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Wanderers No More

The Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation prepares to move into its new home.

On March 24, when the Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation celebrates its 10th anniversary, the congregants will have something else to celebrate: a new home.

When the Board of Supervisors approved the conversion of one of the buildings on Beaumeade Circle in Ashburn to a synagogue, it ended a decade of what congregants have called wandering.

"We really have been wandering nomads," Renee Gupp, president of BCRC's board of directors, said. "This gives us a place to be spiritual. It stops the schlep."

From the beginning, Beth Chaverim has spread its events, activities and classes across the county to whatever facilities would allow them access. The congregation's worship services have been held at the Cascades Senior Center, its religious education classes have been held at a private school on Sunday mornings and Rabbi Randi Nagel meets with congregants in a office donated by a member.

"We're outgrowing the spaces we can rent," Gupp said. "It will be nice to have a home."

THE JOURNEY toward a synagogue has been a long one, Gupp said, with the congregation finding the building on Beaumeade Circle in July 2005 after two years of searching.

"We would have loved to by land in Loudoun County, but we felt that this was a good investment," she said. "We thought it was a positive solution to a growing problem."

With a congregation of 400 people, including 124 children Gupp said the need for their own facility was great, but the board had a difficult time locating a spot that would allow a religious building.

"The number of areas zoned for religious use is really finite," she said.

While the building is complete, Gupp said, it is just an empty shell that needs plumbing, electricity, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and walls for its various rooms.

"Our building permits should be in any day now," she said.

HAVING A PERMANENT place to worship will bring a sense of stability to the congregation, Nagel said.

"It will allow us to focus on prayer [during services] instead of logistics," she said.

Nagel said she is excited to have a library for her books and a private place to meet with congregants, who might not be comfortable discussing personal issues in places they are not familiar with.

"When you walk into a place you feel comfortable in, you can really open up," she said.

Sue Brady, the congregation's vice president of education, said that not having a permanent home has been hard for the congregation's Sunday school.

"There has been a lot of carting stuff back and forth," she said. "You can't really personalize the classrooms. It makes the overall teaching ability difficult."

Now that the children will have permanent classrooms, Brady said she hopes to be able to expand the elective classes offered to children on Sunday mornings, such as Jewish cooking or dancing.

"It will be an improvement on the variety of opportunities that they have," she said. In addition, the synagogue will allow the school to hold events and activities on days other than Sundays.

"It is nice to have a central place that everyone knows and everyone can come to," she said.

MORE THAN JUST improving the logistics of the congregation, many members are looking forward to having a true spiritual home when the synagogue opens.

"It is very important for there to be a sense of belonging and community especially in a religious community," Sue Benezra said. "We want to have that sense that this is ours."

Benezra said the community has been very welcoming to the congregation, allowing it to rent space, but members are ready to have their own place to call home.

"Moving around all the time gives you no sense of permanency," she said. "We worship in [a church] on high holy days, and they have been very nice and very accommodating, but it would be nice to be praying in a place with Hebrew on the wall."

Gupp said that the Jewish community is dedicated to "tikkun olam," or repairing the world, through community service. Without a synagogue, however, she said it has been difficult for the congregation to do as much as they would like.

"It's just logistically so much harder," she said. "This gives us the opportunity to stop addressing the where and when and focus on our spiritual world."

Beth Chaverim means house of friends, Benezra said, which is exactly what the congregation is.

"We are coming of age," she said. "And what an absolutely marvelous way to celebrate."