In years past, when students at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation wanted to research a religious subject, they typically had to visit the public library or the Jewish Historical Society.
But this fall they have their own research center, complete with computer terminals, an extensive video collection and a children's section that resembles a stack of building blocks.
The Julius and Doris Myerberg Library is the core of a $3 million addition that was dedicated yesterday, after years of planning and construction.
The addition, called the Louis and Dorothy Fox Education Center, is a dream come true for Rabbi Murray Saltzman, who has made education a cornerstone of his 18-year tenure as the Reform congregation's spiritual leader.
"In order for us to have an adequate religious school, we needed a library," he told several hundred congregants at the dedication. "It was inconceivable to me that a place like this could exist without a library. We are the people of the book . . ."
The center will be a "fountain of renewable hope" for everyone in the congregation, added President Lois Rosenfield.
"Here, people of all ages can grow in understanding, expand personal knowledge of Jewish history, and review what it means to be Jewish for generations past and what it can mean in the future," she said. "In this place, we can learn who we are, learn to know our God better, and learn to appreciate our Judaism even more."
A key feature of the library is its Jewish Heritage Video Collection, with more than 200 films and videos donated by the Strauss Foundation.
There is also a large-screen television, computer learning lab, interactive computer software and children's "reading rotunda."
Designed by Baltimore native Henry I. Myerberg, the education center was completed on the north end of the sprawling congregation campus at 7401 Park Heights Ave. In addition to the library, it contains six classrooms, a media center, an archives department, a first aid center, and the Salables-Cohen Multi-Purpose Room.
Sol Goodman, chairman of the library committee, said the congregation had a smaller library that operated out of a classroom. "But it was not really adequate for the purposes of the school, and it was never used by the congregation as a whole," he said.
The Myerberg library "will open up a whole new world for our students," said Barbi Hyman, a supervisor of the religious school. "It's a valuable resource."
David O. Feldmann, past president of the congregation and co-chairman of its building committee, said he remembers attending the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation as a child when it was located at Roberts Street and Madison Avenue.
At that time, he said, it had a "beautiful library" that was used extensively by all ages. Youngsters would see adults using the library and understand the importance of reading and learning, he said. "It was the kind of example that you set for children. It leaves a mark."
When the congregation moved to Park Heights Avenue in 1951, Mr. Feldmann said, its new building had no separate library. He said he has wanted for more than 10 years to see one added and is delighted it finally happened.
Roy Kirby & Sons was the general contractor. Mr. Myerberg, whose architecture firm is based in New York, told the congregation he tried to make the building's exterior blend with and dignify the rest of complex, designed by Percival Goodman.
"The matching brick and limestone was intended to be very gentle -- to appear as if it had always been there," Mr. Myerberg said. "It was intended to reinforce the nobility of this sanctuary."
The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is one of the largest Reform congregations in the Baltimore area, with more than 1,800 members. It has 800 students in its religious school, 75 in its day school, and 250 in its preschool program.
"I am most proud of our accomplishments in strengthening the survival of the Jewish people through education," said Rabbi Saltzman.