For the congregants of Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace, Maryland, Chanukah 2018 was a festival to remember.
In addition to a Havdalah service and holiday party for about 100 people, on Dec. 8, the temple rededicated its building after a $2 million renovation was (mostly) completed this year.
“Chanukah is the festival of dedication and rededication, so this was the perfect time for it to happen,” said Rabbi Gila Ruskin. “We did have a rededication of the sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah, but not everything was finished, so this seemed like the right time.”
Among the building’s major upgrades is an addition to accommodate new classrooms — relieving the campus of its modular, portable classrooms, separate from the main building — updated bathrooms, a spacious new Judaica gift shop and, of course, a renovated sanctuary with tall, arched ceilings.
“The project initially wasn’t even to fix the sanctuary,” said Richard Foard, a longtime congregant who served on the temple’s building committee. During the course of construction, Foard, a professional contractor who served as the project manager, became aware that the sanctuary’s ceiling was deteriorating. “What started off as new seating and carpet in the sanctuary became needing a whole new ceiling and lighting package. That’s when it got tricky.”
Renovations to the congregation’s social hall and kitchen are still to come.
Foard was not the only congregant whose expertise was utilized during the renovations. Another building committee member, Gary Getz, a professional architect, designed the additions and renovations, and Felice Repas designed the sanctuary’s interior. By having the work done with congregational talent, the temple was able to keep costs at a minimum, which was ideal, considering the $2 million of capital came from donations by synagogue members.
Taking on responsibilities has been the congregation’s mode of operation for quite some time, long before the renovations. Longtime congregant Andy Klein, who serves as the national treasurer for the Jewish National Fund, described “pulling your boots up,” meaning everything from b’nei mitzvah tutoring to funding a capital campaign has been done in-house.
“We don’t have the resources to do that,” Klein said of hiring outside help to refurbish the sanctuary. “We take on the responsibilities ourselves.”
Klein’s family founded and still runs the ShopRite supermarket franchise — Klein is currently its president — and his parents, Shirley and Ralph, were two of 10 of Adas Shalom’s founders. Ruskin says the Kleins have been the largest donors for the temple and spoke of Shirley, who died in 2016, to illustrate the loyalty of congregants.
“When I first started working here, she gave me the marching orders,” Ruskin said. “I was never offended. She did that because she really truly deeply cared.”
Congregant and building committee chairman Lee Tannenbaum estimates that renovation talks began in 2006 but were sidelined after the housing market crash and subsequent economic recession beginning in 2008. Still, members of Adas Shalom stayed loyal to the congregation and committed to the project.
“We are not a very wealthy congregation. We’re not a very big congregation,” Tannenbaum said. “It really did come down to the idea that if we don’t do it, nobody is going to do it.
“It’s not like there are many congregations up here and everyone has a choice. This is our home. If you’re Jewish and live in Harford County, unless you want to drive to Baltimore, this is your congregation,” said Tannenbaum. “We either did it here or we had nothing.”
Ruskin has never been local to her Havre de Grace synagogue. For her first eight-plus years as the congregation’s rabbi, she and her husband lived in Pikesville. For the past year and a half, they’ve lived in Philadelphia.
“This is a whole different experience,” said Ruskin. There’s a tremendous sense of community. This is our Jewish community. It’s a bright congregation of people,” she said. “This is the end of my career, and it’s such an incredible challenge to be here. “
On the evening of the rededication, the congregation lit its tall, blue and white outdoor menorah, which can be seen coming from either direction on Earlton Road, just off on I-95. But Ruskin said this proud and outspoken display of tradition was not always welcome in Harford County. Although she has only been with the congregation since 2008, she said longtime congregants described not being comfortable displaying a menorah on the temple’s premises for many years.
As a rabbi for a small congregation that represents a small Jewish population in Harford County, Ruskin believes she’s had opportunities with Adas Shalom that she didn’t when working in the pulpits in more highly concentrated Jewish populations like Pikesville.
“When I lived in Baltimore County, I never met the sheriff or the county executive. I have here,” she said. “We need them to know we’re here.”