Winands Road Synagogue Set to Close

Winands Road Synagogue Center (Mathew Klickstein)

“As with all good things in life, nothing of value can or should remain stagnant, including institutions” began the statement emailed from the desk of Rabbi Sholom Salfer to his congregants at Winands Road Synagogue Center — Randallstown’s last operating synagogue — on Thursday, Nov. 17.

With an original charter that dates back to 1895, when it was still located in East Baltimore, and after 50 years at its current Randallstown location — once a stronghold of the Baltimore Jewish community — Winands Road will officially close its doors on an unspecified date in mid-2017.

“It obviously was not an easy decision, but we no longer have a nucleus of members to support financially or otherwise the operations of a synagogue,” Winands Road vice president and treasurer Morris A. Wise said.

The 74-year-old retired Pikesville resident has held his positions at Winands Road for more than 15 years and has been a dedicated member for 43. Wise believes the closure will likely occur shortly after Shavuot, which this year falls on Wednesday, May 31.

Detailing that Winands Road’s membership has fallen to “just over 100, down from close to 200 members four or five years ago,” Wise suggested that a primary reason for the dwindling numbers has been the challenge of replacing older congregants who have left or passed away with a new generation.

“As the Jewish population in Randallstown moved away, it was not replaced by younger people,” Morris said. “At one point, we had a very thriving preschool, a very thriving  Hebrew school, [but] those things have been gone for probably 30 years.”

Having been so active at the congregation for the better part of Winands’ five decades in Randallstown, Wise has witnessed what were once younger congregants become older and emigrate to neighboring communities such as Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown (or away from the Baltimore area altogether).

Once there, the erstwhile Winands Road congregants set up roots for their growing families and unsurprisingly established themselves at other shuls.

“Even at this point in time with our membership,” Morris continued, “there is only approximately one in five who live in the Randallstown ZIP code.”

The synagogue, residing at 8701 Winands Road, has been a kind of bricolage of other former congregations, notably Beth Yehuda and Beth Jacob Anshe Kurland, with Salfer  as its spiritual leader since Sept. 1976.

“My personal feeling is that no one would have believed we could survive this long,” Morris said of the “very family-oriented, tightknit group” whose shul has been kept alive by “the dedication of the people who  attend morning and evening minyans and the dedication of the rabbi.”

“We have indeed become family,” continued Salfer in his email statement to his congregants, “and our spiritual and familial relationships will never be broken.”

The rabbi added that the board of directors, whose voice he represented in the  issuing of his message, will “lend our support to other worthy institutions who continue to grow and bring new vitality to the wider Jewish community.”

Wise affirmed that there are currently “no specific plans at the previous time” to reopen elsewhere, concluding, “I don’t believe that’s in the cards.”

When asked where he believes his fellow congregants will go from here, Wise was similarly uncertain.

“I think it will be up to individual choice,” he said. “A few people will go here, and a few people will go there. I think many people will follow where their children have already gone.”


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