First up in a series of profiles of the houses of worship in and near Greenbelt is the Mishkan Torah Synagogue in the heart of Old Greenbelt. It’s of particular interest to me because I live a mere block away and because I attended one of its many musical events – a violin performance by Sarah Saviet.
So I spoke with Jeffrey Rosen, the synagogue’s hard-working publicity chair who’s been keeping this blog informed about their many happenings.
What it is
Jeffrey describes it as a “fairly liberal synagogue that uses the Conservative liturgy,” and it’s dually affiliated with both the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. Current Rabbi Jonathan Cohen is a Reconstructionist, and with that info I segued into asking about females in leadership positions. The answer is that many of their congregation presidents have been women, and their paid staffers have included a female assistant rabbi. Jeffrey says “We believe in absolute gender equality.”
But how about the top social issue of the day – marriage equality? Though they haven’t been asked to perform a same-sex wedding yet, Jeffrey “seriously doubts that it would be a problem” for Mishkan Torah, adding, “I’d love it!”
About all that music
So, why is it that the Classical music performances I’m aware of in Greenbelt are always at Mishkan Torah? He says, “We have very talented people” including some professional musicians. And more generally, Jeffrey cites Judaism’s strong musical traditions (though “All ethnic stereotypes are wrong, including this one.”) Jeffrey happens to be in charge of putting on these events, and he’s particularly proud of this intergenerational concert, now on Youtube.
Jeffrey (second from the left) was thrilled to be part of that concert, which gave this retired securities lawyer the chance to perform with professional singers. Between performing and being an impresario for all things musical, he feels like he’s “living out his Walter Mitty fantasy” and recommends to all retirees to retire TO something, not just from a job.
In addition to Classical music, Mishkan Torah has held recent events with what Jeffrey calls the “Grand Old Opry of Tel Aviv – The New Klezmer Quintet. Also? Performances of music from film and Broadway, and swing jazz.
This New Klezmer Quintet video features a performance at Mishkan Torah.
Besides regular services and all that music, Jeffrey cites their “very, very active” Social Action Committee, the choir, a very active sisterhood, and a smaller men’s club famous for its Superbowl parties, complete with the traditional kosher hot dogs and vegetarian chili.
Connecton to Greenbelt
Though many of Mishkan Torah’s 130-140 family units live elsewhere, the congregation reflects its Greenbelt location in many ways. Examples are its joint service with Greenbelt’s United Church of Christ to honor retiring Rev. Dan Hamlin, who was a “wonderful friend to MT,” its party celebrating Greenbelt’s 75th anniversary and the 80th birthday of Frank Pearlman (shown in this blog post,) and their regular booths at the Labor Day Festival.
As a keen observer and appreciator of gardens, I’ve always enjoyed the landscaping around Mishkan Torah. Turns out they use no professional services, just green-thumb volunteers. Jeffrey counts himself as a black-thumb type, so takes no credit for any of it. So to the anonymous-to-this-blog gardening volunteers I say kudos and thanks for the beautification. May we have more landscapes like yours here in Greenbelt.