The number of Soviet Jews immigrating to the Washington area has more than doubled in the past year to about 500, according to the United Jewish Appeal, and the response from the District's Jewish community is an unparalleled outreach effort this Hanukah season.

The explosion of new arrivals is due in part to a U.S. decision to raise to 50,000 the limit on Soviets allowed to enter this country this year.

Jewish agencies also have stopped insisting that new immigrants settle with a family member, shifting some of the flow away from New York City and Chicago to areas such as Washington.

Sharon Bray, director of adult and community services for the Jewish Community Center of D.C., said her group has invited 60 of the area's newest arrivals to mark their first Hanukah with a traditional Jewish party -- complete with dreidel games, potato latkes, Hanukah songs and folk music -- on Saturday at the Jefferson Place center.

Other gatherings are planned at Jewish community centers in Silver Spring, Rockville and Fairfax.

"Many of these recent arrivals have never celebrated Jewish holidays, and this gives them an opportunity to celebrate Hanukah," Bray said.

Hanukah, which commemorates the Jewish people's first victory over the Syrians for religious freedom more than 2,000 years ago, is a fitting holiday for these immigrants. Many were not only restricted from openly celebrating Jewish traditions in the Soviet Union, but also were barred from learning enough about their religious heritage to pass it along to their children.

Svetlana Fox-Rabinovitz, who emigrated from Leningrad in April with her husband, David, and 10-year-old son, Leo, said she is "overjoyed" to be able to celebrate Hanukah freely.

"In Leningrad, we had only one synagogue for 5 million people," she said. And because so much religious material was confiscated, her son "couldn't get religious training through us."

The outreach efforts stem from a deep sense of obligation felt by members of the area's Jewish community, whose roots go back to Eastern Europe, Bray said. "This is an exciting opportunity because we are in a much better position to help {these immigrants}," with services from language training to housing assistance, she said.

Steve Altman, president of the District's Jewish Community Center, said he hopes that efforts to Americanize immigrants, the center's mission since the early 1800s, will help inspire American Jewish people to rekindle their traditions as well. "Our focus is to make new immigrants Americans, but also to make Americans Jews. We have to combat assimilation too."

Alisa Borovskaya, 10, who arrived in Washington from Moscow with her mother and grandmother in May, said she is looking forward to lighting the menorah candles and receiving presents for Hanukah.

"For the first time, it feels like I'm Jewish," she said.

"Only in the U.S., we find out it is wonderful to be a Jew," echoed her mother, Marina. "There is no need to hide, like we have done all our lives."