Baltimore Jewry on the move

January 30, 1995

Those who predict, even half-seriously, that great synagogues will someday rise up in Carroll County should not be too surprised by the planned move of the Har Sinai Congregation from Baltimore's Upper Park Heights section to a northwest Baltimore County site still to be selected.

Members of Har Sinai, the oldest Reform congregation in the United States, have voted overwhelmingly to sell its property to a local Orthodox school for $4 million. The proceeds will be used to build a new Har Sinai temple in the Owings Mills-Reisterstown area, where the majority of the congregants have moved in recent years.

By giving their approval to the deal, Har Sinai members have added another chapter to a story that stretches back more than a century -- the tale of Jewish migration from East Baltimore to the northwestern quadrant of the city to more suburban settings in northwestern Baltimore County.

A simple guideline has prevailed: Where the worshipers go, the temples follow. Indeed, Har Sinai won't be alone once it settles in Owings Mills or Reisterstown; Reform Temple Emanuel and Conservative Beth Israel Congregation, both in Randallstown, will soon open new structures farther out in this northwestern corridor.

Often, city properties vacated by Jewish congregations were acquired by Christian (and usually African-American) church groups. The Har Sinai deal is a transaction between movements of Judaism. The building at 6300 Park Heights Ave. will be taken over by Yeshivat Rambam, the burgeoning K-through-6 school that provides more evidence of the steady growth of the Orthodox community in Upper Park Heights.

Some members of Baltimore's Jewish community express fears that the migration of Reform and Conservative Jews, combined with the increasing Orthodox presence, will drain Upper Park Heights of its diversity and thus continue the fragmenting of Baltimore Jewry. Others point out that Temple Oheb Shalom and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, two large Reform groups still in the area, show every sign of staying put. Notably, both congregations have made major improvements at their temples in the past several years.

Both own land in Reisterstown, though, raising the question of whether they will eventually follow the other big congregations, adding yet another chapter to the tale of Baltimore Jewry on the move.

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