Standing on a patio behind Bolton Street Synagogue, facing 50 picnicking congregants and green parkland beyond, Rabbi John Franken said, "Transitions are never easy … but also inevitable."
Franken was delivering the Friday night service in a rare setting, outside instead of inside the synagogue.
"Shabbat in the Meadow" - a first for Bolton Street - was Franken's informal introduction as the interim rabbi of the synagogue at 212 W. Cold Spring Lane.
His predecessor, Rabbi Jonathan Panitz, resigned last month after six years, in what the Bolton Street board of directors called "a mutual decision."
Panitz, 66, belonged to the conservative branch of Judaism. Since June 2006, he had led an unaffiliated synagogue with a mix of reform and conservative Jews. Bolton Street, which is named for its original location, moved to the Keswick-Roland Park area in 2004. It is the only synagogue in north Baltimore with its own house of worship.
Franken, 43, a Reform Jew and former lawyer in the Baltimore-Washington area, came from a synagogue in Connecticut. Now living in Roland Park, he will be the rabbi for one year, while the board searches for a permanent successor.
Franken comes at a time when the 200-member congregation and its school are losing members and students.
"The lower grades of the religious school are getting smaller and smaller," said Jeff Raymond, of Guilford, who serves as the synagogue's public relations man.
He also comes at a sensitive time for a congregation divided between Reform and Conservative Jews and still struggling with the departure of Panitz.
"You get used to one rabbi and what he said, and then somebody else comes along and you really do not want to pour out your heart," said Timonium resident Susan Allen, a member for more than seven years.
But congregants warmed up to Franken at a picnic before the service. Some brought picnic baskets from home. Others brought carryout Chinese food and still others, including Franken, bought sandwiches from a nearby Royal Farms store.
After the picnic, congregants participated in a music-filled Shabbat service, with Cantor Alan Rubinstein, of Columbia, playing guitar and an electric piano.
Franken made sure to address what was most on the minds of congregants.
"Transitions can be managed," he said, "and a source of blessing."
He added, "When well-managed they can bring peace and prosperity."
And he said, "Let us all look forward to a wonderful year of growing … and flourishing."