Our Building: A History

Temple Shalom’s physical home serves the full extent of our Reform traditions as a Bet Hatfillah (House of Prayer), Bet Hamidrash (House of Study), and Bet Haknesset (House of Gathering).

In the Beginning ...

Temple Shalom was founded in 1959 when 39 families left the only other Reform synagogue in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. to form a new congregation that would better meet their spiritual needs. The first organizational meeting was held in late May 1959 at the recently torn down Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission building in downtown Silver Spring. Subsequent organizing meetings were held at various buildings and homes around Silver Spring. The hunt for a physical home began with Friday night services and Sunday school classes at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School, located across from where Temple Shalom now stands. (That school building was torn down in recent years and rebuilt.) Administrative offices began in what eventually became the Bethesda firehouse at Wisconsin and Bradley in Bethesda. (Rodent control at “Temple Center” became a major undertaking by our Founders!) We soon moved our Shabbat services school from the Elementary School to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church that remains directly across from Temple Shalom today. We remained at St. Paul’s from 1959 to 1965 as our own building was completed. We have maintained a friendly and sacred relationship with St. Paul’s for decades to follow. 

Although our Founders identified temporary space for the new congregation, they also knew that the congregation would not be a viable entity very long without a building of its own to serve as a focal point for the many activities that take place in a modern synagogue. Accordingly, they called a special meeting of the congregation in March, 1960 to launch a program to fund and build a physical home for a ceiling of 350 member families. With slogans “Don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels good,” and “This is giving to an addition to your home, because this is your home,” then-President Oscar Felker and Jerome Reiter spearheaded a capital campaign—visiting many members in their homes seeking minimum pledges of $500.00 to be paid over 50-months. ($500 is worth $4,856.49 in 2022). By September, 75% of families had pledged more than $50,000 and Sisterhood pledged an additional $10,000 for the kitchen in the future building. 

Construction began four years later Stanley Nehmer intensified the fundraising effort. Members called on other members. Even the children of the religious school participated, with the students’ Keren Ami Council pledging $1,000 toward the purchase of glass bricks in the sanctuary walls. (Those bricks were removed during our sanctuary renovation but reappear each High Holy Day as paper weights at the welcome table—to the delight of many current Temple youth!) After the original pledges were fulfilled, they were asked to renew those pledges and most did so. Enough was raised to cover the difference between the construction loan and the total cost of the building.

While funds were being raised, a separate committee that included our last surviving Founder (Jean Beeman) was formed to look for a spot. The committee considered a number of factors, including the effect of the future Beltway and the probably future movement of the area’s Jewish population. After plotting the homes of all Temple Shalom members, the community focused on a centrally located area. The then-vacant three-acre tract at Grubb Road and East-West Highway on which the Temple now stands was considered the best of the purchasable options (after failing to obtain a donation of land). After protracted negotiations with an owner who was hesitant to sell, the terms were a relatively high price of $20,000 per acre, to be paid in cash only—ultimately purchased for $57,500 in lieu of the owner paving the parking lot. After the congregation meeting approved the purchase, President Felker then rushed to the main post office in Washington to make the down payment on the property out of his own pocket, before the postmark deadline set by the owner. The temple took title on December 20, 1961, with the cash being acquired from donations to the Sanctuary Fund, plus $40,000 provided by member Harry Isard through a personal loan obtained from the Republic Saving and Loan Association.

After interviewing several architects, the Temple selected Milton Grigg, FAIA, of Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Grigg’s original design had two long classroom wings, but was reluctantly reduced by the Board because of its excess cost. The final design, with an estimated cost of $400,000, included combined sanctuary and social hall seating for 1,200, plus 11 classrooms. The Board officially approved this design in June, 1962.

In September, 1964, after the design was put out for bid, Hale Construction Company, a builder willing to work on a cost-plus basis, at a cost not to exceed $375,000. The temple obtained a $400,000 loan, secured by the land, from Perpetual Building Association at 6% interest, along with several other loans. 

