After long search for new location, Bet Chaverim is finally home

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Bet Chaverim Congregation has moved into a new building, an event they commemorated with a dedication and mezuzah ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 18.

Students planting a tree in honor of the building’s dedication ceremony. (Jillian Diamond)

Founded in 2013, the Conservative synagogue had been holding services, as well as offering religious and educational programming, out of various community centers. In 2019, it was decided that they would start looking for a more permanent residence — a process that was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Obviously, we’re excited to be here,” synagogue vice president Marty Leshin said at the event. “We actually signed the lease here in 2020, but you know what happened in June of 2020. It’s nice that the pandemic has let up enough to let us do this.”

Much of the process of acquiring a new space for the synagogue was done remotely rather than face-to-face, making the process more difficult, but they eventually settled on a facility in an office park on Old Annapolis Road in Columbia.

“We felt that it was necessary that we were ready for a permanent place to be ours, as opposed to being renters,” said Ben Zingman, Bet Chaverim’s communications chair. “So it can be our space that we have a permanent relationship with, rather than one where we pay annual leases.”

Bet Chaverim signed a long-term contract to use their new office space in 2020, but were unable to start using it until the summer of 2021 due to health-related restrictions.

Though they have been operating out of this new building for some time, their dedication ceremony included the installation of a mezuzah in the space — truly marking it as a Jewish home for its members.

Columbia, said Zingman, is built around village centers, each with their own community center where people can congregate, which is why they started out there. Yet they would often have to compete for community center space with other local organizations.

“At some point about five years ago, we decided we wanted something more than a renting relationship,” he recalled. “We wanted a space where we could have Judaica on the walls, where kids in the religious school could put things up on Sunday and see it still there the next week.”

Bet Chaverim’s Hebrew-school program was a major reason for the move since when they started it in 2016, they didn’t have a proper space for schooling. At the time, they were renting the main room in the Hawthorne Community Center. Bet Chaverim is conducting religious school regularly in the new space and currently has 24 students attending their program.

During the building dedication ceremony, students took turns helping plant a tree in front of the new location in order to commemorate it. It was likened by Rabbi Kim Blumenthal to the story in the Midrash of an old man planting a fig tree, despite the fact that he would not live to see its fruits; rather, it was meant for future generations — for his children, grandchildren and the community at large.

Several leaders from the Howard County area also spoke at the dedication ceremony, including Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Howard County Executive Calvin V. Ball III and Joel Frankel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

“Any time a community of faith recommits itself,” said Sarbanes, “it offers the opportunity to give back to the larger community. In fact, it strengthens the whole Howard County community.”

Leshin noted that the event was well-attended, and that he has high hopes for the future of Bet Chaverim.

“I don’t think I’ve seen this many people ever, except during the High Holidays,” he said.

“We’re in a great place now,” he added. “The school is doing very well, and people are now feeling more comfortable attending services. And that’s very exciting.”

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