While 2020 is probably not the most auspicious or convenient year to celebrate a major milestone, it nonetheless remains the 50th anniversary of Beth Shalom Congregation. The celebrations officially began with the High Holidays this year.
According to Rabbi Susan Grossman, the story of Beth Shalom began in 1969, when Howard County had a single, unified and fairly small Jewish community who did everything together, including High Holidays. That ended, though, when, during a 1969 Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service, someone played a song by the rock band, The Electric Prunes, as part of the service.
That, Grossman said, constituted “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The incident led to a group of community members establishing a more traditional, Conservative shul in Columbia. Grossman added that this also led to the Reform-affiliated Temple Isaiah, as well as Columbia Jewish Congregation, which today identifies as Reconstructionist.
Founded in July of 1970 in Columbia, Beth Shalom was the first freestanding synagogue in Howard County, Rabbi Susan Grossman said. When Columbia was first created, its founder, James Rouse, “established a rule that there would be interfaith centers in every village center.” These centers were intended to be shared by all different religions, including the Jewish community. “At the time,” Grossman said, “you could not build a freestanding house of worship in Columbia proper.” The current synagogue building, opened in 1996, is technically outside of Columbia proper.
When the Beth Shalom building was opened, Grossman explained, detractors labeled it “the death of the interfaith center.” According to Grossman, though, the new building actually led to increased interfaith cooperation, particularly with the synagogue and Locust United Methodist Church.
To celebrate the anniversary, community members held a recently completed virtual race to Jerusalem; are planning an online, murder mystery event set for Nov. 21; and are working on a special quilting project.
Sherri Kersey and Janet Laufer, two members of Beth Shalom’s board of trustees, came up with the idea for the quilt, according to Hope Corrigan, a resident of Ellicott City who has been a member of Beth Shalom for 25 years. The two approached Corrigan, as well as Mary Anne Newkirk, to join the project because of their crafting skills.
The four provided congregants with special kits they could use to create individual cross stitch blocks of the quilt. The kits included the necessary materials as well as cross stitch designs created by Corrigan and Newkirk. The individual blocks include Jewish symbols like Stars of David, loaves of challah and Torahs. They later will be sewn into a single quilt to be hung in the sanctuary.
A number of stitch-along meetings are planned to build community as volunteers make progress on their blocks, which are due back during the first week of March. Corrigan hopes to complete the quilt by the end of April.
While Corrigan had initially expected a dozen congregants to sign up for the project by the closing date of Oct. 5, a total of 30 people volunteered. The volunteers, she said, are multigenerational.
“We have a mom, a daughter and an aunt,” Corrigan said. “We have all ages participating from college up to 40-year members participating, so it’s so exciting that we got so much participation.”