Baltimore's oldest Reform temples celebrate merger with installations, festival of Jewish thought

Jonathan M. Pitts, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Religious News

“Was it sad to walk out of the old building on Walnut? Of course,” Hoffman says. “But walking along the road you became excited about where you were headed. If you want to get philosophical, the Jewish people have moved all through history, taking their stories with them. It was a monumental experience.”

One change that brought no mixed emotions was the hiring of Sabath, a rabbi who temple leaders say has the kind of charisma, talent and enthusiasm that can inspire long-term success. A scholar of modern Jewish ethics and theology, Sabath earned her doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, was vice president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and taught at Israeli and American campuses of Hebrew Union College.

She has also embraced a goal that the congregation’s president, Dr. David Buchalter, says the search team shared with every candidate: that the new leader would not just build on the past, but inspire a unique future. Sabath’s goals include building community through services and events, inspiring intellectual curiosity, promoting deeper learning about Judaism and Israel, and ensuring that the temple’s scope of interest includes local, regional and global concerns.

The “festival of installation” will include concerts, family services, the installation of Cantor Alexandra S. Fox, and even a pet blessing. It will also feature appearances by two Jewish figures Sabath has gotten to know through her work: Rabbi David Saperstein, the attorney and Jewish leader who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom under former President Barack Obama, and globally known author and human rights activist Natan Sharansky.

Saperstein is to appear three times on the weekend of June 3 — once to address a confirmation class, once to introduce the musical duo Kol B’Seder, and once to deliver an address on social justice. Sharansky, a Ukrainian native, will address the community on “Israel, world Jewry and the war in Ukraine” the following weekend. His talk will be open to the public.


Their appearances will inaugurate a speaker series expected to last at least through the end of the year, much of it focusing on the humane roles Judaism can play on the world stage. It’s all in keeping with the inaugural rabbi’s aspirations.

“The sky is the limit,” Sabath says. “We have an opportunity to become truly the most inspiring, innovative, impactful congregation, not just in the community, but in the country.”

For now, officials who have shepherded the union sound happy simply to have a time, place and occasion to gather in person to worship among old friends and make new ones. Heinl, for one, sees Friday’s event as a major step.

“We’ve worked so hard to merge congregations,” she says. “Everyone is ready to celebrate.”

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