Good from the first drop at B’nai Israel

Drinking water is flowing again at B’nai Israel Congregation

Gathering around the water fountain are, from left, Cantor Josh Perlman, Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz and Cantor Sarah Bolts. Photo by Avery Sudow

Water is flowing freely again at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville after the installation last week of four new drinking fountains.

The ADA-compliant design also lets users fill their water bottles hands free.

“We are very excited to finally have our new water fountains with water bottle fillers!” the synagogue announced on Instagram.

Like most congregations, B’nai Israel closed its building at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Not only did the last ones out turn off the lights, they shut off the water as well.

Even when people returned, they weren’t interested in drinking from a water fountain, said Hal Ossman, the synagogue’s executive director.

The Centers for Disease Control had concluded that COVID-19 didn’t spread through drinking water, according to an August 2020 article by the Associated Press. But the CDC advised that the virus may linger on surfaces, so fountains should be avoided,

Later In the pandemic, the guidance was changed to: Wash your hands after using a drinking fountain and don’t touch the surface with your mouth.

But when B’nai Israel began missing their drinking water in 2022, it was too late.

“We decided to turn them on and our water fountains broke,” Ossman said. “Being off made them inoperable.”

The water fountains were just old. Ossman said he didn’t know how old — maybe 30 years or more.

So Ossman and the synagogue’s facilities manager got some brochures and went fountain shopping. “There are lots of options out there,” Ossman said.

They placed the orders and the waiting began. Three long, thirsty months before the drinking fountains arrived.

The first to try them out were Hebrew School staffers who filled their water bottles.

Hydrated once again, B’nai Israel congregants can be thankful. Not surprisingly, Judaism provides a blessing for any synagogue with sparkling new drinking fountains.

“Perhaps the most appropriate blessing to welcome the new water fountains to our building is HaTov v’Hameitiv, which is similar to the more well-known Shehecheyanu, but more appropriate when the benefit will be enjoyed by many and not just one individual,” Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz wrote in an email.

“Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, HaTov v’Hameitiv.”

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe, who is good and bestows good.”

The result is a celebration of Judaism one drop at a time. ■

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