MoCo synagogues drop combined religious school

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A combined religious school involving three Montgomery County synagogues will shut this spring after one school year.

Conservative synagogues Kol Shalom and Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville and Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg opened the joint B’Yachad Community Religious School last fall.

The congregations’ rabbis described the school as a pilot program. One synagogue decided that it preferred to have its own school again.

At Shaare Torah, incoming Rabbis Annie Lewis and Yosef Goldman learned in conversations with their new congregants that members wanted their own religious school, said Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Kol Shalom.

Lewis said she “did a lot of deep listening to our community.” Members talked about feeling that the community had suffered during the pandemic and thought it best to have its own school, she said. “Everybody is emerging from the pandemic. It’s a challenging moment.”

While a combined school program was not what congregants wanted, Lewis said, “We really hope to continue collaborating.”

Steinlauf said he envisions a future where the smaller synagogues that dot Upper Montgomery County will have their own programs while sharing “a really deep partnership and have a deep and meaningful connection.”

He added, “I think the time is now to look at how we can partner together.”

Steinlauf called the B’Yachad Community Religious School “excellent. But it just became clear that it didn’t fit the model of all the synagogues.”

Rabbi Marc Israel of Tikvat Israel said that all three synagogues “are grateful to have the opportunity to work together,” noting, “We learned a lot by doing this together. I think it was a really good experience for the children.”

When the school was first announced, Lewis had said, “It’s a great opportunity for students to enhance their Jewish experiences by getting to know students from other communities.”

Israel had noted that the three synagogues “share about 95 percent of the same goals.”

Since then, they learned that “the needs of each institution are a little different.”

Israel said he foresees a time when a joint school program is established for students in eighth grade and above.

Classes for the B’Yachad Community Religious School’s 100 students met at Shaare Torah for the first half of the school year and Kol Shalom at the second half. Special events took place at Tikvat Israel. About three quarters of the students belonged to Shaare Torah.

The synagogues hired Rabbi Batya Glazer as director under a one-year contract. Her contract was held by Shaare Torah, with oversight by a committee of the three congregations, each of which were part of the Conservative movement. Each synagogue contributed financially and with personnel.

Lewis praised Glazer: “She did a wonderful job to build this and bring the communities together.”

When asked what she will do next, Glazer, who worked at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington from 2009 to 2018, replied, “Look for a job.”

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