Groundbreaking for the new building took place on Sunday morning, October 4, 1964, two days after installation of Temple Shalom’s new rabbi, Sanford Jarashow. The children of the religious school marched up the hill from their school and across East-West Highway to the site, led by a Torah Carrier. Over 500 persons attended the event, including more than 250 children. President Abel, founding President Felder, Rabbi Jarashow, and Irving Feinberg, chair of the Building Design Committee, wielded the ceremonial shovels. Sisterhood President Adele Lewis presented President Abel with a $1,500 check as part of Sisterhood’s building pledge, and Rabbi Richard Hirsch, director of the Religious Action Center for UAHC, gave the principal address. The event was chaired by Stanley Nehmer. The groundbreaking was not, however, the first temple proceeding on the site, that honor being taken by the Sukkot service in September, 1961, three years earlier. 

Once the builder had completed the bare structure, many temple members eagerly came forth with their hands, their talents, and their gifts to put the finishing touches on the building and its surroundings. Volunteers of the Brotherhood physically helped finished the details of the interior of the building. The temporary bema area, to be used for services until the permanent bema would be installed, was designed by Eleanor Sirkis, with the Ark built by Joseph Sirkis and a copper-and-glass Ner Tamid designed and constructed by Bruce Feinberg. Steve Handelman designed the plantings in the circle outside the front entry of the building and supervised the first set of plantings. (The Japanese maple tree in the center of the circle was donated two years later by the confirmation class of 1967.) Trees were planted on the front lawn through a generous gift by Irving and Rose Lewis. The foundation plantings around the building included a dwarf pear tree espaliered to resemble a menorah, a gift of Robert and Dora Shosteck, that was planted by the senior youth group. 

The Temple’s occupancy of the building produced an outpouring of 69 new member families in the autumn of 1965. The structure was dedicated at a memorable Temple Dedication Weekend December 3 through 5, 1965, that included a special Shabbat service, a Dedication Ball sponsored by Brotherhood on Saturday evening, featuring a production, “Fiddlin’ Around on our Roof”; religious school and Youth Group ceremonies on Sunday morning; and a program Sunday afternoon that included a message from Vice President Hubert Humphrey. 

One of the unique aspects of our building is that when viewed from above, it is shaped as the Star of David. And our barrel roof reflects the 10 Commandments. 

Changes, Additions, and Redecorations

Over the first decade, many notable features and improvements were made to the building. In 1971, the social hall was refurbished with painting, paneling, and wall hangings, with the physical work done by volunteer congregants. (You can still see the results today.) In May, 1974, the Tree of Life sculpture in the current lobby was designed by member and renown artist Phillip Ratner on commission from Samuel and Sandra Wool. 

Over the next quarter-century of occupancy, artistic, commemorative, and utilitarian features were added to the structure and periodic refurbishments were made. The first major temple beautification program began in 1977. The Board loaned the beautification committee $60,000 via a note guaranteed by a group of temple members, including current member and Honorary Trustee Joan Kalin, and Peter and Yvonne Wagner. Member Stephen Grossman set up a Beautification Fund with the goal of raising $60,000, of which Sisterhood gave $21,000 with the balance raised over the next 2.5 years through a large number of individual donations. The final costs of the work exceeded $61,000 and was completed in August, 1977 with the new bema dedicated at Shabbat services.

