On their long and winding path toward merging, Owings Mills’ Har Sinai Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville have cleared yet another hurdle.
On May 14, the boards of trustees of the historic Reform synagogues voted unanimously to approve a Letter of Intent to merge. The letter was signed by Kenneth Bell, president of Har Sinai, and Oheb Shalom President Vicki Spira.
The merger will be formally voted on by members of both congregations no later than Sept. 22, according an email sent out to congregants May 15 by a joint task force of Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom leaders.
“In the coming weeks, we will communicate our progress, as well as opportunities to work together to create a vibrant future for the new congregation,” the letter read.
In a “Town Hall Fact Sheet” issued on April 28, the 14-member task force recommended a merger producing a single congregation of approximately 750 households. The combined congregation would be headquartered at Oheb Shalom’s location at 7310 Park Heights Ave. (The statement did not address the fate of Har Sinai’s property at 2905 Walnut Ave.)
The merged congregation would temporarily be called Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom until a new name could be determined by a congregational vote by the High Holiday season of 2020.
In the email sent to congregants, the task force members wrote, “Both congregations must now undergo a due diligence process to ensure that no major legal or financial barriers exist to merging. Due diligence will begin as soon as possible. After we have completed this process and resolved any issues identified during it, both congregations will vote to formally approve the merger. …
“Meanwhile, as described at the Town Hall meetings, we will begin work to plan a visioning process, form the Transitional Board for the new congregation and begin preliminary integration efforts, most notably to combine religious schools beginning in the fall.”
Co-chairs of the task force included Lisa Budlow and David Sachs of Oheb Shalom, and Mark Dopkin and Barbara Schlaff of Har Sinai. Bell and Spira also served on the task force.
Last March, Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom renewed merger talks in the aftermath of allegations surfacing in May of 2018 against Oheb Shalom’s longtime spiritual leader, Rabbi Steven M. Fink. (On May 3, Rabbi Fink — who was terminated last October — and Oheb Shalom announced they reached a settlement in the matter.)
Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom first announced merger discussions in September of 2017. But Har Sinai announced a “30-day pause” last May after the allegations arose. A couple of weeks later, Har Sinai’s leadership announced that the temple temporarily postponed the merger exploration talks to focus on “managing our own needs at this time.”