For years, Temple Isaiah mastered the art of juggling.
Based at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia, the temple has planned meetings around the schedules of five other congregations there, rented classrooms at Harper's Choice Middle School for its burgeoning religious school and, each week, set out religious objects before Sabbath services.
But the hassles are about to end. Members of Columbia's largest Reform Jewish congregation will gather Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at a former cornfield on a 22-acre site in Fulton for the groundbreaking for a temple of their own.
Building will begin in mid-January, and the temple will be completed in about 15 months.
"I'm very thrilled," said Lynn Abramson, temple president. "We outgrew the Meeting House. We really need a spiritual home of our own, and the physical space [at the Meeting House] is smaller than is needed. Our programming exploded over the years. Our programming helped to keep our membership growing, and we want to keep that."
The centerpiece of the 28,000-square-foot, stucco-and-glass facility will be a sanctuary/ social hall that seats 600 for services and offers banquet seating for 325. The ark, which houses several Torah scrolls, will be constructed out of Jerusalem stone imported from Israel. A dome will be above it.
The building will include a dozen religious-school classrooms, a multipurpose room, conference room, library, administrative offices, commercial kitchen, playground and courtyard.
Development and construction costs will total about $6.2 million. The temple's capital campaign raised $2.2 million in pledges. Member families who did not participate in the campaign will pay an annual building assessment fee of $425 for eight years, in addition to annual membership dues of $1,320 a family.
Rabbi Mark Panoff, temple spiritual leader since 1986, said the move does not detract from Columbia's interfaith spirit. "The interfaith centers are like incubators - congregations begin small and flourish," he said. "Once they get large, they have to decide whether to go out on their own or stay. We wrestled with this. This wasn't easy. We have a lot of history here.
"But it's in our own best interests. We're jammed here. And as we've grown, we've changed. People grow to see they want spiritual homes, a Jewish setting with Jewish symbols, while many of our younger families from communities with free-standing synagogues want continuity of what they grew up with."
Founded in 1970 in the living rooms of about 24 members, Temple Isaiah moved to Wilde Lake Interfaith Center before relocating in 1977 to the Meeting House. Initially, the religious school was a community school for Temple Isaiah, Columbia Jewish Congregation and Beth Shalom Synagogue. As the school grew, the temple decided to establish its own educational facility in 1991 with 320 pupils. Nearly 500 now attend kindergarten through 12th grade. "We anticipate with the building that we can grow easily by another 100 kids in the school population," Panoff said.
The temple rents 30 classrooms at Harper's Choice Middle School on Sundays for its religious school, men's group, women's group, adult study groups, workshops and family education programs.
The temple also juggles holiday services and meetings around the schedules of fellow tenants, including Columbia Jewish Congregation and four churches. "In terms of our religious calendar, it has to be worked out in a complex arrangement with other faith communities," Panoff said.
Before Sabbath and holiday services, congregants set up the sanctuary with Judaica and then remove them. "We have to come in and set it up so it is appropriate for us," Panoff said. "The ark is in a closet. But people want a place where they can come in and pray, that is specifically a Jewish place."
Beth Shalom built its own facility in 1995 after conducting services at the Meeting House and Owen Brown Interfaith Center. "We nearly tripled our membership to about 1,100 since owning our own building," said Sandy Cederbaum, Beth Shalom's executive director. "People want their own place."
But even after Temple Isaiah moves, it will continue to conduct High Holiday services at Howard High School to accommodate the 1,200 worshipers who typically attend.
At Sunday's groundbreaking, congregants will walk into an area staked off for the sanctuary. "We planned the event for three months," said Cindy Ward Sandler, groundbreaking committee head and a past president. "It should be absolutely wonderful. The land is gorgeous. It is surrounded by trees, and in the middle is a cornfield."
The event will feature a brief speech by Panoff and a prayer by adjunct Rabbi George Driesen. Cantor Judith Daniel will lead the shehecheyanu blessing traditionally recited for special beginnings. Both the temple choir and religious-school choir will perform. Each family will receive either a blue or white ribbon with Velcro to write their names on and attach together as a symbol of unity.
"A new facility was in the works for quite a while," Sandler said. "Now it's becoming a reality."