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Our Story

The story of Har Sinai – Oheb Shalom Congregation is steeped in tradition, but it’s also about transformation, strength, and partnership. 

Though our stories began independent from one another, it was our mutual admiration and shared beliefs that brought us together. Our two congregations had a long history of cooperation, holding joint services in the summer for many years and collaborating on various programs and events. Yet despite our storied congregations’ rich histories we faced existential challenges. Ultimately, we realized that our complementary strengths, could create a new, vibrant and exciting congregation. On September 18, 2019, we merged.

It was a far journey from where we began, but one we know our founders would approve of. 

Har Sinai Congregation was established in 1842—as the first continuously Reform congregation in the United States. The founders chose to leave the then-orthodox Baltimore Hebrew Congregation to implement changes in religious practices that had taken root in Germany in the early 1800s as the Reform movement. The seventeen families were seen as reformers, liberals and innovators. Har Sinai’s first rabbi—David Einhorn—was brought to Har Sinai in 1855 from Bavaria at the height of his power as a preacher, thinker and writer. He created his own siddur, based on Reform Jewish practices in Europe, and it became the basis for The Union Prayerbook, the standard prayer book for the Reform movement for generations. Rabbi Einhorn’s staunch abolitionist views placed him in grave danger. Under dire threat, he was forced to flee Baltimore and settled above the Mason-Dixon line in Pennsylvania.

As interest in reform practices grew, a group of young German Jews was also looking to depart the larger Orthodox congregation, which led to tremendous acrimony. Wanting simply to have their own place to pray, they formed Temple Oheb Shalom, meaning Lovers of Peace, in 1853. At the time it was considered a “less liberal” departure from traditional Jewish practice than Har Sinai.

Oheb Shalom’s first spiritual leader, Rabbi Benjamin Szold, developed a prayer book which also became a staple among many Reform congregations across the United States. In addition, his daughter, Henrietta Szold, founded Hadassah in 1912—a volunteer women’s organization—still one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world. To this day, the Hadassah Medical Center is a leading research hospital in Jerusalem. 

As the Baltimore Jewish community migrated north and west from its origins downtown, many temples including our own relocated several times. Oheb Shalom ultimately settled on Park Heights Avenue in northwest Baltimore and Har Sinai Congregation further north in Owings Mills. There Har Sinai established a new facility in 2001 and stayed until our merger in 2019. 

After eighteen years, their campus needed a proper farewell and the Har Sinai congregation did just that, marching eight miles from their building on Walnut Avenue in Owings Mills to the Oheb Shalom building on Park Heights with a Torah being passed amongst the congregants. As they arrived, they were greeted outside by a large group of their new co-congregants who met them in song. The Torah was brought inside the main sanctuary and added to the ark. A ketubah—a Jewish wedding contract—was signed as a symbol of the new merger and a historic mezuzah from Har Sinai was nailed to the doorpost.

Since that historic day when our stories became permanently interlaced, we have been listening and engaging with our members to use this exciting opportunity to create a new mission and vision that are now the guiding principles for our congregation.

And because both congregations came into the “marriage” with interim clergy, we were able—together—to hire a brand new clergy team to lead this next chapter. Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, PhD, a highly regarded rabbi and scholar, and Cantor Alexandra S. Fox, a multitalented musician, will assume the pulpit on July 1, 2021.

This short video highlights Har Sinai - Oheb Shalom Congregation's coming together on November 24, 2019.

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784