Sacred Centennial

Beth Sholom Congregation Prepares for a Milestone

By Kate Poindexter | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 09.14.16 – Lifestyles

Happy New Year and happy birthday—does Hallmark have a card for this? As the Beth Sholom Congregation of Frederick begins the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, members are also preparing for a year-long birthday party.

The congregation was chartered as the Frederick Hebrew Congregation on Oct. 6, 1917. Now, Beth Sholom will take the next 12 months to celebrate its centennial. As the congregation looks back on its 100-year history, it also looks forward to new growth and prosperity.

“Through partnerships with other religious and civic organizations, we are actively weaving our future together with the community that has sustained us for these past 100 years. The brightness of Beth Sholom’s future, like that of greater Frederick—indeed because of greater Frederick—is already visible in our present,” says Rabbi Jordan Hersh, Beth Sholom’s spiritual leader.

In the remaining months of 2016 and throughout next year, Beth Sholom will participate in activities that remember the past, celebrate the present and look with renewed hope to the future. The theme for the centennial is Kehillah Kedoshah, or Sacred Community. “Throughout the year’s holidays, events, educational offerings and social gatherings, we will be exploring what it means to create a community of sacredness,” Hersh says.

Most centennial events are tied to existing holidays or scheduled celebrations. While the congregation’s Rosh Hashanah activities will likely be tinged with birthday themes, the first official party comes after the High Holidays. It will host a Sunday brunch honoring past rabbis and presidents on Dec. 18. One of the honorees is Rabbi Emeritus Morris Kosman, who served as the spiritual leader from 1961 until 2010. He is credited with creating and promoting educational programs for adults and children with a special emphasis on developing a positive attitude toward Judaism.

The one stand-alone event on the schedule is a chartered trip to Israel, Dec. 28, through Jan. 8, led by Hersh and his wife, Shulie, the congregation’s cantor. Tour participants will explore Jerusalem, the Negev Desert, Galilee, Golan, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea. On March 11, a masquerade ball is scheduled in conjunction with Purim, the commemoration of the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation by the ancient Persian leader Haman. Beth Sholom’s executive director, Marcia Newfeld, describes this event as “a Jewish Mardi Gras.”

July brings an Independence Day Barbecue, complete with fireworks. And the centennial events will culminate with an Oct. 7, 2017, Sukkot Party, an agricultural celebration that is held in an outdoor hut, that will double as a birthday bash.

Second Street to North Market

In the early days, members of the fledgling Beth Sholom congregation met in private homes. But as their numbers grew, they needed more meeting space. After the Frederick Hebrew Congregation incorporated as Beth Sholom, it established a synagogue on West Second Street in Downtown Frederick. The building, the former Elks Club, had been purchased by Frederick residents Leo and Rae Weinberg, who donated it to the congregation in perpetuity as long as it remained a synagogue. In 1923, the refurbished building was dedicated. After additional renovation in 1976, the building was rededicated.

The congregation continued to grow and a community center featuring a religious school, nursery school, day camp and youth center was constructed in 1984 on North Market Street. A decade later, the community center was expanded to include a worship center, library, executive offices, meeting spaces and a gift shop. In 1995, the building was formally dedicated as the new home of Beth Sholom. It remains the hub of worship, education and social activities. In the meantime, the Second Street building was de-consecrated and returned to the Weinberg family, who has since sold the property.

Within the last two years Beth Sholom’s ranks have grown by 20 percent. There are now 170 families that make up the congregation. “It’s a sign of our good Rabbi,” said Rosalyn Nasher, a lifelong Frederick resident and a member of Beth Sholom who has encyclopedic personal knowledge of both the city and the congregation. For decades she helped her father run Erni’s Italian Kitchen, the family business, at its original Downtown location and then out on Rosemont Avenue. “I have an extremely Jewish heart, but not an extremely Jewish stomach,” she says with a laugh.

According to Nasher, Beth Sholom has always been a welcoming and generous community with close ties to Frederick businesses and civic associations. She points to an influx of Jews who came to work as researchers and doctors at Fort Detrick in the 1950s and a group of prosperous builders and merchants Downtown.

Local business growth may have fluctuated over the years, but the congregation has seen a steady increase in numbers and activities. Leaders maintain an interest in reaching out to newcomers through many avenues. Marcia Newfeld says. “If you want to grow spiritually, we have classes. If you want to belong here, we want you.”

Many activities, including a speakers’ program, are open to the general public. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Schifter has been a featured guest speaker. Others have included national and international politicians, educators, writers and musicians.

Welcoming Newcomers

While much of the upcoming celebration will acknowledge Beth Sholom’s past, a good portion will emphasize the influence of the new leadership and the ongoing efforts to work with other faith communities. Hersh is the 25th rabbi to lead the Conservative Jewish congregation. A recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, Hersh is a relative newcomer to Frederick. He and Shulie Hersh moved here in 2014 when he became rabbi at the congregation. Together they work to foster community service.

Hersh actively participates and supports the work of the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs and the congregation engages in a vibrant tzedek or social justice committee. Recent projects have included providing temporary shelter for the homeless, a community food drive, the Alzheimer’s Walk, and Blessings in a Backpack, a program to provide food over the weekend for school children participating in free school meals programs.

Hersh says he looks to the future with hope and faith. He says engaging in Kehillah Kedoshah is more than a year-long project. “It is the fundamental purpose for why we gather as a Jewish community. Each individual must continually strive to foster a sacred attunement to the world around them.”

As to his vision for the future of the congregation, “May Beth Sholom always be a community in which the spiritual seeker—whether Jewish themselves or simply looking to learn from the timeless wisdom of the Jewish tradition—can uncover the tools necessary for deepening their journey and find fellow travelers to guide them along the way,” he says.

For more information about the Beth Sholom’s centennial celebration or any other events or programs, go to www.bethsholomfrederick.org.