A Synagogue Grows In Forest Park
Beth Tfiloh became the first congregation in Baltimore’s Forest Park suburb, a neighborhood where Jews could buy homes free of restrictive covenants that barred them from most other areas beyond downtown.
FIRST HIGH HOLY DAY SERVICES were held at a rental hall on Liberty Heights and Eldorado Avenues not far from the Forest Theater.
Making Jewish Youth a Priority
From its inception, Beth Tfiloh always made the needs of its youth its first and highest priority, starting with the opening of a Hebrew School in 1922 and continuing with the dedication of the Community Center in 1925.
FIRST SCHOOL CLASSES – Students in Sunday and Hebrew School pose in front of the cottage formerly used as the synagogue in 1923. 1936 Memorial History of Beth Tfiloh Congregation
Synagogue Dedicated “Amidst Great Pomp and Ceremony”
Beth Tfiloh’s first synagogue and school complex was located on the corner of Garrison Boulevard and Fairview Avenue in Forest Park and was dedicated on March 6, 1927. The dedication of the new Synagogue attracted a number of dignitaries including Cantor Adolph Weisgal of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
FIRST SYNAGOGUE – The dedication of the new Synagogue attracted a number of dignitaries including Cantor Adolph Weisgal of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
David Parlett Photography. Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland’s State Library Resource Center.
Our Founding Rabbi
Rabbi Samuel Rosenblatt was installed as the first rabbi of Beth Tfiloh on December 11, 1927. The son of the world famous Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Rosenblatt received rabbinic ordination from both the Jewish Theological Seminary and from Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, and earned a doctorate in Semitic languages at Columbia University.
RABBI DR. SAMUEL ROSENBLATT
Cultivating future growth during difficult times
The depression years were a trying period for the young congregation. Careful fiscal oversight, including voluntary salary cuts for professional staff, enabled the congregation to avoid a budget deficit. At the same time, key expenditures were made, including the purchase of siddurim, chumashim and machzorim, and the cemetery – purchased just as the stock market crashed – and building a cemetery chapel. New hires included Cantor Max Kotlowitz, a director of the Community Center, and an athletic director.
A Passion for Zionism
Rabbi Rosenblatt’s commitment to Israel ignited a spirit of Zionism at Beth Tfiloh that grew throughout the congregation’s history. In addition to leading one of the area’s first pilgrimages to Palestine in 1934, Rabbi Rosenblatt served as a member of the Mizrachi delegation to the 19th Zionist World Congress in 1935 and the 23rd Zionist World Congress in 1951, the first Congress held in the State of Israel. Rabbi Rosenblatt was elected President of the Baltimore Mizrachi Congress.
WORLD ZIONIST CONGRESS – Rabbi Rosenblatt’s attended various sessions of the World Zionist Congress in Europe and Israel.
Orthodox Bat Mitzvah Trend Setter
Beth Tfiloh was the first Orthodox synagogue in Baltimore to institute a group bat mitzvah ceremony, considered a radical innovation by Orthodox standards at the time. In his memoirs, Rabbi Rosenblatt noted that “We had no sooner inaugurated our form of the Bat Mitzvah celebration and the instruction preceding it than all Orthodox congregations in Baltimore, led by English-speaking rabbis, followed suit.”
A school to create Jewish leaders
The preschool began in 1939, and a Kindergarten class was formed in 1941 as part of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s vision “to assure a more intensive Jewish education with the knowledge of Jewish heritage that will enable [students] to assume leading positions in Jewish life.” Additional grades were added each year until the 6th grade completed the day school in 1949.
Synagogue Life During WWII
Beth Tfiloh continued its commitment to the next generation during the war years, it was a somber time permeated by ongoing recognition of service. Special programs were held to acknowledge the dedication of fellow members in uniform, pray for their safety, and to celebrate victory.
HONORING MEMBERS SERVING OUR COUNTRY – A Dedication of Service Flag was proudly displayed at a special program on December 6, 1942.
A Vision for a Jewish Summer Camp
Beth Tfiloh’s first day camp was organized at Garrison Boulevard with 75 campers to provide “a program of wholesome recreation integrated with a program of Jewish living.” The Owings Mills camp site was purchased in 1950 for $33,000 with a swimming pool, a dining hall, a lake for boating, field, and bunk houses. As part of its Jewish culture program, Hebrew signs throughout.
THE HOME CAMP – The new Beth Tfiloh summer camp included indoor and outdoor programming at its Garrison Boulevard complex.
