“I am truly at a loss for words. I found this profoundly overwhelming,” Rabbi Peter Hyman said about leading the first Friday night service in Temple B’nai Israel’s new building. Eight years in planning, permitting and construction, the congregation had assembled there for the first time recently. The official days of dedication will occur on June 8, 9 and 10.
“This new building was done for us, but it was also done for our children, to continue the legacy we inherited,” said Rabbi Peter. And it was done with the help of the greater community. “It was really important to have the embrace of the greater community. That was a real gift. The embrace by the wider community brings tears to my eyes.”
Temple B’nai Israel, The Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore, is a growing Reform congregation with 220 members located in Easton. The building is almost 9,500 square feet and is located on six acres of land located at 7199 Tristan Drive. The congregation raised $6 million, sufficient funds to pay for the land, the building and an endowment.
Temple President, Arna Meyer Mickelson, said, “The new synagogue is an effort of this congregation to create a building that is as useful as it is beautiful for our own needs and for the needs of the community.”
The sanctuary will hold 150 people seated. It has been designed with multi-use rooms for concerts, lectures and films to be attended by members of the congregation and community. The sanctuary, community halls and outdoors spaces at Temple B’nai Israel can appear non-sectarian and are available for rental. These spaces can be used for worship, marriage, other ceremonies and special events. The synagogue has a professional kitchen that can serve 280 people standing, 150 at a seated event and 120 seated with a dance floor.
Members of the congregation include young families with children who attend Hebrew school and confirmation classes; Mid-Shore residents including retirees who live here full time; and second-home couples and families. All categories include interfaith couples.
The continuing embrace by the wider community is exemplified by Kitty Bayh, a student in Rabbi Peter’s Wednesday Torah Class, for more than three years. “The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, from my Episcopal tradition, once said that to listen to the word of God in the Bible we must ‘see the world in front of the text,’ meaning the world in which Scripture was written and our world today.” Kitty continues, “Rabbi Peter’s Torah class moves between the centuries to locate our ancient forbearers and ourselves in the human condition. He is a teacher in the truest sense – he guides, instructs, challenges, and leaves spaces for learning and wisdom to come forth. He challenges me to think for myself how I bridge that gap between myself and God.”
Jeff Barron frequently attended services in the old Temple. “It was nearing the end of the First Shabbat Service in the new building. A beam of light from the setting sun worked its way through the intermittent clouds, through the pergola just outside, then through the glass doors at the left of the sanctuary, and finally onto the Torah cradle at the left of the Ark.”
Jeff adds, “But this ray of sunlight did not stay in one place; as the Ark was opened, it shone brightly, beautifully – almost magically – on the Torah. It was there through the ‘Aleinu,’ and when the recital was over and the ark was closed, the sun moved on, as if on cue. It seemed to be a greeting and portent of good things for Temple B’nai Israel and its new home.”
Arna said, “Thousands of decisions have culminated in beauty, in spirituality, in serenity. I am overwhelmed by the contributions from the team of 10 people working on the campaign and on construction and from the members of the Temple to enable a congregation for the future. I also feel enormous gratitude for the enormous support from the broader community, including the contractors. They felt they were building something special.”
Arna summarizes, “Added to my satisfaction is the Rabbi’s pleasure in seeing the new Temple and actually liking it and understanding what that brings – such a genuine happiness.”
For more information, visit www.bnaiisraeleaston.org or call 410-822-0553.