Bolton Street Synagogue understands that finding one’s place in a new congregation and becoming part of its family can be hard. That’s why its administration organized the BSS 60s+ group to provide programming to a previously overlooked part of the congregation while also helping some of its newer members ease into synagogue life.
“It’s partly about learning,” said Elaine Richman, the president of Bolton Street Synagogue. “It’s also about having fun together and about building friendships.”
“We’ve been getting together, usually twice a month, by Zoom,” said Linda Blonsley, co-chair of the group and a resident of Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. “We either have a member-led discussion, or we have brought in community members to speak about various subjects. And the goal is to tie it in either directly to Bolton Street or Judaism or Jewish thought.”
Richman, a resident of Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood, said that she came up with the idea for the group along with Blonsley.
“I suddenly looked around … just thinking about our demographics, including age,” Richman said, recognizing that “we had a lot of young people, and we also have a lot of people like me, who are in this older demographic.”
Richman realized that Bolton Street had a significant amount of programming for children and younger adults but had relatively little for members over 60. She developed the group as a remedy to that.
At first, Richman envisioned the group as a way for members to meet in person and build friendships while learning and having fun, she said. When it became clear that meeting in person was no longer an option, the concept was modified into a “Zoom 60s salon, essentially,” she said.
Despite its name, Richman emphasized that, in the 60s+ group, “anybody is welcome, and we do have younger people who come when the topic interests them,” she said.
The group first began meeting in November of 2020, Richman said. So far, some of the group’s speakers have included Cory Hermann, Bolton Street’s director of education, on the synagogue’s religious school program, and Myrna Cardin, wife of Sen. Ben Cardin, on her work in Baltimore and her role in her husband’s professional life. Currently, the group has approximately 70 members, Richman said.
One benefit of the group includes its ability to help new members become acquainted with Bolton Street and facilitate their transition into synagogue life, Richman said.
“It eases them into our community,” Richman said. “They get to know a cohort of like-aged and similarly minded people.”
While Richman hopes that the group will be able to hold in-person events in the future, she imagines that they may take on a hybrid model.
Asked if members gain anything spiritually, Richman replied, “I think they do, if you consider friendship and connection a spiritual activity.”
“It has been a great comfort to many of us to be able to get together, at least at this level,” Blonsley said. “We’ve had a very diverse group of speakers, so they have touched different people at different times.”