Out and About (Sort of): New Home Filled with Strong Tradition by Howard Freedlander



As you drive south on Easton Parkway (Route 322) toward Trappe and Cambridge, you see a building under construction with a roof that looks like a sail. It catches your eye. For me, it’s a sign of welcome, an architectural effect that has a functional purpose.

Underneath the sail-like feature is a “bimah,” a raised platform that is the center of the new home of Temple B’Nai Israel, containing the synagogue’s Torah. These blessed scrolls, written in Hebrew, comprise the teachings and culture of Judaism. They represent the treasured history and instruction of the Jewish faith. They have an enduring physical and spiritual place in the lives and souls of Jews throughout the world.

The light created by the slanted roof offers a special, spiritual backdrop.

I recently visited the temple, which is to be completed by June 2018. Frank Menditch, who heads the building committee, and Rabbi Peter Hyman, led me through the construction project. The 9,400 square-foot house of worship, known not only as Temple B’Nai Israel but also the Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore, will replace the current synagogue behind University of Maryland Shore Medical Center (Memorial Hospital) in Easton.

Growing from 60 to 130 families during the past nine years, hailing from Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, Temple B’Nai Israel has taken a bold step. It no longer will be obscured by a hospital. It will have a highly visible presence. It will provide a very public symbol of the strength of Judaism in the Mid-Shore area.

Raised as a secular Jew who converted to Episcopalism more than 23 years ago, I remain enthralled by the culture in which I was raised. I am impressed by a group of people who faced persecution and dislocation over thousands of years and persevered. I continue to be overwhelmed and sickened by the 2Oth century horror and death perpetrated during the Holocaust.

Though I hardly know him, I have heard many wonderful stories about Rabbi Hyman and his deep-seated community involvement during the past nine years. He has been the public face of the Jewish community, serving not just as a teacher but as a social conscience in the face of the opioid crisis, divisive polarization in our nation and poverty.

During the tour with Menditch and Hyman of the $6.5 million project, situated on six acres, I could sense their pride and excitement. New construction unleashes these emotions. I also understand that the synagogue represents a welcoming, secure place to worship and share in events both joyous and sad. That’s true of any church and synagogue.

What’s different, I think, is that Temple B’Nai Israel represents a statement, akin to a Shofar, proclaiming a commitment to the community and hope for peace and acceptance.

Come June 8-9, 2018, when this Reform synagogue opens its doors to its congregation; it will celebrate 68 years of history, no longer crammed into a brick temple constructed based upon the same plans as the Methodist church in Oxford, minus the steeple. The design will belong entirely to Temple B’Nai Israel.

The physical future will be reconfigured. The purpose—to provide a comfortable, meaningful worship space—will remain the same.

The teachings, culture, and history embodied in the Torah are everlasting. While the new home for Temple B’nai Israel, the Sarell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore, will not match the synagogue’s Torah in duration, it will have a lasting value for current and future congregations and the community in which it is an important part.

A move for any organization, whether a school, a non-profit, a private company or religious institution, is momentous. Change is exciting, filled with hope and anticipation. It also requires detachment from the familiar.

Temple B’Nai Israel is charting a new course, infused with strong tradition and confidence in the future. Faith in the resilience and sustenance of a new religious home will be a permanent feature.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.


Letters to Editor

  1. Susan Peel says:

    Beautiful update about a very special building growing and developing before our eyes.
    The larger community of Easton is glad to read about this – thank you.

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