At senior living community, Judaica donations enhance sanctuary space

Cantor Nancy Ginsberg in Oak Crest's sanctuary
Cantor Nancy Ginsberg holds a Torah in Oak Crest’s sanctuary. (Dorthea James)

By Lisa Woolfson

When Bonnie Plymack first arrived at Oak Crest about four years ago, the senior living community offered Shabbat dinners but not Shabbat services.

That changed when Cantor Nancy Ginsberg arrived last year.

Ginsberg, manager of pastoral ministries at Oak Crest, has been working to build up the small Jewish community there. She is in charge of all the spiritual aspects of the community and has a team that works with her. She is also in charge of running Jewish services for Shabbat and other holidays.

The addition of Shabbat services is not the only change Ginsberg has made for the Jewish community at Oak Crest. One focus of hers has been to fill the chapel with more Judaica to make it a more welcoming space for Jewish worshippers. That is why she has been seeking out Judaica donations from synagogues and community members.

Ginsberg said the chapel at Oak Crest has brass crosses and a lot of Christian adornments. When she holds services, she has to be mindful of this.

“I have to arrange the chapel to make it warm and welcoming for Jewish residents,” she said. “In our sacristy, I found there was a wooden cross and then a wooden Star of David, so every time I do services, I take out the wooden Star of David and put it on the pulpit, but it’s white so it doesn’t stand out as much as I would like.”

She has already received some Judaica donations. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation has been the primary donor.

Jo Ann Windman, the executive director of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, said she learned about Oak Crest’s need for Judaica items from a Facebook post Ginsberg had written.

“I saw the post, and I went to our clergy, and I asked if we were interested in seeing if we had some extra Judaica items, and the answer was, ‘Of course,’” Windman said.

Baltimore Hebrew ended up donating prayer books to Oak Crest, along with other items.

“They were prayer books that we don’t use anymore because we have [new books] we’re currently using,” Windman explained. “The Judaic items were items that we acquired over the years that we no longer need and we wanted to find a good home for them.

“I’m glad that she reached out and that we were able to help out the Oak Crest community,” Windman added.

The former Temple Emanuel, which closed, donated their brass Shabbat candlesticks to Oak Crest.

And Eric Levinson, a community member that Ginsberg has known for years, donated the ark he built for his son’s bar mitzvah.

“Now I just need a Torah for the ark,” Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg said they already have a nice Torah, but it’s 125 years old and very small, so she is looking for a full-sized one.

She is also looking for a large menorah, pulpit cover, challah plate and knife, kiddish cup and other items that say, “This is a Jewish space,” Ginsberg said.

“When you walk in, you know this is a Jewish service,” she said. “This is what’s going on and you feel comfortable in that space and in that time, and that there are things that are familiar when you went to your synagogue where you used to come from.”

Plymack said the Judaica donations enhance the Shabbat services.

“It’s always nice to go into the chapel and see [the mezuzah that was donated] sitting right there,” she said.

Lisa Woolfson is a freelance writer.

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