Fourteen years ago, in the then-remote Fairfax community of Reston, six families eager for Jewish fellowship answered a newspaper ad and bulletin board notice and gave birth to the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.
Having only part-time rabbis and rabbinical students who commuted biweekly from Cincinnati to lead sabbath services was just one of the inconveniences that faced the fledgling Reform congregation.
But as Reston blossomed so did the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. Membership quickly doubled and redoubled. Sabbath observances increased from biweekly to weekly, and in 1972 a full-time rabbi was hired.
Still without a building and the financial means of acquiring one, the congregation held worship services and schooling over the years in homes, schools, and back yards, jumping from community centers to Christian churches and back again.
This month, however, the congregation of 165 families took a giant step as it moved into its own building and Reston's first synagogue.
"It was slow and painful," said David Feldman, the congregation's first president. "But several of us felt if we were going to have any permanency we had to bite the bullet and move into a building of our own."
The modern building with a varnished cedar exterior is located on Wiehle Avenue adjacent to St. Thomas a Becket Roman Catholic Church, where the congregation worshiped for eight years until last fall.
Although the congregation has been without a full-time rabbi since the fall when their rabbi, Arnold Seigel, accepted a military chaplaincy, spirits have not faltered.
"We're all very excited about it," said Ruth Hershkowitz, who directs the religious school. "It will be so nice to have everything in one place for a change."
Until this month the congregation held Hebrew classes at Herndon United Methodist Church and services at the local community center, which also housed its offices.
According to Adele Greenspon, director of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center, the new synagogue represents a growing trend among Jewish families to settle in Northern Virginia.
"What happened initially is Jewish families came here, maybe, because of cheaper housing, but when their kids got older they'd up and move to Maryland," said Greenspon, a resident of Northern Virginia for 26 years.
"The biggest thing for Jewish families is Jewish school. When you're driving your kids there two or three times a week you want a synagogue that's close. And the Virginia suburbs simply didn't have the synagogues and Jewish services that the Maryland suburbs have.
"But in the past 10 years I've seen a definite shift in Jewish population to the Virginia suburbs," said Greenspson. "When I moved here, there were three synagogues. Now there are six and at least three without buildings and probably a couple more cropping up."
One of those fledgling groups is Reston's second Jewish congregation, Beth Emeth, a Conservative congregation.
Greenspon and representatives of other Jewish organizations here estimate that there are now 40,000 Jews in Northern Virginia and more than double that figure in suburban Maryland. Despite increasing Jewish population and Jewish organizations in Northern Virginia, residents of suburban Maryland enjoy far greater access to Jewish social services and more than 25 synagogues there.
But members of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation feel no lack. The days of their portable ark are over. Never again will they have to arrive early at churches to cover crosses or remove other Christian religious symbols before welcoming the sabbath. Parents no longer need drive across town to religious school and worshipers may linger as late as they like following sabbath services.And, for the first time, said one member, "We have an address."