For the first time since worship services were held there in September of 1922, the stone, Byzantine-Moorish structure at the corner of Eutaw Place and Chauncey Avenue will not be used as a synagogue.

Starting in January, the home of Beth Am Synagogue will undergo a series of renovations that are expected to be completed by next year’s High Holiday season.

The historic triple-arched building — located at 2501 Eutaw Place in Reservoir Hill and designed by noted local architect Joseph Evans Sperry — served Chizuk Amuno Congregation, now in Stevenson, from 1922 to 1974.

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg: “We view this as a great time to focus on why the synagogue exists.” (Courtesy photo)

“We will be modernizing the building — a lot. It’s very exciting,” said Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, Beth Am’s spiritual leader. Rabbi Burg came to Beth Am, a Conservative congregation of nearly 500 families and individuals, from a Chicago area pulpit in 2010.

On the weekend of Dec. 7-9, Beth Am congregants celebrated the synagogue’s temporary relocation as well as Chanukah and the 44th anniversary of the congregation’s founding.

The renovation project is the result of “Tradition & Transformation: The Campaign for Beth Am,” a major funding initiative that began “in earnest, about six years ago,” said Rabbi Burg.

The campaign, which has already raised over $11 million, includes $5 million to update the building. Some renovations funded by the campaign have already been completed — the congregation recently installed new seat cushions, carpeting and video streaming and recording from the main sanctuary.
But additional capital will be used to add new sound and lighting systems and air conditioning to the sanctuary, new restrooms, a fully renovated kitchen and the creation of a social hall on the building’s lower level that can be used for b’nai mitzvah parties and weddings.

In addition, Rabbi Burg said the project will include the installation of movable partitions and technological advancements in Beth Am’s religious school known as the Jewish Discovery Lab.

Rabbi Burg said the congregation made the decision to relocate during the construction period “because it makes sense practically and financially to leave the premises for a few months.”

But Beth Am and its congregants won’t be traveling too far from their Reservoir Hill base, he said.

“When Beth Am was founded in 1974, the congregation made the choice to retain its roots in the city. It was a rare choice and a values choice,” said the rabbi. “We’re committed to the city and our history. We want to continue to foster the relationships we have built with our neighbors. We want them to know that the renovations will make us a better anchor for the community.”

Another reason for remaining in the neighborhood during the construction project, said Rabbi Burg, is to accommodate Shabbat-observant congregants “who moved to Reservoir Hill so they can walk to shul.”

Through late August of 2019, Beth Am will hold services at the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, at 2812 Reisterstown Road.

“It’s a wonderful congregation across from the Parks & People Foundation,” said Rabbi Burg. “Its mission aligns with our own. They do lots of social justice work to anchor the community, and the church really serves our needs. It’s accessible with an elevator and a social hall where we can hold kiddush luncheons and has accommodations to store our siddurim and sifrei torah.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Rabbi Burg said of the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church leadership. “We are also excited to be in a black church. Worship in America is so segregated … so that’s an added benefit.”

Rabbi Burg also said that for the duration of the construction, Jewish Discovery Lab classes will be held at Bolton Street Synagogue in Roland Park, and Beth Am’s administrative offices will be located at 2701 North Charles St.

“Because Phase I of the building project doesn’t include administrative space, we signed a three-year lease while we come up with solutions for those spaces,” the rabbi said.

Beth Am Synagogue

Built in 1922, Beth Am Synagogue’s historic building formerly served Chizuk Amuno Congregation, located now in Stevenson. (Photo by Joel Nadler)

While a move to three different locations may seem disruptive for a congregation’s operations, Rabbi Burg said it offers an important benefit.

“We view this as a great time to focus on why the synagogue exists,” he said. “Beth Am means ‘house of the people.’ It’s a great opportunity to reengage with our members, to explore different ways to come together and to deepen connections between the people who inhabit the building.

“Even though we have a gorgeous historical building that will be even more gorgeous when we return, the people in the congregation are even more important,” Rabbi Burg said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be in the building.”