Beth Shalom Seeks Approval For School, Synagogue

February 09, 1992|By James M. Coram

Buried amid the details of $94 million in capital budget requests that the planning board will review Wednesday night for compliance withthe 1990 general plan is an obscure water and sewer project called W-8189.

The Department of Public Works says in its description of the $575,000 project that it is designed to bring water and sewer service to 22 properties on Guilford Road near the Harriet Tubman Center.

What the department does not say is that one of the affected property owners is Beth Shalom synagogue. The congregation has a special exception to build a house of worship and religious school on a 3.85-acre lot. The area is zoned for single-family homes on half-acre lots.

Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen told the public works board last month that unless the connection is made soon, the congregation's plans to build the synagogue "may go down a non-existent sewer."

"We have brought up a generation of children who have never seen a synagogue" unless taken outside the county, Cohen said. "We need classrooms, a kosher kitchen" and a place to house the congregation's sacred possessions, he added.

Cohen cited statistics from the 1987 "American JewishYearbook" -- the latest figures he has available -- to show the needfor a synagogue here.

"Howard County is neck-and-neck with Palm Springs, Calif., as the fastest-growing Jewish community in the U.S.,"he said, yet it has no separate synagogue building.

Beth Shalom is one of three Jewish congregations now sharing interfaith centers with Protestant and Catholic churches. The others are Temple Isaiah andthe Columbia Jewish Congregation.

"We want a dedicated space withthe ambience of a synagogue and not a social hall," Cohen said. "Now, everything is in the closet and we roll it out for the services. Wehave . . . to take children into Baltimore just to see what a synagogue is."

A separate and distinct synagogue isn't just important tomembers of Beth Shalom, says Rabbi Gary S. Fink. Fink said his Oseh Shalom congregation in the Prince George's section of Laurel draws nearly half of its 300-family membership from the Columbia area.

Thefree-standing synagogue "is an important factor for some of our Columbia members," Fink said. "Our people want a place they can call home."

"There are plenty of synagogues in Columbia, but not all the Jewish people can afford it," Rabbi Herbert Kumin said. His Calah congregation meets in a community center to keep costs low. "Caring for each other is our primary goal," Kumin said.

At Beth Shalom, memberssay that part of the urgency in having this water and sewer connection approved in this year's capital budget is that the congregation's special exception to build a synagogue at 8070 Guilford Road will expire in two years.

"We're negotiating with another equity partner or tenant," Cohen told the public works board. "We cannot wait anotherfew years."

The project was to have been included in the fiscal 1995 budget, but that would not leave enough time to get the sewer in the ground before the special exception expires, LCI Technologies engineer Bolling Haxall told the public works board.

A vacant house on the property has been boarded up because its septic system was condemned last year, and nearby systems are also failing, he said.

Other reasons for getting the project under way are the congregation's carrying costs and the "window of opportunity with the recession or depression in the building industry -- the opportunity of obtaining cheaper prices in construction and engineering," Haxall said.

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