Founding members of Beth El
In response to the desire for mixed seating and other innovations advocated by the Conservative movement, nine members of Beth Tfiloh founded Congregation Beth El in 1947, while Beth Tfiloh continued its commitment to Modern Orthodox principles.
Baltimore Evening Sun/Enoch Pratt Library Maryland Collection
A Center of Community
In the post-war years, Beth Tfiloh thrived as a center of social, recreational, and cultural Jewish life in Baltimore. By 1950, the Beth Tfiloh Community Center, which was created in 1927, had grown to include 69 clubs, with 1,300 active members, a staff of 11 professionals and 55 volunteer leaders. Activities included athletic teams, a bowling league, arts and crafts, scouting, book clubs, a speakers forum, holiday programs and religious services.
First Yom Kippur Israel Bond Appeal
Rabbi Rosenblatt convinced his leadership that he could appropriately gear his Yom Kippur message to “lead directly into modern Jewry’s duties toward the reborn Jewish national home” and raised a record $100,000 of Israel bonds. In his memoirs Rabbi Rosenblatt wrote, “Our congregation had shown the way [and many other] Orthodox synagogues of Baltimore soon followed suit.”
ISRAEL BOND APPEAL – Rabbi Rosenblatt made Kol Nidre night appeals for Israel Bonds beginning in 1952 and said “my congregation responded nobly.”
Days of My Years, 1976, Photo: BT Bulletin
Move to Old Court
In the early 1960’s, the growth and movement of the Baltimore Jewish community from Forest Park to the northwest suburbs created a clear mandate for the congregation to find a new home. At the same time, a group of parents urged for the creation of a Junior High School. The school relocated to Old Court with Nursery through 8th grade, and the new synagogue building was completed the following year.
A New Rabbi Infuses New Energy
Following a nationwide search, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg was installed. With his charismatic personality, sense of humor, engaging sermons that infused Judaism and contemporary issues, and ability to relate to members old and young, he created a spirit of unity, joy and youthful exuberance.
RABBI MITCHELL WOHLBERG was attracted to Beth Tfiloh because it “is one of the very few synagogues in the country with a day school attached.”
A New Director for a Growing School
In 1978 a new Vice Principal, Zipora Schorr, was recruited by Rabbi Wohlberg from their former synagogue in Potomac, Maryland, to serve the growing school, and she was appointed Principal four years later. Under her direction, the school grew from 320 students to a total enrollment of nearly 1,000, including the addition of the High School in 1986.
ZIPORA SCHORR was appointed Principal of the Day School in 1982 and was later named its Director of Education. Dr. Schorr was recognized with the national Covenant Award for outstanding leadership in Jewish education in 2003.
Epstein Chapel Links the Past and Future
The first service in the Epstein Chapel took place on Rosh Hashanah, September 18, 1982, as the culmination of the dream of Samuel and Sidney Epstein, visionary leaders and benefactors. Linking the past and future, the Chapel features stained glass windows from Garrison Boulevard, and a newly commissioned Aron Kodesh depicting the anguish from the Holocaust.
Mourning Rabbi Rosenblatt
The Beth Tfiloh family mourned the sudden passing of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Rosenblatt, after serving Beth Tfiloh for over half a century. His accomplishments included numerous books and articles, serving as professor of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and as head of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, Baltimore Mizrachi, the American Jewish Congress and a founder of Baltimore’s Vaad Hakashrus.
LOSS OF A GIANT – This portrait of Rabbi Rosenblatt, on display outside the Dahan Sanctuary, painted by Henry Cooper in 1981, captures his abundant wisdom and the reverence with which he was viewed by his congregation.
BT Camp Attracts Thousands of Campers
A Trip of a Lifetime
Continuing a tradition begun by Rabbi Rosenblatt, Rabbi Wohlberg led the first of many congregational trips to Israel in 1985, which were touted by many as a transformational Jewish experience which deepened their commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.
Israel Mission – One of many Beth Tfiloh Israel trips led by Rabbi Wohlberg.
Photo by Shelley & Robert Kaye
Baltimore’s first coed Jewish High School
Recognizing the need for a coeducational Jewish high school in the community, the leadership of Beth Tfiloh raised $6 million to establish a school of excellence dedicated to creating “proud, educated, committed Jews.” The High School opened its doors in September 1986 with a class of 22 students, and grew to an enrollment of over 350 students. Since that time over 1,700 students have graduated from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School.
Founders – Rabbi Wohlberg accepts a check from high school founders, Haron Dahan (left) and Morton J. Macks (center).
