Baltimore Synagogues and The Associated Work For Our Jewish Future


Last fall, The Associated convened a synagogue task force to look at ways to leverage the community’s expertise to address the challenges facing Jewish Baltimore.

Beth El Congregation’s Rabbi Steve Schwartz and The Associated’s Chair of the Board, Debs Weinberg, are heading up this effort and we spoke with them about the project.

Why Now?

Rabbi Schwartz: We are very lucky that Baltimore is highly affiliated, and we have an active federation system. And over the years, the synagogues and The Associated have had a longstanding tradition of cooperation. Yet, we understand that if we want to continue to build a strong Jewish community for the next century, we need to address the challenges we are facing together. Instead of being competitive, when we work together, we can get more done.

Debs: We are always stronger as a community when we work together. We face similar issues, so why not join forces. As a convener, The Associated can bring the synagogues together, and we can work on issues that are mutually beneficially to both of us.

What are some of the issues you hope to tackle together?

Rabbi Schwartz: Two areas we have been focusing on are how to address our aging population and how to engage the younger generation.

The younger generation?

Rabbi Schwartz: We are all concerned about our future and that begins with making sure our younger generation – our teens and young adults – are connected to Jewish life. Some stats show that this generation is less likely to affiliate with traditional organizations. This could have huge ramifications for both synagogues and The Associated.

Debs: Starting around their b’nai mitzvahs, we’ve seen many teens begin to check out of Jewish life. That’s why we created 4Front at the JCC, which connects teen to engagement opportunities in the community, from synagogues to The Associated.

Rabbi Schwartz: At the same time, as many of our kids graduate from college, we want them to feel that Baltimore is a great place to live. If we want the Baltimore Jewish community to thrive, we must create an environment that will make them want to come back, certainly immediately after college or when they want to raise a family.

Debs: We need to work together to look at how we can play a role in helping young adults connect to the resources and programs in Baltimore and the Jewish community. We are not sure what that might look like, but we are talking about ways, together, we can address the needs of our younger generation.

How can you pool your resources?

Rabbi Schwartz: Take aging for example. The Associated has a good understanding of the big picture. They know the percentage of adults, 75 years and older, in our community. They understand their overarching needs, such as transportation and housing. And, they provide many services through their agencies like Jewish Community Services and the Weinberg senior facilities.

The synagogues, on the other hand, know the “Joe Greenbergs,” the personal stories of the people, what they are going through and the resources they specifically need. As a result, we sometimes see things differently, through a slightly different lens. Together, we can sit around the table and discuss how we can best address this issue and make sure the “Joe Greenbergs” of the community are living safe, healthy lives.

This isn’t the first time synagogues and The Associated have worked together?

Debs: Over the years, The Associated, through the BJC (Baltimore Jewish Council) has helped raise awareness with the Maryland General Assembly about the needs of the synagogues, helping to secure funding for their security. The Associated’s Director of Security, Keith Tiedemann has been called upon to review security infrastructure and protocol at area synagogues. And, recently, BJC convened a Security Summit and invited synagogue professionals.

In addition, as we look toward the future, we have spoken with synagogues and integrated their suggestions on questions to include on our 2020 community study, which will help set the agenda for our future. The Associated also is developing ways to provide leadership training for all Jewish institutions across the community through The Associated’s new Leadership Center.

How is this task force different from the work in the past?

Rabbi Schwartz: What’s different now is we are being intentional, making sure we sit down around the table on an ongoing basis. Together, we can set the community’s agenda.

Debs: We have a chance to re-imagine Jewish Baltimore together.

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