Today, we enter our downstairs Chapel and Administrative Wing through a separate entrance from our original upstairs entrance outside the Sanctuary. This wing was added in the mid-1990s following a capital campaign in 1993-1994 that raised almost $900,000 (chaired by Sue and Buddy Weissel under the leadership of President Karen Lowe). At the time, Temple Shalom had outgrown its space with Religious School split into three sessions on Sundays, and Hebrew School split between two weekdays. Temple Shalom opened satellite schools in some communities where members lived. The building also lacked space for a full-time executive director. The Temple commissioned a study by President Barry Raff and Dr. Jack Lowe to assess if the Temple should relocate. The “Far Flung Congregation” survey showed that our congregation was centered around Silver Spring and Takoma Park, confirming that our location was right but we need to expand our space. Architect and member Alan Meyers–partnering with Roberta Rosenbaum and Shefanie Green of BIDA (also members)–-designed a new wing to move our administrative and senior rabbi offices from what is now the school office area to give the school more space, and to add our Chapel. The General contractor was The Korth Company, which was supervised by members Ray Weisman and Carl Tretter who were on-site every day during construction. As part of this renovation, a new HVAC system was installed in the lower level, electrical systems were updated, and a new phone system installed throughout the building. The work emphasized accessibility by including what is currently our long ramp to the lower level, which included heating to allow for access through snow and ice. In addition, at the same time, the library was moved to its current location, the old library became what is now the parent’s lounge, and the Social Hall was updated with new sound proofing and washable wall coverings, new wood trim, and a new stage curtain. In addition, the bathrooms outside the sanctuary were made accessible to people with disabilities. 

When Steve Eisen became president in 2002, the sanctuary required going down two steps which made it inaccessible to people with disabilities. The bema was then a step up and another 3 steps up to reach a small platform to stand in front of the Ark. The wall in the back of the room was made of brick with some glass bricks (discussed above) interspersed as decoration. The result was a dark, inaccessible room. Steve envisioned a new sacred space filled with natural light that would meet the needs of all members and visitors. 

In 2003 Temple Shalom embarked on a Capital Campaign to renovate the Sanctuary and to establish an Endowment that would support Temple Shalom into the future. Steve was joined by Betsy Kingery as the co-chairs of the project. The goal of the Capital Campaign was to raise between $800,000 and $1,200,000 which would be divided between the sanctuary renovations and the Endowment. That effort was completed in September of 2003.

Marilyn Ripin chaired the Sanctuary Renovation Committee. Several architects were invited to make presentations to the committee and congregation and Temple Shalom selected Swartz and Peoples to design the new sanctuary. The General Contractor was American Property Construction (APC) led by Allan Sherman. Actual work began in the summer of 2004 with the understanding that it would be completed in time for the High Holy Days. However, work was still in progress at Rosh Hashana (a temporary wooden floor was in place) but was completed for Yom Kippur. Please read more about the Sanctuary’s multiple design elements and the symbolism of the windows, ark door, orientation of the design, and meaning of circles: Temple Shalom's Sanctuary and Prayer Space. As part of the deconstruction of the sanctuary, APC uncovered a major structural beam that was cracked and needed replacing. Replacing the beam increased the projected cost from approximately $500,000 to a final cost of around $750,000.

The Temple’s Capital and House & Grounds Committees are continually working on improvements to our physical home. In recent years, a big focus has been on our environmental footprint with the use of LED light bulbs, use of permeable pavers and addition of rain gardens, and replacement of the original HVAC system. After replacing our roof several years ago, we are excited that solar panels will soon be added both on that roof and in canopies in our parking lots!

What’s Next. . . . Temple Shalom 2.0

With a pledge of a substantial gift by the Wagner-Braunsberg Family Foundation in honor of Yvonne and Peter Wagner, Temple Shalom is excited to be embarking on the next stage of our physical Jewish home with the goal of transforming our current space into a Temple Shalom 2.0. Our vision includes creating an integrated, accessible, modern, and inspiring Jewish spiritual home that will match the passion and love that abounds in our community. Look for more information soon on how you will be able to get involved and support this effort. We hope that the generosity of time, energy, and resources of our founders will inspire all to join this effort.


SOURCE: This history borrows heavily from Temple Shalom: The First Thirty Years, by Joseph H. Caro (1990), and the more recent historical work of Karen Lowe and Marilyn Ripin.

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