Living Jewish in suburbia Assimilation: Growth in counties increases need for synagogues, religious schools.

October 11, 1996

SOMETIMES when it rains on Sabbath, Rabbi Robert G. Klensin at Temple Beth Shalom in Anne Arundel County's Arnold delivers his sermon as buckets catch water from a leaky roof and broken pipes. That's one reason his synagogue is in the midst of a $2 million capital campaign. The other is more positive: As the county's overall population has grown, more Jewish families have moved there and the temple needs to expand.

The first Jewish families moved to that area, near Annapolis, just before the turn of the century. Many of them were traders. A few years later, there were enough adults to form the required "minyan" of 10 men in order to convene an Orthodox prayer service.

As services became more regular, 12 families in 1906 took steps to establish what today is Kneseth Israel, a congregation often called the "midshipmen's synagogue." A private home on the Duke of Gloucester Street was acquired and converted into a sanctuary. By 1954, the congregation moved to its current location on the outskirts of the state capital.

Meanwhile, Jewish families had started to move to rapidly developing rural areas as well. In 1960, Temple Beth Shalom was organized. Regular services begun in borrowed space in the Pasadena Methodist Church. The temple eventually moved to its current home in Arnold. A third synagogue, Kol Ami Congregation in Annapolis, was also established.

The preponderance of Jews in the Baltimore region still live in a corridor stretching from Pikesville to Owings Mills in the northwest corner of Baltimore city and county, but Jews are also making their homes in other predominantly gentile counties where they once might not have felt as welcome.

Carroll County's first Hebrew school opened last month. Howard County has six congregations with 10,000 members, including the Columbia Jewish Congregation, which just affiliated with Judaism's Reconstructionist branch. And in Harford County, Jews were pleased recently at the outcome of past discussions with school officials, who were willing to avoid conflicts with the Jewish High Holidays when drawing up the public school calendar.

All these are further signs of the growing diversity of the suburbs -- and the active religious life of its residents.

Pub Date: 10/11/96

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