The boards of Har Sinai Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom announced on Aug. 26 that they voted unanimously to recommend the merger of their historic Reform synagogues.
The next step in the process will be for members of each temple to vote on their boards’ recommendations at special congregational meetings. The congregations are scheduled to vote on the merger on the morning of Sept. 8.
The boards’ approval came in the wake of a recommendation issued last April by a joint task force to merge Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom.
In a “Town Hall Fact Sheet,” the 14-member task force recommended a merger that would produce a single congregation of approximately 750 households. The combined congregation would be headquartered at Oheb Shalom’s current location at 7310 Park Heights Ave. in Pikesville. (The statement did not address the fate of Har Sinai’s property at 2905 Walnut Ave. in Owings Mills.)
The merged congregation would temporarily use the name Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom until a new name could be agreed upon — with help from the Union of Reform Judaism — by congregational vote by the High Holiday season of 2020.
“As we have seen from communities around the country, evolving congregational trends are all around us,” read a letter from the boards following their approval of the merger. “We must change too, as the model that has sustained us and so many other congregations is rapidly becoming more difficult to maintain and with change, comes many exciting new opportunities.”
Last March, Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom renewed merger talks in the aftermath of allegations surfacing against the latter’s longtime spiritual leader, Rabbi Steven M. Fink.
Last October, Rabbi Fink was terminated by Oheb Shalom after accusations surfaced “of an improper incident of a sexual nature that may have occurred a number of years ago involving Rabbi Fink and a then teenager, who was a minor at the time,” according to a statement issued to the temple’s membership by Oheb Shalom’s leadership.
Rabbi Fink vehemently denied the charges throughout the process. In May, he and Oheb Shalom announced they had reached an undisclosed settlement in their acrimonious, year-long dispute.
Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom first announced merger discussions in September of 2017.
Founded in 1842, Har Sinai is the oldest continuously Reform congregation in the nation. The temple moved to its current location from Upper Park Heights in 2002.
Oheb Shalom was founded in 1853. From 1893-1960, Oheb Shalom was located at the historic Eutaw Place Temple in Bolton Hill before moving to its current location. Oheb Shalom’s building was designed by German architect Walter Gropius, founder of the renowned Bauhaus School of art and design.
In 2016, the area’s other major Reform synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation — which is located across the street from Oheb Shalom — absorbed Temple Emanuel, another Reform synagogue, which was founded in 1955.