Historic Har Sinai votes to sell property, leave city

January 23, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Members of Baltimore's historic Har Sinai congregation approved by a large margin yesterday a plan to sell their property at 6300 Park Heights Ave. in the city and move to northwest Baltimore County, where many members now live.

Fewer than half of some 1,000 members eligible to vote cast ballots at Har Sinai, the nation's oldest Reform Jewish congregation. The vote was 389-68 -- meaning 85 percent of those taking part supported the move.

Leaders had said Har Sinai would not move unless two-thirds were in favor.

"I thought the vote would be closer, but I'm very encouraged by the turnout and the way the vote went," said Rabbi Floyd Herman. "I think it's clearly a sign that we're moving in the right direction."

Har Sinai did not have the property up for sale. The vote was scheduled after the congregation received an unsolicited offer from an Orthodox Jewish organization, the Maimonides Academy, to buy the Park Heights Avenue property for $4 million.

Har Sinai's decision represents the continuation of a movement to the suburbs among Baltimore's Reform and Conservative Jews that began nearly a half-century ago.

"The leadership of the congregation, which supports the move, recognized that more and more Jewish families have been moving north of the Beltway into Baltimore County," said the president, David Flyer.

"They see this as a great opportunity to maintain the strong tradition of Har Sinai and of bringing their services and programs to a growing population of Jews."

A co-educational day school known to members by the Hebrew dTC name Yeshivat Rambam, the Maimonides Academy is part of the city's fast-expanding community of Orthodox Jews, most of whom live and worship along Park Heights Avenue.

Founded four years ago, it already has outgrown a building at 6214 Pimlico Road. It has 160 students and projects 200 next year.

Mr. Flyer said Har Sinai members will enter into a contract with the Maimonides Academy to sell the property, then look for a county site. He said Har Sinai will share the facility with the Maimonides Academy until it can complete its move and will be able to use the sanctuary even after the sale -- likely "for many years to come."

With 630 families, Har Sinai has no architect for a building, no timetable for a move and no definite budget for construction. Mr. Flyer said the criterion for a new site is that it be north of the Beltway, west of Falls Road and east of Reisterstown Road. It will be the sixth home for Har Sinai, which began in Little Italy in 1842 and always has been within the city limits. It has been on Park Heights Avenue since the late 1950s.

"I would like to stress to our congregants and our friends that this is not the end but only the beginning" of a long process, Mr. Flyer said.

The mood at Har Sinai was upbeat, as members filed in the domed sanctuary to vote. They were asked to answer one question: "Shall Har Sinai enter into a contract with Maimonides Academy to sell the property at 6300 Park Heights Avenue for the sum of $4 million and relocate?"

First vice president Robert Brookland said Har Sinai will continue to support social programs and other outreach projects in the city, including the apartments for the elderly built next to the temple.

He noted that the final tally was consistent with the heritage of the congregation, which has always followed its membership. More than 50 percent of the congregation's new members now come from outside the Park Heights area -- up from 30 percent several years ago, he said. "That's the trend we're seeing."

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