The Ongoing History of Congregation Or Chadash
Congregation Or Chadash began in 1984 at a kitchen table in North Potomac, Maryland and became a formal affiliate of the UAHC in 1990. From the beginning, the Congregation has had two great strengths, excellent religious education programs and an open, inclusive attitude. This inclusiveness extends beyond welcoming interfaith families. Or Chadash has never turned away a family for financial reasons and has consistently made newcomers welcome. While every congregation has an inner circle of active volunteers, ours has always been like a hora at a simcha, eager to expand to include as many people as wanted to join. These characteristics have remained at the core of the Congregation throughout its history, and have made Congregation Or Chadash exceptional from the beginning.
During the first half of the Congregation’s history, Or Chadash was a part-time congregation. After its early days, when it met in various members’ homes, Or Chadash became a tenant of Trinity United Methodist Church in Germantown. We had services every other week led by a series of part-time rabbis. Religious school was held every other Sunday, supervised by a volunteer school director. A gifted cantorial soloist served the Congregation throughout this period, and made wonderful music a constant presence in our services.
In 1995 with the continuing growth of our school, the congregation employed Rabbi Stephanie Wolfe for a full-time position of Rabbi and School Director. The appointment of Rabbi Wolfe signified a major change in congregational life. We began to have services every Friday night, with family services on the second Friday and a Shabbat dinner on the fourth Friday. Religious School started being held every week, and pre-Confirmation and Confirmation programs were developed. A post-Confirmation class program was created for the first time at the request of the graduating tenth graders. These enhancements to our educational program added to Congregation Or Chadash’s reputation for educational excellence.
In 2000, Cantor Susan Berkson, an experienced and talented invested Cantor accepted a part-time position at Or Chadash. That same year, the membership made one of the most important decisions in its history, to pursue a building of its own. The Congregation voted overwhelmingly to accept the extraordinarily generous offer from three member families to purchase seventeen acres of land in Damascus for the construction of a synagogue building.
In 2001, we were pleased to engage an experienced full-time Rabbi to lead our Congregation, Rabbi Paul Tuchman. Under Rabbi Tuchman’s leadership, we extended programming for adults, adding adult education classes (such as Talmud, Kabbalah and Adult B’nai Mitzvah), Shabbat morning Torah Study, and book discussions.
The donors purchased the land in 2001 and donated it to the Congregation in 2003, the same year that Or Chadash received the approval of the Montgomery County Planning Commission for our building plans.
In September 2005 the congregation moved into its new building in Damascus, Maryland. Since that time, our congregation has greatly expanded from its previous offerings of Shabbat/holiday services, adult and family education, high school and middle school youth groups, Brotherhood and Sisterhood. We have seen an outpouring of energy from our congregants. Several members decided to form a Parent-Teacher Organization and did so, contributing time and energy to activities that benefit our school and our congregation. Sisterhood and Brotherhood contribute to the beautification and benefit of our temple.
We have active youth groups for all ages. Our NFTY-affiliated youth group (CORY) remains active in congregational life. We also have a Junior CORY for fifth through eighth graders. In 2007, Kiddish Kids was founded to offer social opportunities outside of Religious School for our children ages 5-9. Our volunteer choir director organized a Judas Maccabeus sing that took place in December 2007. Another new activity in 2008 was Passover University, where children and adults could learn about Passover in new ways, through games, crafts and cooking. In July 2008, we had our first ever Vacation Torah School, which ran for five mornings and presented fun ways to learn about Judaism in a camp-like atmosphere. It attracted member children and their non-member friends.
Rabbi Alison Kobey became our rabbi and Education Director on July 1, 2009. She has introduced new programs, including as Sunrise Shabbat for babies and toddlers and Lunch and Learn as a mid-day adult education program.
As of February 4, 2015, our Religious School is accredited by the National Association of Temple Educators. We are one of only twenty-one congregations to meet these requirements and the only one in the greater-DC area (all of Maryland, D.C., and all of Virginia).
Our numbers are small but our enthusiasm for our congregation is great. The respect that our congregants show to each other at board and committee meetings and in our religious and social gatherings infuses and energizes our members to do all that we can to make Congregation Or Chadash our favorite house of study, prayer and community.