Jews, Christians raising money side by side with gift wrapping


Red paper, green ribbon for Christmas. White paper, blue ribbon for Hanukkah.

As they worked side by side at one of the busy gift-wrapping desks in the Owings Mills Mall, Rabbi Richard Margolis of Beth Israel Synagogue and the Rev. Russ Priddy of Colonial Baptist Church were symbols of interfaith cooperation and neighborliness.

"It's more than fund-raising," said Mr. Priddy. "Our members are interacting."

"We are sharing our holiday celebrations," said Rabbi Margolis.

They worked this week in the midst of some of the 225 Jews and Christians whose 468 volunteer hours of gift-wrapping between Nov. 26 and Dec. 24 will bring substantial financial contributions to the two Randallstown-area congregations.

A donation from the mall's management to Beth Israel is certain to be more than $10,000, with the exact figure depending on how many gifts are wrapped and other factors, said Kay Standon, the marketing director at Owings Mills.

Beth Israel will then share a percentage of the total contribution with Colonial Baptist.

Jonathan E. Kollin, executive director of Beth Israel, who worked out the details of the unusual holiday-season venture with Ms. Standon, took the significance of the cooperative arrangement a step further.

"It's a unifying experience for our congregations," Mr. Kollin said. "It's benefiting one community -- that's where we're coming from."

Soon, the friendly cooperation between the two religious groups is expected to result in major moves for both of them.

Colonial Baptist, whose membership in the Randallstown area is growing, plans to buy Beth Israel's synagogue at 9411 Liberty Road, freeing Beth Israel to relocate on one of three prospective sites being considered in the Reisterstown area.

The Baptist congregation is discussing a price in the range of $3 million for the Beth Israel property and expects to make an offer by Jan. 1, Mr. Priddy said.

Beth Israel will begin making decisions about specifics of the proposal early in the New Year, including the selection of the site for the new synagogue, Rabbi Margolis said.

Only about a third of Beth Israel's 750 families still live in the Randallstown area, the rabbi explained. Most have moved to the Owings Mills and Reisterstown areas.

Meanwhile, Colonial Baptist has outgrown its facilities at 4619 Old Court Road. The regular Sunday attendance there has increased from about 100 in 1987 to about 600, with a total current membership of 1,500, Mr. Priddy said. The church has nearly equal numbers of white and black worshipers.

The leadership of the Christian and Jewish congregations met back in March to lay the groundwork for an eventual contract between them for their mutual benefit, the spiritual leaders of the two groups said.

"We agreed on an 18- to 36-month process," Mr. Priddy said. "That's why there is no pressure on us. We need to work out the financing of the moves. We need to market our old facility, for instance."

The Owings Mills Mall is pleased with its pioneering gift-wrapping arrangement because of the good will it is furthering, Ms. Standon said. The volunteers from the congregations were trained, and the synagogue members schedule their hours.

Colonial Baptist members work the Friday night and Saturday shifts, when Jews keep the Sabbath. Beth Israel members work Sundays, when the Baptists are in church.

Hired temporary employees at the mall last year wrapped about 65,000 Christmas and Hanukkah gifts, Ms. Standon said, and estimates from the mall's merchants suggest that this year's total will be 90,000 by Christmas Eve.

The biggest number of presents brought by one purchaser to the gift-wrapping desks so far this season was 125 about two weeks ago. A real estate man purchased the gifts on a single afternoon for his employees, Ms. Standon said.

The wrapping operation is well-organized, with an express lane for single gifts and another lane for four or more. It is a free service for the mall's customers.

The busy Colonial Baptist and Beth Israel volunteers all looked more assured and experienced than Rabbi Margolis and Mr. Priddy.

"I failed my training miserably," the rabbi said as he struggled with his paper and ribbon.

"Wrapping is not my calling," the Baptist pastor said.

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