Joining A Shul During A Pandemic?

It is not uncommon to get calls about membership at this time of year, as individuals and families begin to think about the High Holidays, school, and a new season of exciting programming at Beth El. We are very fortunate to have a healthy and robust membership and a thriving synagogue community for all ages.

However, when I started getting inquiries this year, I was a bit surprised given the COVID-19 crisis, the closure of Beth El’s campus, and the sheer disruption to our community and routines brought about by the quarantine. When I began listening to prospective members during our initial conversations, I learned that many potential members were motivated to join Beth El despite — and in part because of — the pandemic. I attribute their interest in membership during this challenging time to two things.

First, we have expanded the congregation’s digital footprint through our Beyond the Walls initiative, the extensive virtual synagogue community we created in the earliest days of social distancing to deliver content around the clock, seven days a week throughout the quarantine. In fact, Beyond the Walls has reached over 95,000 individuals locally, around the country, and even around the world. For many of these folks, Beyond the Walls was their first opportunity to experience the magic of Beth El.

The second reason that we are drawing our current congregants closer and reaching new, potential members, is something we have known all along: that a synagogue community like Beth El — with an incredibly compassionate, and creative, clergy, staff, and lay leaders — provides meaning and nourishment for the heart, mind, and soul.

Undoubtedly, the values and the connective power of a sacred kehillah (community) are transformative and add layers of meaning to one’s life. In particular, during the most difficult, lonely, and scariest moments, a synagogue community like Beth El provides support, guidance, comfort, and even a respite for the weary. Dozens of volunteers have made “Caring Calls” to the congregation, especially to our elderly members, and we continue to hear time and time again how cared for our congregants feel even from a social distance. When we asked our congregation to prepare and deliver bagged lunches to be donated to shelters throughout Baltimore as part of a community-wide chesed drive known as “Bunches of Lunches,” we received over 700 lunches – more than double what we expected! 

Our values of Chesed (kindness and inclusivity), Torah (the wisdom of our people), and Kedusha (the act of elevating special and everyday moments to a more sacred level), continue to guide and motivate us even as our community grows through this crisis. When we get to the other side of this ordeal, we look forward to celebrating together in person, the gift that Beth El is. Stay healthy and safe.

If you or anyone you know would like to learn more about Beth El or becoming a member of our congregation, please email Josh Bender, Executive Director, at

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