Kol HaLev hosts Passover seder in its church home

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Traditional rituals of Passover — the stories, the questions, the food — get a modern spin when Rabbi Geoff Basik presides over Kol HaLev's community seder. The second night observance, held this year on April 15, has become a tradition for the Reconstructionist synagogue congregation.

Kol HaLev annually invites members of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church on North Charles Street, where Jewish community is located, to join the celebration. It is one of the ways Kol HaLev seeks to reach out into the broader community.


The community seder, said Rabbi Geoff Basik, a Sudbrook Park resident who founded Kol HaLev in 2007, "is emblematic of who and what Kol HaLev is."

"Judaism is not just for Jews," Basik said. "I want to connect Jews to Judaism and Judaism to the world."


Connecting ancient stories with modern day perspective, Basik said he planned to "follow the order loosely" while emphasizing one aspect of the story. This year's focus was Moses, "as a relatable character," he said. In the 21st century, he explained, there must be emphasis on the power of humans in affecting change and freedom.

The mix of modern and ancient has impressed Bryce Butler, of Mount Washington. "Each year he finds a way to make it very personal," said Butler, who is not Jewish. One year, he said, Basik focused on the role of women by speaking about Miriam's leadership during a celebration after the Jews escaped from Egypt while another year the topic was slavery — in ancient Egypt and in the modern world.

Butler and his wife Mara Neimanis, who is Jewish, attended their first seder at Kol HaLev four years ago and were members by the next Passover.

Bernie and Jane Guyer, founding members of Kol HaLev, appreciate having a community to share seder with now that their grown children live out of town. "It has people who come from all parts of our community," said Bernie Guyer, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident, adding that it fits with the community's welcoming attitude, especially toward interfaith families.

Kol HaLev's spirit of outreach begins at its front door. Far from Baltimore's traditionally Jewish communities, it has attracted Jewish and interfaith families beyond Mount Washington, Pikesville and Owings Mills, according to Lila Shapiro-Cyr, co-president of Kol HaLev and a Mount Washington resident. "We have a lot of Towson, Timonium and Roland Park members," she said.

The community seder is only one way Kol HaLev has shared its traditions with its Presbyterian neighbor, where it has rented space since 2009. An interfaith Thanksgiving service "is the highlight of the year," Basik said. For several years members of the two communities shared a scripture study, including an examination of the Psalms.

"Wonderful," is how Tanya Morrel, an elder at Brown, described those joint studies. She praised the Thanksgiving service — and other ways the two congregations have shared space and time.

"It's definitely added something for me, and I'm sure, for other members," she said. "It definitely adds something to your understanding of the world and each other."


"We'd like to do more of these things," said Morrel, of Roland Park, saying they hoped to plan a picnic for the fall.

"That's something we can grow into," Basik said, noting there has been discussions of a joint committee and future service projects.

Kol HaLev, which means "Voice of the Heart," seeks to bring together Jews, non-Jews and interfaith families searching for answers to life's big questions. "The invitation here is to join the Jewish conversation," he said.

"We're in a moment that's rather expansive in terms of identity," the rabbi said. Basik said there is value in people of different faiths sharing their beliefs, their rituals, their questions. "There's a lot we can learn from each other and from our differences."

Reconstructionist Judaism is an American branch of Judaism, informed by democracy and sociology, according to Basik. "You start with the people," he said. Rather than ask "How Jewish are you?" the community considers "How are you Jewish?" he said.

"If Judaism holds meaning and value to you, that's what's important," Basik said.


"Kol HaLev is fairly untraditional," Shapiro-Cyr said. A mother of two children, ages 9 and 6, she said she values how the community preserves traditional rituals while "thinking and talking about things and how they apply to our lives now."

"It's very community building when you gather around real things," Basik said.

At Brown Memorial, the Torah scrolls are housed in a handmade ark down the hall from the rabbi's simple office. Services move, depending on the attendance, between a parlor, fellowship hall and the chapel.

Cantor George Henschel, a government lawyer who graduated from cantorial school after retirement, became the cantor in time for the High Holy Days in 2008. He offered his expertise when he heard about the new congregation. "I certainly couldn't do it without George," Basik noted.

Currently, the community has 80 families, two services every Sabbath and a Hebrew school.

"We need to grow," Basik said. Growth is necessary to add programming, he said.


"Slowly, we've gotten to make ourselves at home here," Basik said.

For more information, contact Kol HaLev at 410-299-7967, and