Torahs' move to mark a beginning

Sanctuary: Temple Isaiah prepares for the opening of its own facility.



August 13, 2004|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For congregants of Temple Isaiah, the joy and anticipation of finally moving into their own building after 34 years is akin to that of a couple about to wed.

So it is fitting that when the congregation brings at least one of its four Torahs into its new facility in Fulton on Sunday, members will carry the sacred scrolls under a chuppah, or marriage canopy. Jewish tradition likens the Torah to a groom and the Jewish people to a bride.

"The relationship between God and the Jewish people is spoken of in terms of marriage and a covenantal relationship," said Rabbi Mark Panoff, spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah since 1986. "It is a new beginning for us. People are so proud [the site] turned out to be so beautiful. We're all very happy."

Congregants will alternate carrying each of the heavy Torahs as they walk from 8 a.m. to noon along the 8.2-mile route between the temple's former residence at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia and the new site.

A community open house will follow from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The building dedication is to be held Oct. 31.

Hundreds of congregants signed up for the walk, rain or shine. The group will be divided into four, each walking a two-mile segment. A police escort will accompany the procession.

After the walk, the temple's past presidents will carry the scrolls up to the lobby and into the new sanctuary. "The Torahs will be passed from past president to past president in a line," said Jackie Norden, temple president. "I will be the last. And I will pass it to the rabbi, and he will carry it through the door. It's really very emotional."

A brief service will be held in the new sanctuary, followed by the open house.

Community members also may tour the facility.

During the service, Panoff will cover each Torah with a new mantel designed by artist Ina Golub. Three of the four multi-toned fabric coverings contain a passage from the Book of Isaiah that speaks of the messianic era and the Hebrew prophet's vision of a peaceful world.

The fourth is a Yiddish verse from the Partisan Song sung by Jewish resistance fighters during World War II and will cover a Torah scroll salvaged from the Holocaust.

"We wanted the scroll to be a remembrance and to pay tribute to the courage of those who resisted," Panoff said. "Resistance took many forms -- they fought against the Nazis, held services in concentration camps, fought to maintain their humanity and dignity and faith. We want to say their memory is with us, as well as their example."

The only synagogue in Fulton, Temple Isaiah invited local church leaders to the open house. St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church donated a circle of five trees in Israel, while the Rev. Richard Laribee of St. Mark's Episcopal Church will bring home-baked cookies.

With a membership of about 530 families, Temple Isaiah is Howard County's largest synagogue. Its religious school has a burgeoning enrollment of about 525 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Beginning in September, the temple's new preschool will open with about 43 children.

Planning for the new temple began in 1997. "It's just been an incredible experience seeing it from the blueprint stage all the way throughout," said Lynn Abramson, past temple president.

The one-story building is on 22 acres in a former cornfield, down the road from a dairy farm. A capital campaign has raised about $2.3 million. The cost of the project is about $6 million.

"We have a place of our own now; it's wonderful," said Dennis Rapport, building chairman. "That transcends the value of the building. It's a place where we can be."

It gives us a sense of permanency -- we're not just visiting. It also gives us trust in the future when you take a loan and make a commitment."

Established in 1970, the congregation held services in Wilde Lake Interfaith Center before relocating in 1977 to the Meeting House.

The congregation scheduled services and meetings around five other congregations there. It also rented classrooms at a Columbia middle school on Sundays for its religious school and temple groups.

"Oakland Mills served us well; it was a way to get going when we couldn't afford a building," Rapport said. "Now, many congregations there are finding it a pressure to share space because everyone has grown. We're always bumping into each other."

Before weekly Sabbath services, the congregation had to set up the sanctuary with ritual objects, then remove them. "We could not have any Jewish symbols anywhere," Norden said.

The new 28,000-square-foot stucco-and-glass facility includes a sanctuary/social hall that seats 600, a religious school, preschool, playground, youth lounge, administrative offices, a bride's room, library, kitchen and an interior courtyard paved with personalized bricks. The courtyard will be used for weddings and receptions.

Beyond the playground's gated fence are riparian wetlands designated as a backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation.

The building's design blends with its contemporary furnishings. The Jewish art was selected by the rabbi.

A rectangular stained-glass window, designed by congregant Sandra Cummings, depicts a tree with a Torah -- symbolic of the Jewish tradition that compares the Torah to a living tree.

"I am told people go into sanctuary and cry," Panoff said. "They are so moved."

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