50 years ago, Beth Shalom Congregation in Howard County left psychedelia behind


In the late 1960s, Howard County had a single, unified and fairly small Jewish community that did everything together, including High Holidays. That ended after Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur 1969, when someone played as part of the service a song by the psychedelic rock band The Electric Prunes, whose recent album, “Release of an Oath,” was centered on Kol Nidre.

That’s when the story of Beth Shalom Congregation began, according to Rabbi Susan Grossman. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

During the most recent High Holidays, the Conservative congregation began celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Electric Prunes incident led to a group establishing a more traditional, Conservative synagogue in Columbia. The breakup from the original unified community also led to the creation of the Reform-affiliated Temple Isaiah, as well as Columbia Jewish Congregation, which today identifies as Reconstructionist, Grossman said.


“At the time,” Grossman said, “you could not build a freestanding house of worship in Columbia proper.”

When Columbia, a planned community, was created, its founder, James Rouse, “established a rule that there would be interfaith centers in every village center.” These centers were intended to be shared by all different religions, including Jews. Beth Shalom’s current building, which opened in 1996, is outside of Columbia.

When the Beth Shalom building opened, Grossman explained, critics called it “the death of the interfaith center.” According to Grossman, though, the new building actually led to increased interfaith cooperation, particularly with the synagogue and Locust United Methodist Church.

Courtesy of Hope Corrigan

Among the anniversary activities is a quilting project.

Board members Sherri Kersey and Janet Laufer came up with the idea, according to Hope Corrigan, a 25-year member of Beth Shalom. The two approached Corrigan, as well as Mary Anne Newkirk, to join the project because of their crafting skills.

The four provided congregants with kits they could use to create individual cross-stitch blocks of the quilt. The kits included the necessary materials as well as cross-stitch designs created by Corrigan and Newkirk. The individual blocks include Jewish symbols like the Star of David, challah and a Torah scroll. They will be sewn into a single quilt to be hung in the sanctuary.

A number of stitch-along meetings are planned. The individual blocks are due at the beginning of March. Corrigan hopes to complete the quilt by the end of April.

The 30 cross-stitch volunteers are multigenerational.

“We have a mom, a daughter and an aunt,” Corrigan said. “We have all ages participating, from college up to 40-year members participating, so it’s so exciting that we got so much participation.”

No word whether the Electric Prunes will be playing as background music.

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