2 congregations become 1 today

Ceremony to mark merger of Kol Ami, Nevey Shalom

August 17, 2008|By Jasmine Jernberg | Jasmine Jernberg,Sun reporter

Two area Jewish congregations that are facing declining or aging populations will officially become one today, and are celebrating the merger with the dedication and consecration of their Torah scrolls.

With the 11 a.m ceremony, Kol Ami of Annapolis and Nevey Shalom of Bowie will become Kol Shalom at the former Kol Ami site at 1909 Hidden Meadow Lane.

Rabbi Philip Pohl and his new Kol Shalom congregation will be joined in the celebration by Rabbi Ari Goldstein from Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold and members of the Seaboard Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

William Bresnick, the USCJ region president, will present the congregation with the new USCJ charter, and Goldstein will offer an opening prayer that will emphasize neighborliness.

"We try to build bridges in the communities," Goldstein said. "My being there says that all Jews take delight in seeing our traditions elevated. It's a beautiful tradition and a beautiful ceremony, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

The ceremony will mark the merging of the Torah scrolls, the sacred texts of the Jewish people. Six scrolls from the two congregations will be carried into the sanctuary and placed together under an arch to symbolize the Jewish teachings and the joining of the community. The newly consecrated scrolls will belong to the congregation of Kol Shalom, meaning "voice of peace." The name is a unification of the previous congregations of Kol Ami, "voice of my people" and Nevey Shalom, "oasis of peace."

The Kol Ami congregation was begun in 1977 and now has about 90 members. Nevey Shalom, established in 1962, has around 50 members, though Pohl expects only half of the congregation to make the move to Annapolis. Pohl said he does not anticipate having figures on the joined membership until this fall's High Holidays.

A decline in Bowie's Jewish population and an aging congregation at Nevey Shalom, along with the lack of a full-time rabbi at Kol Ami, led to official consideration for a merger in May 2007.

Richard Lederman, former executive director of the Seaboard Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, helped facilitate the union.

"Kol Ami found themselves in a position where merging with Nevey Shalom would allow them to flourish," Lederman said.

He acted as a third party to help the congregations work through concerns such as the blending of leadership and styles, and commuting and parking concerns for Nevey Shalom's generally older members. He said the talks went smoothly and, by December, they had come to an agreement.

"They worked the issues through very nicely. They were really ready," Lederman said.

Pohl, formerly the rabbi of Nevey Shalom, says the two groups shared about 90 percent of their values, which made for an easy merger. The groups first convened at the Kol Ami location Aug. 1.

"Everyone is working, cooperating, merging, converging and moving ahead," he said.

Both congregations are of the Conservative denomination, referring not to political views but to a desire to conserve the Jewish traditions while keeping with modern times. Conservative Judaism takes a contemporary, nonfundamentalist approach to the faith and stresses the role of education, community, the synagogue and tradition in Jewish life.

The new Kol Shalom will be the third Jewish congregation in Anne Arundel County, along with Kneseth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue, and Beth Shalom, a Reform temple.

Goldstein said the Jewish population seems to be thriving in Anne Arundel, though the opposite has been true in Prince George's County. He said Nevey Shalom has found a way to create a lasting presence in a way that retains the respect of their members and their temple artifacts.

"It will be a spiritual and warm event," Goldstein said. "It will be an event where you see the spark of Judaism flourishing in the community."


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