COLUMBIA — Like many Columbia Jews, Laura Cohn celebrated her bat mitzvah at the Hillel House at MU. However, her younger brother, Eli, is expected to celebrate his coming of age at Congregation Beth Shalom’s new synagogue on Green Meadows Road.
“It’s going to be really nice to have his bar mitzvah in the place where we regularly hold service,” said the children’s mother, Leah Cohn. “For my daughter, it wasn’t an option. We didn’t have any room. It’s the difference between doing something in your home and a hotel, your space and borrowed space.”
Congregation Beth Shalom will celebrate the opening of the new synagogue at noon Sunday. The occasion will mark the end of the congregation’s long-time reliance on churches and the Hillel House to accommodate special celebrations and services on the High Holy Days.
The synagogue, at 500 Green Meadows Road, sits on land purchased by the congregation four years ago. An old farm house on the same land was converted into a school and temporary sanctuary until the synagogue could be built. The converted farmhouse is only big enough to hold about 50 people for services — the amount who normally come to weekly services on Friday and Saturday. Rabbi Yossi Feintuch, rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, said the new building will have a capacity of about 200.
The new building will provide more space for services and for religious classes, which are considered an essential part of the faith.
“Building schools in Judaism, they come before anything else,” Feintuch said.
The newly built synagogue has spaces both for congregational worship and for religious classes; the converted farmhouse will also still provide rooms for classes as well as office spaces.
Eve Silver, who is in her fourth year of teaching Jewish studies and Hebrew as well as tutoring for bar and bat mitzvah candidates, said the additional school space is an important supplement to the Jewish education children receive at home.
“Columbia has a small Jewish community, although it is strong, and having the school available provides the students with a Jewish identity resource they don’t have outside their homes,” Silver said.
Judith Goodman doesn’t regularly attend services except on the High Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. But Goodman, who grew up in a large Jewish community in Baltimore, said the new synagogue is important to her.
“I need the temple, the Jewish community, to create a connection with my Jewish faith,” said Goodman, who is chairman of the religious school at Beth Shalom. “Having come from a Jewish heritage and being aware it’s a fragile culture and small in number, you have to make sure the Jewish history is passed on. It’s honoring my relatives.”
The official opening of the synagogue comes at a time of growth for the Columbia congregation. Over the past 10 years Beth Shalom’s membership has gone from 130 to 170 families, Cohn said, although many members do not attend services regularly.
“Usually, you have a large number of Jews who don’t practice and still call themselves Jews, and I guess this reality pertains to Columbia,” Feintuch said.
Feintuch isn’t sure the new synagogue will increase attendance, but Cohn is hopeful that it will inspire people to get more involved with the congregation and help to build a stronger Jewish identity in Columbia. She hopes that the larger space will encourage more Jews to come together for worship and fellowship activities.
“Being in the same place is going to give people the opportunity to get to know each other,” she said. “And as you get to know these people it increases your own participation.”