who don't have a synagogue to go to for the High Holidays.

"Anybody can come. And that makes a difference," Glick said.

Glick also said her husband had been unsure of joining because he feared he would have to adopt some Orthodox customs, but he was assured by Rabbi Deitsch, who told him that he wanted to infuse people with a new understanding of Judaism than the one that many had been taught growing up.

"It's something that people struggle with. They're Jewish, but what does that mean exactly?" Glick said.

As Chabad at Tysons approaches its second year, the couple hopes to look for a permanent home, as well as establish a Hebrew school.

"There's a need for it," said Levi Deitsch. "There's really a need, the community has a lot of children."