Celebrating growth, home


Scores of people braved the rain Sunday for a Temple Isaiah "Site-A-Bration" to celebrate the temple's purchase in December of a 22-acre site on Scaggsville Road in southern Howard County.

The land, a former strawberry farm, will become Temple Isaiah's campus for worship, learning and community activities. Ground-breaking is anticipated for spring 2002. The Reform Jewish congregation now worships at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia.

Rabbi Mark Panoff emphasizes that the move out of the Meeting House is not a rejection of the Columbia interfaith concept, but a natural evolution.

"Interfaith centers are incubators," Panoff says. "To found a synagogue, people had to get together in one location. The interfaith center worked. It nurtured us and we flourished. We now have 460 families. As we evolved, people felt a need for their own spiritual home. [It was] a whole ideological shift. ... As a Jewish community, we're sinking roots in Howard County."

Panoff attributes the growth of Temple Isaiah to its ability "to blend modern life and Jewish tradition. We're a diverse congregation." In addition, he says, "we have a great school. Programs for the young in this area are very important."

"This is a prime location where we see a lot of Jewish families," says Panoff. "In terms of our ability to reach out the Jewish families ... we have a site, a location, and an ability to grow. This [land] came up and we grabbed it."

The local community, including churches and homeowners associations, has responded with "a warm welcome" to Temple Isaiah's presence in the area, Panoff notes.

"It's the rabbi who got the congregation behind the project," says Moira Larsen, president of the congregation. "He's the one who excites us."

Cary Millstein, a member of the congregation, is enthusiastic about Temple Isaiah's new home. "It's astounding. I'm standing here in the rain, looking around, and all I can think is how it is and what an awesome and aggressive plan we have," he says. "Our building will be almost the size of the [Oakland Mills] Meeting House. It's like moving out of an apartment and you get a mansion, and you can afford it and own it. ... All in all, it's like winning the lottery.

"We had a goal to raise $1.5 million and we raised $1.9 million. Every time we ask for money, the people come up with more."

The initial phase of building will be 34,000 square feet, he says, "10,000 square feet more than we initially thought right out of the gate."

The house and barn already on the land will remain, says Larsen. The initial new building will house a school wing, office space, and a social hall/sanctuary. The new space also will allow the temple to establish its own nursery school - something there was no room for in the Meeting House.

According to Millstein, the temple paid cash for the land and has now raised more than $2.2 million for the building project. "There are a million reasons for people not to donate $10,000 to their religious organization," says Millstein, "[but] more and more people are donating more and more money."

Zoning has been approved for building 75,000 square feet over a 25-year period. According to Panoff, there was "zero opposition" to Temple Isaiah's building plan from neighbors or the local community.

At the Site-A-Bration, children and adults ate popcorn, played games such as miniature golf and volleyball, and admired the rural, tree-studded land - enjoying the bucolic moment while it lasts.

"What we expect over the next 10 to 15 years ... is that Route 216 [will have] a whole different character," said speaker Robert Dubin, chairman of the New Building steering committee. "It will be built up. It won't be rural." Temple Isaiah, says Panoff, will be poised to reach out to the growing community.

"The future is very bright," says Panoff. "We're so lucky to be in Howard County."

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