Changes are afoot at Congregation Kneseth Israel, a 107-year-old synagogue in Annapolis. This fall, the historic synagogue will be home to the new Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County.
The school, founded by Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum and directed by veteran Jewish educator Ellyn Kaufman, will welcome Jewish children of every denomination, offering religious school for students in kindergarten through seventh grade and youth group programs for students in grades 8 through 12. The JEC curriculum will include Jewish holidays and customs, Hebrew language, the study of Israel, Torah, Jewish values, traditions and b’nai mitzvah instruction.
Prior to the opening of the JEC, Weisblum was providing individualized Jewish education to young members in addition to all of his other responsibilities as congregational rabbi.
“He was overwhelmed,” said Kaufman, who explained that when the rabbi first approached her about directing the fledgling religious school, she was surprised.
“I told him, ‘but I’m not Orthodox,’ and he said, ‘you don’t have to be. We are unaffiliated.’ The more we talked, the more I understood that although Kneseth Israel was once Orthodox, that is no longer the case,” she explained.
Nowadays, said Kaufman, the synagogue offers services for people of all Jewish backgrounds. For example, she said, the synagogue has a separate seating area for men and women who wish to sit separately, and a co-ed seating area for men and women who wish to sit together.
“I think he has done a great job of appeasing everyone,” said Kaufman.
Kaufman comes to the school from a local Reform congregation’s religious school, where she was principal for the past 12 years. She has another 25 years of prior experience as a Jewish educator.
“We are offering free synagogue membership for a year to families who enroll their child in the JEC,” she said.
In addition to attracting new families to the school, Kaufman and Weisblum also hope to build the synagogue’s membership base.
“We want to bring Judaism in Anne Arundel County back to life,” she said.
A family Shabbat celebration on Friday, Aug. 1, at 6 p.m. will serve as a welcome for the school, said Kaufman.
For additional information, visit knesethisrael.org.