Har Sinai Congregation turning 150

April 17, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

Har Sinai Congregation, which claims to be the oldest Reform Jewish congregation in the nation, has announced a schedule of events to mark its 150th anniversary.

Rabbi Floyd Herman met with reporters this week at the synagogue in Upper Park Heights to describe the events that will run from October 1991 through May 1992.

Activities include special worship services, a scholar-in-residence program, a concert by the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra and a seminar on religious firsts in Maryland.

K.K. B'nai Elohim of Charleston, S.C., also claims to be the oldest Reform congregation in the country, although it was founded as an Orthodox group, Herman said.

"That's why we say we're the oldest continuously Reform congregation in the U.S.," the rabbi explained. "B'nai Elohim was established before we were, but we've been a Reform congregation longer."

Har Sinai was founded in 1842 by 17 German Jewish immigrants, who brought to their new homeland the less Orthodox concepts of the Reform movement born in Germany during the early 1800s. For example, women could join men in services, prayers could be in both English and Hebrew, and instrumental music could be played.

The group's first worship took place in May 1842 at Exeter Street and Eastern Avenue, in the home of Moses Hutzler, the patriarch of the department store Hutzlers.

"They held the service in the upstairs of the house, where Moses lived," said Herman. "He had his business on the bottom floor, so you can say this congregation started above a Hutzler's store."

The congregation got its first full-time rabbi in 1855 when David Einhorn was hired. A year later, Einhorn wrote a prayer book for Har Sinai, which became the model for the Union Prayerbook used throughout the United States.

Herman, the president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, has served as Har Sinai's religious leader for 10 years. His predecessor, Abraham Shusterman, was hired in 1941 and is now rabbi emeritus.

The synagogue has a membership of about 650 families and a religious education program that instructs children in kindergarten through 11th grade, the rabbi added.

The list of events for Har Sinai's 150th anniversary follows. All activities are to take place at the synagogue, 6300 Park Heights Ave., unless otherwise noted:

* A service of re-dedication, on Oct. 18, 1991. Shusterman and Herman will speak, and Shusterman will present an updated version of his book on the congregation's history, "Legacy of a Liberal."

* Michael Meyer, a professor of history at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, will be the Shusterman Scholar-in-Residence, Nov. 15-17, 1991, speaking on Reform Judaism in the past 150 years.

* A seminar on important religious firsts in Maryland, featuring an interfaith panel, on Nov. 24, 1991.

* A service with leaders and members of other local Reform congregations, on Dec. 13, 1991. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, will speak.

* A community-wide, interfaith service, on March 20, 1992. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are expected to attend. Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore's Roman Catholic Archdiocese will be the main speaker.

* A free concert by the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra at Goucher College, on April 8, 1992. Tickets will be required for admission.

* A "reunion" service for families who have been Har Sinai members for many generations, on May 22, 1992. (Herman said several current member families are descended from original Har Sinai members.)

* A gala dinner dance at the Suburban Club in Pikesville. Shusterman will be honored for his 50 years with the congregation, Herman for his 10 years of service.

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