For the past 175 years, Owings Mills’ Har Sinai Congregation has held a special place in the history of the Reform community.
On May 11, the temple – the nation’s oldest continuously Reform congregation — will cap off a yearlong anniversary celebration with a special Shabbat service officiated by the synagogue’s Rabbi Linda Joseph, Rabbi Emeritus Floyd L. Herman and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
“It’s inspiring for me to be visiting this congregation,” says Rabbi Jacobs. “Anyone who has studied Reform Judaism has studied Har Sinai. I’m excited to celebrate the past and see where the congregation is today.
“But even more then the past and present, I’m looking forward to hearing about the future,” he says.
Among the events over the past year celebrating the milestone was an anniversary dinner last November recognizing four congregants for their longtime support — Rabbi Herman; Dr. Jay A. Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore; and Dr. David and Nancy Posner, supporters of the Posner Judaic Education Magnet at Har Sinai.
Founded as the Har Sinai Verein (Society) in 1842 by 17 young men of German Jewish origins and chartered the following year, Har Sinai held its first services at Union Hall in East Baltimore. The first regular religious services were held in the S. Exeter Street residence of department store owner Moses Hutzler.
Har Sinai’s first temple was located on N. High Street and later on W. Lexington Street, and the congregation’s first spiritual leader was Rabbi David Einhorn. Famously, Rabbi Einhorn was run out of Baltimore at the start of the Civil War for his publicly stated anti-slavery sentiments.
From 1894 to 1959, Har Sinai was located at Bolton and Wilson streets before moving to its iconic domed building in the Upper Park Heights community. The congregation has been located in Owings Mills, at 2905 Walnut Ave., since 2002.
Last fall, the leaderships of Har Sinai and Temple Oheb Shalom announced they were exploring the idea of a merger.
Har Sinai currently has a membership of approximately 300 families and individuals. The temple has been affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism since that organization was founded in 1873.
“The congregation began its life as a URJ congregation and is the longest continuing congregation to be a part of the URJ,” says Rabbi Joseph, who became Har Sinai’s senior spiritual leader in 2016. “Bringing in the president of the URJ to mark this momentous occasion seems fitting. Additionally, the congregation was created for religious purposes, so to end our celebrations with a religious service makes sense.”
Open to the public, the Shabbat celebration service is scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. with the dedication of the congregation’s new Torah cover, which depicts the four buildings occupied by Har Sinai since its inception.
During the service, Rabbi Jacobs will be accompanied by the donor of the Torah cover as well as children from Har Sinai’s religious school.
“Having our kids involved in this service is wonderful because they are the future,” says Rabbi Joseph. “Having the children sing and be part of the service with Rabbi Jacobs and the congregation means we aren’t only honoring our past but also what is to come in the next generation.”
Following the service, attendees are invited to a Shabbat dinner catered by Martin’s West. The dinner costs $17.50 per adult and is free for children under 13.
There will also be a variety of activities for children while Rabbi Jacobs discusses Har Sinai’s membership in the URJ in a talk titled, “Reimagining Reform Jewish Life in the 21st Century.”
“This service and dinner will reinforce the significance of our 175th anniversary and our commitment of service to the Reform movement in the Baltimore Jewish community,” says David Carp, co-chair of the 175th celebrations. “Not only has Har Sinai Congregation been involved in the Reform community, it has been involved in the community at large with various social action programs for the betterment of the entire community. Our congregation is proud of our past and excited for our future.”
It’s members like Carp — whose family has belonged at Har Sinai for 45 years — that Rabbi Jacobs is looking forward to interacting with during his visit.
“I want to meet the people who love this congregation and are committed to its success,” Rabbi Jacobs says. “I want to share with them the strength of the Reform movement in North America, Israel and around the world, express how much we appreciate them and how important these congregants are to our movement.”
For information, visit harsinai-md.org.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.