Har Sinai and Temple Oheb Shalom made it official yesterday, Sept. 8, when the memberships of the two historic Reform congregations voted overwhelmingly in favor of a merger.
In a letter sent to members of both synagogues after the vote, a joint task force referenced a statement written previously by Oheb Shalom Rabbi Emeritus Donald R. Berlin and Rabbi Floyd L. Herman, Har Sinai’s rabbi emeritus: “Continuing change is the constant to which Jews have always responded through our history in order to survive. … And now, it is our turn to build upon our history to create for tomorrow. What an exciting opportunity you have to create a 21st century synagogue for now, a sacred community for the future.”
The letter went on to state, “In the coming weeks we will work together to envision our future, search for our settled Rabbi and create a new Reform Jewish home on Park Heights Avenue that is warm, vibrant and inclusive. Please join us on Sunday, September 22nd at 12:00pm to celebrate this monumental occasion and to launch our visioning process.”
On Aug. 26, the temples’ boards announced that they voted unanimously to recommend the merger. The boards’ approval came in the wake of a recommendation issued last April by the joint task force advocating a merger.
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.”
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.