A Wide Range of Initiatives Finding a Home at Ezras Israel

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Post renovation photo at Ezras Israel. Photo Courtesy.

Ezras Israel is a small synagogue in Rockville, described by its president Mark Lautman as the “the absolute smallest synagogue probably between here [Rockville] and the Mississippi River,” yet it provides a warm atmosphere for a wide range of religious observance levels that creates a close, non-judgmental community.

Despite its small size, with about 30 or 40 member families, Ezras Israel is a vital staple in the community, working on a wide range of initiatives that include inspecting and maintaining the eruv for the Rockville and North Bethesda area, having daily minyanim with a local independent living home for retired community members and recently having renovations done to the synagogue.

“One of the things we take leadership on is the eruv. There’s something called the Rockville-North Bethesda eruv. And our rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Kreiser, he supervises it, but us and a group of people from other synagogues go out every other week to check it to make sure that it is still passes inspection,” Lautman said.

The eruv allows for religious Jews in the area to have a lot more freedom and convenience when it comes to carrying on Shabbat, and it encompasses the area of multiple area synagogues, providing a great benefit to the local Jewish community.

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But maintaining the eruv isn’t the full extent of Ezras Israel’s work in the community, as they also hold a daily minyan for people living in an independent living home called Ring House in Rockville.

They run the minyan every Sunday through Friday, and Lautman said that pre-pandemic they had about five or six residents coming every day. While participation has dropped slightly since, they still have several residents who come for at least some of the services and it provides attendees with multiple avenues to get some religious experiences.

“The ones that do show up, they are very appreciative people. And we [also] have people coming in to say Kaddish for their spouses who have passed on,” Lautman said.

The synagogue also recently underwent some minor transformations during a renovation process that began just before the pandemic, allowing them to modernize the building without breaking the bank.

“We just started before COVID, but it was a modest renovation, we just did some floors and redid some kitchen area, but again, nothing outlandish in terms of cost,” Lautman said.
And on top of those measures, the synagogue is looking to expand in the post-COVID landscape, and they’re doing outreach in the form of Rabbi Kreiser and his wife doing Zoom sessions and other educational and religious content.

The outreach is also helped by the atmosphere created by the synagogue, which promotes tolerance and diversity in the way that members practice and experience religion. A lot of that effort is led by Kreiser.

“One thing that I’ve noticed [from 15 years of membership] is that the rabbi and a few of the members are definitely on the very observant side but most of us are not. We may do our best, but he and the other observant people — nobody’s judgmental,” Lautman said.

Lautman added that the congregation can have such a welcoming attitude because of the leadership from the rabbi and the tolerance he and other members foster in the community of a wide range of religious observance, which Lautman said does happen sometimes at various synagogues across denominations.

“In here [at Ezras Israel] it’s a pleasure [to be in the atmosphere]. In terms of tolerance, I would say it’s one thing that our place excels at,” Lautman said.

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