Continued emphasis on the Youth
Fun and meaningful Jewish connections combined in world-class programs for youth and families. Participation flourished under the leadership of Youth Director Cherie Brownstein, with hundreds of children attending High Holy Day services and signature Beth Tfiloh events that attracted the entire Jewish community.
Purim at BT featured multiple Megillah readings, carnivals and a family seudah.
BT archives, 2014
A World Class Hazzan
Hazzan Avi Albrecht joined the Beth Tfiloh clergy in 1996. He has been beloved by the Beth Tfiloh family for his personal warmth, his rich baritone voice, his musical creativity, and his inspiring spirituality. In addition to Hazzan Albrecht’s musical talents, he played a leadership role in bringing together renowned cantors to perform in support of a variety of Israeli causes.
A New Adult Learning Center
MERCAZ: The Beth Tfiloh Center for Jewish Life and Learning, opened in 1998 under the direction of Sandy Vogel and was later renamed the Mercaz Dahan Center, created pathways for increasing Jewish literacy and enriching the knowledge of Beth Tfiloh members. Mercaz, Hebrew for “center,” became BT’s hub for adult education, serving a wide range of backgrounds and interests.
A Beacon for All Who Love Israel
Beth Tfiloh continued its active support of Israel through a variety of programs, trips and initiatives. BT members and High School students attended the annual Israel Parade in New York, and were among the largest contingencies attending AIPAC’s annual conferences.
In the past 20 years, Beth Tfiloh has consistently ranked first or second in the country in the number of Israel Bond purchasers, and BT members have been at the forefront of local and national Israel Bonds leadership.
School breaks ground in arts and athletics
The Russel Athletics Center with its Hurwitz Gymnasium, and the Rosen Arts Center with a 400-seat Mintzes Theater provide students with a well-rounded education as part of the school’s commitment to academic excellence. Award-winning Creative Arts Department student productions have included Les Miserables, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera. The school’s interscholastic teams have won division championships in basketball, tennis, volleyball, baseball and soccer.
Balancing Tradition with Modernity
After more than a quarter of a century without a physical barrier separating men and women during prayer, Beth Tfiloh installed a Mechitza approved by the Orthodox Union and had the public address system certified by the Tzomet Institute. At the same time, women enjoyed more opportunities to participate in the Orthodox services, and assumed positions of leadership, including Executive Director Eve Kresin Steinberg.
Shelley Kaye reads the Megillah at the women’s Purim service.
Historic Union with Beth Jacob
The leadership of Beth Tfiloh and Beth Jacob Congregations announced the historic union of their two congregation, with approximately 300 former members of Beth Jacob Congregation becoming members of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, and making Beth Tfiloh the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in the United States.
Back Under One Roof
The completion of the new Lower School building in 2009 brought the return of the Lower School and satellite PreSchool back together with the older divisions and the synagogue community to create a unified and cohesive school and to forge a stronger relationship between the school and the synagogue. The Old Court Campus was named in honor of Marvin H. Weiner and family in 2011.
A NEW LOWER SCHOOL – Haron Dahan z’l (right) and Marvin H. Weiner (left) cut the ribbon to dedicate the new Lower School building in 2009.
A New Young Rabbi Comes to BT
In his remarks welcoming Rabbi Chai Posner as the newest member of the BT clergy, Rabbi Wohlberg said he “brings to our shul and school his wide range of skills and interests, and his ability to relate to young and old alike.” Rabbi Posner was officially welcomed at the annual Penn Lecture, by his mentor and teacher, Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Building Bridges in Baltimore
Rabbi Wohlberg forged a special relationship with Reverend Dr. Terris King, pastor of the Liberty Grace Church of God. Together they initiated events to spread goodwill within the Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace communities, and to strengthen the greater Baltimore community.
Town Meeting – The community was invited to a Town Meeting co-sponsored by Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace Church, with the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, Senator Ben Cardin, Reverend Terris King and Rabbi Wohlberg.
Fall 2019 BT archives
A New Rabbi with New Ideas
In an historic, unanimous vote, the members of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, appointed Rabbi Chai Posner to succeed Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg as BT’s senior rabbi, effective January 1, 2022. Rabbi Wohlberg was named rabbi-in-residence through December 2025. Rabbi Wohlberg remarked, “It is time for a new rabbi with new ideas, who is able to reach all members of our congregation. You’ve got that with Rabbi Posner.”
Keeping in touch without touching
In dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Congregation initially disbanded all in person services and added virtual services during weekdays. Over the summer, outdoor daily services were held in the parking lot, which eventually moved to indoors, socially distant services in the Dahan Sanctuary. The shul developed a full calendar of virtual programs and drive-by events to maintain a sense of community during this challenging year.