Bet Chaverim’s days of wandering from place to place to hold programs and services have come to an end.
The Howard County synagogue now has a long-term space for members to hang their hats (or kippahs).
“This move will allow us to have all of our events, all of our activities in one location, and we will be able to set the time for the events,” Bet Chaverim President Phil Rogofsky said. “We won’t be at the control or availability of the other spaces.”
Until the fall of 2020, Bet Chaverim normally held their events in one of several different locations, including a Columbia meeting house, a nonprofit consortium, a local church or in congregants’ homes, said Rogofsky. The shul’s religious school classes were held in Oakland Mills High School, while High Holiday services were organized at a DoubleTree hotel. Bet Chaverim had been in this situation since its founding in 2015.
That came to an end in September, when the congregation entered into a five-year lease for a section of a building located on Route 108, Rogofsky said. The facility includes a large room that can function as a sanctuary, a kitchen, other rooms for meetings or classes and a large lobby. The sanctuary can accommodate as many as 75 or 100 worshipers, estimated Rogofsky and Marty Leshin, vice president and founding member of Bet Chaverim.
Prior to Bet Chaverim taking on the lease, part of the space had been used as a church, Rogofsky said, which simplified things as it was already set up to serve a religious organization.
Before Bet Chaverim had their own space, organizing synagogue events could be somewhat challenging, Rogofsky said. It was necessary to check with a location if and when it might be available for that specific event. For religious services, bookings were commonly done six months to a year ahead of time. On some occasions, the date of an event would need to be adjusted due to the availability of a location.
For newer synagogues, this is not an unusual situation to be in, according to Leshin.
“These days, no one builds a full synagogue anymore,” he said.
The new location was selected by a search committee and then approved by the congregation as a whole, Rogofsky said. It was chosen as it “met our needs as best as possible right now, and also within our fiscal reach,” he said.
With 75 family units calling Bet Chaverim home, Rogofsky judged the space adequate for most of the synagogue’s future events, though High Holiday services would continue to be held at the DoubleTree and particularly large b’nai mitzvah might need a larger venue.
Due to COVID-19, the congregation has had limited use of the new facility since the lease began, Rogofsky said. The shul streamed last year’s High Holiday services from the building, along with a few services since then.
So why would Bet Chaverim opt to sign a lease on a physical space in the middle of lockdowns and social distancing? Rogofsky explained that the congregation had been searching for an adequate space for years and was concerned that inaction could result in losing the space.
Some of Bet Chaverim’s property, such as books, tallits and Torahs, have already been moved into the new facility, Rogofsky said. The shul plans to purchase new equipment, such as tables and chairs, in the future.
The synagogue expects to remain in the new space for at least the next five years, Rogofsky said.
At the end of the lease, the shul will decide whether the facility still meets the congregation’s needs or if it is necessary to look for a new space.
“It felt like we had a home, like we were not wandering Jews anymore,” Rogofsky said of acquiring the new space. “It was very reassuring, very comforting and it gives us a sense of security and a sense of a place to belong to.”