Over 50 years ago, seven Reform Jewish families wanted to have a place of worship in northwest Montgomery County. Within a month, Temple Beth Ami held its first Shabbat service at Ritchie Park Elementary School in Rockville.
“Back then it wasn’t as developed out here as it is now,” said Adele Narva, a founding member.
Nearly every congregant pitched in to help their new synagogue. From developing the curriculum for their children’s religious school to choosing the name. (“There was just something that resonated with us about ‘house of my people,’ Beth Ami, so that’s what we decided,” founding member Gail Roe recalled.)
For many of them, the work was worth it.
Many of the current clergy, staff and members still look back on those beginnings. “We’re here only because of the people who have built the synagogue,” said Senior Rabbi Gary Pokras, who came to the temple in 2016. “They were wise and wonderful with the choices they made. To start with a handful of people and turn that into a vibrant synagogue is really amazing.”
The synagogue has been celebrating its Jubilee year. Last November, they travelled back to Ritchie Elementary. The celebration continued during Purim with the jungle-themed “Purim Palooza.” And on April 30, Temple Beth Ami will hold a gala.
“In recognition of our 50th we wanted it to be bigger than ever, but also because we haven’t been together in two years we wanted to go all out,” said Executive Director Debbie Ezrin.
Ezrin has served in her position since 2019, but has been a member of the congregation for years. She credited the closeness she feels to the community as her motivation for taking the position.
“When my predecessor announced her retirement, I wanted the job desperately because the congregation gave so much to me, to my husband and to my children in ways that when we joined I never expected.”
She also added, “I thought that this is an opportunity to use my professional skills to give back to the congregation and help other families experience what mine did.”
Even some of the newest members of the synagogue are getting in on the celebration. Jordan Feinstein joined the synagogue with his wife and children at the start of the pandemic.
He said that although they weren’t able to attend services in person, the clergy were still welcoming and even reached out to them shortly after they joined to make a personal connection.
“It was phenomenal. The clergy were so engaged and invested, even though they didn’t have anyone physically in front of them,” he said, describing the virtual services.
Feinstein said the transition from virtual to in person has been organic. Recently he participated in the synagogue’s Purim shpiel where he bonded with a co-actor.
“I made a very good friend in my counterpart and we just played off each other. We didn’t even know each other beforehand, but we’ve been able to create this very easy friendship,” he said.
Pokras said they will continue to bring meaningful Jewish living and education into the community in innovative ways.
“It feels almost like with this happening right as the pandemic is starting to ebb that we’re looking at a whole new future and a whole new century,” Pokras said. “It’s very exciting.”