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Examining a Jewish Enclave: Ecology and Resources

Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post wrote an article about a small Jewish community in Western Maryland. Cumberland Maryland had been a Jewish enclave in the Appalachian Mountains, with four synagogues and many Jewish-owned stores and businesses. But now the Jewish community has mostly left, likely to larger cities, with only around 50 families — many of whom are older couples — left to support the remaining synagogue.

The article raises a few important issues related to Studying Congregations. First, the local community — or ecology — matters. When there were many Jewish families in the rural community, there were enough people to support four different synagogues. As these families left, fewer synagogues were able to be supported and they consolidated to one. Now they see their community as extending — they are expecting people to come to attend Rosh Hashanah services from up to an hour away. That being said, even in that extended community, there are fewer and fewer Jewish people.

Resources were also important to this community. In the 1960s when there were four synagogues, they had enough people to be members, enough commitment to maintain committees and fill services, enough financial support to pay mortgages and salaries, and enough space to congregate and worship together. Over time, with the decreasing numbers of individuals in the town, those resources dried up. Buildings were sold, congregations consolidated. From a generous donation, the last remaining synagogue has been refurbished.

Using the Frames for Studying Congregations allows you to look at your congregation in different ways. If we just looked at the ecological perspective, we might just look at the change of demographic numbers of the Jewish community to understand the impact on synagogues. But by looking at the resource perspective, we can also take into account membership, commitment, financial, and space resources.

 

 

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org