Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia will herald its 36th anniversary in a traditional -- and loud -- way today with congregation members blowing 36 shofars.
In biblical times, the shofar -- a ram's horn that makes a resonant sound -- was used to call a community together, said Beth Shalom Rabbi Susan Grossman.
The trumpeting is meant to invite people "not just to celebrate our past, but also [serve] as a bridge to the future," she said.
The congregation has grown from a handful of families to more than 400, and moved from holding services in individual homes to an interfaith center to the synagogue on Harriet Tubman Lane.
"Now we're ready for our next stage," Grossman said.
The congregation is planning a building expansion that will more than double its space, making room for a youth lounge, a library, a growing Hebrew school and more services.
"We will also have a big-enough social hall to accommodate large celebrations," Grossman said. "We see this as a facility that is also helpful for the larger Jewish community."
That community has grown steadily since 1969, when there were no Jewish congregations, and worshipers met under an umbrella group, the Howard County Jewish Council.
The participants in the council came from varied backgrounds, said Larry Greenwald, a Columbia lawyer and founding member of Beth Shalom. But, he said, "a few of us were brought up in the Conservative tradition, and that's what we really wanted."
Four families, including Greenwald's, decided to hold a meeting to see whether anyone else were interested in starting a Conservative congregation. A few more families became charter members of Beth Shalom.
"A few of us who knew how to stumble through a service took the lead," he said.
The group hired a rabbi in the early 1970s and built its synagogue in the 1990s.
"Our intention ... when we got started was to have a congregation which embodied the traditions of Conservative Judaism," he said. "It has evolved from that into far more."
Today, Greenwald said, "it's very nice to have a Conservative synagogue operating very strongly on all cylinders."
Grossman said the congregation has appealed to Jews with a dynamic and meaningful approach to worship.
"We allow people to be modern and still connected to traditions," she said. "We're not afraid to talk about God."
The congregation is celebrating the 36th anniversary with such fanfare because 36 is a meaningful number in Judaism.
Letters in the Hebrew alphabet have numerical value, and the letters in the Hebrew word chai, which means "life," add up to 18.
"Eighteen and multiples of 18 are very special," said Sandy Friedman, communication chairwoman for Beth Shalom. "Thirty-six is considered double life."
Friedman said it is really moving to hear the shofar on important holidays. Thirty-six of them, which will be provided by congregation members, should be a memorable call to celebrate, she said.
Friedman said the congregation has decided to forgo a party after the blowing of shofar and to give any donations raised from the congregation for the event to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's Hurricane Katrina relief fund.
The congregation was scheduled to recognize some of its longtime members at a Shabbat service yesterday. Leaders plan more anniversary events in the coming months.