Beth Am Synagogue in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of West Baltimore launched a Gofundme campaign on May 14 to raise $5,000 from non-synagogue members to help construct an 8,700 square foot addition to the nearly century-old structure.
The addition and various renovations will include a new entrance lobby, a library/conference room, a brand new kosher kitchen, new gender neutral restrooms and the removal of several closets and offices in order to increase the size of the current multi-purpose room on the synagogue’s lower floor.
The renovations are meant to modernize the building, attract new community uses and help the synagogue better accommodate existing services such as being a polling place and hosting the youth group Olam Ubuntu, a program that brings Jewish and African-American adolescents together.
Over the course of several years, The Campaign for Beth Am, the synagogue’s capital campaign, has raised close to $11 million almost exclusively from members of the congregation. About a year-and-a-half ago, they opened up donation opportunities to the public.
“We’ve found that there are people interested in the project who don’t have a direct benefit from the project,” said Rabbi Daniel Burg, citing donations the congregation has received from his old high school friends from suburban Illinois.
“The Gofundme was created to give other people beyond the membership of the congregation the opportunity to participate.”
Although the vast majority of the funds to renovate and expand the synagogue have come from congregation members, Burg says that the whole renovation project is meant as much for synagogue members as it is for members of the neighborhood.
In a post from Burg’s blog, “The Urban Rabbi,” he describes “the new Jewish neighborhood” as “one measured by Jewish values lived, where the Jews of that neighborhood are concerned with the hows and whys of Jewish living” as opposed to simply measuring a community’s Jewishness by the quantity of Jewish citizens and institutions in the neighborhood.
“Beth Am really strives to be a different sort of 21st century synagogue, we’re not looking to replicate Jewish institutional life of the past,” he said. “We’re looking to use our historic building as a portal to do the work of social justice and to serve as an effective anchor institution in Central West Baltimore and in our majority black neighborhood.”