Beit Tikvah faces uncertain future

First Christian Church in Roland Park is the home of Beit Tikvah congregation. (Staff photo by Elizabeth Eck / September 24, 2012)

Beit Tikvah Congregation is at a crossroads, facing the future with dwindling membership and finances.

There are signs of recent growth, however, as congregants prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on Sept. 17, and then Yom Kippur on Sept. 26, with a new, part-time rabbi and a handful of new families.

"Basically, we are very small," said Diane Wacks, president of Beit Tikvah's board of directors.

The congregation, founded in 1985, has worshiped at First Christian Church of Roland Park since 1987. It is one of only two synagogues in north Baltimore, and the only Reconstructionist synagogue in the city, espousing a more modern and progressive Judaism.

Beit Tikvah also runs Kesher Sunday School, which is based at the Waldorf School of Baltimore and has 40 students, according to the congregation web site, http://www.beittikvah.org.

Membership at Beit Tikvah, whose name means "house of hope," has fallen from a high of 110 families to 58.

Former longtime Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton has left and now runs an interfaith counseling service.

"It was her decision to leave," Wacks said. "I believe she realized that we would not be able to continue her contract at the money we were paying her without going broke."

Beit Tikvah has named Bolton rabbi emeritus.

Uncertain fate

The congregation has talked about disbanding.

"We've had discussions about where we will end up in a year. If you had asked me in April, I would have said that's where we would end up," Wacks said.

Recent months have brought new hope. The new rabbi — "our very part-time rabbi," Wacks said — is Becca Gould, 38, of Silver Spring, who also is part-time director of admissions for a Jewish day school in Pikesville.

"It's very exciting. She's a joy to work with and very accomplished," Wacks said.

Since Gould started in April as the interim rabbi, the congregation has added eight families.

"We're growing," Wacks said.

Gould, a native of the Baltimore area, with family in Pikesville, said she has come "full circle," and wants to serve where she is needed in Baltimore.

"For me, it's just an opportunity to be of service, to make a difference and turn things around," she said.

Drawing in people

Gould is helping to grow Beit Tikvah by fostering a spirit of inclusion and tolerance.