The autumn holiday of Sukkot was celebrated Sunday at the new quarters of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center in Fairfax County.

The observance began with the official dedication of the community center by rabbis from three Northern Virginia congregations.

As nearly 300 guests watched, the three rabbis -- Marvin Bash of Arlington-Fairfax congregation, Itzhaq Klirs of Temple Olem Tikvah in Fairfax County and Arnold Fink of Beth El Hebrew in Alexandria -- nailed the traditional mezuzah, a small case containing a Hebrew text from Deuteronomy, to the door of the new community center at 8822 Little River Turnpike. Dr. Chet Kessler, president of the center, also participated.

And then it was on to the celebration of Sukkot. The centerpiece was the sukkah, a small hut built by Sy Kabach of Alexandria and dedicated to the memory of two of his children, Sheila and Larry.

Shannon Latkin, 9, and her brother Danny, 10, of Falls Church, were among the youngsters who decorated the sukkah by hanging fruits, nuts and fall vegetables from the rafters.

"The hut represents both thanksgiving for the year's harvest and a temporary shelter such as the Jews used in their wanderings in the desert (during Exodus)," explained Barbara Halleb, a member of the center. The sukkah will remain standing for a week, then will be stored until next year's Sukkot.

As visitors participated in Sukkot games and storytelling, Adele Greenspon, director of the community center, explained the genesis of the new facility, which has two buildings, a swimming pool and children's play area on about 4 1/2 acres.

"The property has been used previously as a school," Greenspon said. "We have worked closely with the original owner, Mrs. Hilda Hatton, who has become wonderfully supportive of us."

The center was purchased with $500,000 raised in a fund drive headed by finance commiittee members Paul Frommer, Ronald Apter and David Zohn, Greenspon said.

"Our operating expenses about $300,000 a year come from other sources," Greenspon said. "We have membership dues, fees for various programs and small fund-raising activities such as an art auction and a litte gift shop."

In addition, the center receives funds from the United Jewish Appeal and the United Way.

Greenspon said about 75 percent of the center's programs will be based at the Fairfax headquarters. Some activities, such as basketball and volleyball, will be elsewhere because the center doesn't have an indoor gym.

The center also offers access to two social workers from the Jewish Social Service Agency, whose services are available to families in need of counseling.

"Someone will come in who is new to the area," Greenspon said, "perhaps needing help finding their place in the community, and a few sessions with a social worker can really help."

Greenspon attributed much of the success of the center, which serves about 1,000 families, to the volunteers and staff.

"We have a lot of wonderful volunteers," she said, "early retirees who are still vibrant and still terrific. I also have a wonderful staff, very dedicated and very committed."