A Volunteer Field Trip – Right Next Door!
A blog post from JMM Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis. To read more posts from Wendy, click here.
One can learn much about a building, but it doesn’t come to life until you have seen it filled with people using it for its intended purpose. On Shabbat, March 3rd, a group of Jewish Museum of Maryland volunteers had that opportunity. At the invitation of Rabbi Etan Mintz, we participated in the morning service and had a delicious lunch at B’nai Israel, one of the two historic synagogues on the Jewish Museum of Maryland Berman campus. We were warmly welcomed by the congregants and the rabbi. All of our male volunteers who were present at the service were given honors during the Torah service and I had the honor of walking with the Torah in my arms in the women’s section.
Instead of a sermon by the rabbi, after services, Fred Shoken, a congregant who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the history of B’nai Israel spoke to the entire congregation using questions we had previously submitted as his general outline. Did you know that when the building was built, Hebrew words were carved in stone above the exterior doorway? It originally identified that the building was the Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the date of the building. When B’nai Israel moved into the building, the original congregation’s name was filled in and recarved with the name of the new congregation. When the exterior was restored in 1987, some of the filling in of the letters was removed, leaving an overlap of both names. In the sanctuary, all the beautiful woodwork is original except for the mechitzah (the fence separating the men from the women) and the railings leading to the ark. Rabbi Mintz showed everyone interesting historic objects from the congregation’s collection including a list of yarhtzits written on parchment.
Typical for synagogues, at the end of the service, the president of the congregation, Shelly Mintz, who is also a JMM volunteer, made announcements. As expected, she included information about upcoming events and services. But her words also expressed how this oldest continuously operating synagogue building in Maryland is still the place of active Jewish involvement.