Howard's Growing Jewish Presence

September 16, 1993

Slowly but steadily, a Jewish community has been growing and making its presence felt in Howard County.

In the pre-Columbian days of the mid-1960s, there were few Jewish families in the county, but now the figure is estimated to be around 5,000. Indeed, one national reference book on Judaism has singled out Howard's Jewish population as one of the fastest-growing in the United States.

(That finding should be taken with a grain of salt, though, because the original statistic was so small. Thus, subsequent figures appeared dramatically large by comparison.)

While increasing in numbers, Jews in Howard County have yet to form the sort of enclave seen in the Pikesville-Owings Mills corridor of Baltimore County or the Upper Park Heights area of Baltimore City.

They apparently don't wish to, either. They enjoy the sense of community they have created among themselves -- particularly in the eastern part of the county -- but also embrace the racial and religious diversity that makes Columbia the unique place it is.

Population statistics aren't the only indicator of how Howard County's Jewish presence has expanded over the past few years, though.

For example, a BJ's Wholesale Club that opened this summer in Columbia discovered through market research that it made good business sense to start stocking kosher foods. A Pikesville woman hit on a bonanza last spring when she began selling a variety of Judaica from a cart in Columbia Mall. Continuing a decade-long trend, Howard public schools will be closed for Rosh Hashana today; Montgomery and Prince George's counties are the only other Maryland jurisdictions whose schools close in observance of Jewish holy days.

And recently the Beth Shalom Congregation broke ground for the first synagogue in Howard County. That is, the first building in the county to serve exclusively as a synagogue.

Several local Jewish congregations have worshiped for years at the county's four interfaith centers, sharing those facilities with Christians, Muslims and Bahais.

Anyway, the Greek root of the word "synagogue" means "a bringing together." That can happen anywhere people gather to encounter God and to revel in their distinct religious and cultural heritage, as more and more Jews have been doing in Howard County over the past decade.

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