Hagerstown rabbi accepts job in N.Y.

June 09, 1997


Staff Writer

When Wendy Weiner was battling breast cancer three years ago, members of more than 100 churches in Washington County prayed for the 40-year-old mother of two young children.

Weiner, director of the Washington County Family Center and wife of Hagerstown Rabbi Charles Rabinowitz, even was on the daily prayer list of Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, according to her husband.

Encouraging letters arrived from all over the community, many from people she did not know. Members of her own B'nai Abraham congregation organized meals for her family during the three weeks she spent in Johns Hopkins Hospital, Weiner said.


It is because of that "real outpouring of support" that Hagerstown will always hold a special meaning for the couple, Weiner said.

Now, she and Rabinowitz are preparing to move with their daughter Brynn, 7, and their son Jamie, 6, to a northern suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., where the rabbi has accepted a new job with a larger congregation.

While in Hagerstown, Rabinowitz has worked to encourage interfaith dialogue.

Synagogues are supposed to have windows, Rabinowitz, 41, is fond of pointing out, so that people can look in and see how similar Jews are to them and so that Jews can look out and see the world's needs.

Although the 105-year-old B'nai Abraham congregation, with a membership of about 135 families, always has been active in the community, Rabinowitz carried that tradition to new heights.

He just finished a term in May as president of the Washington County Council of Churches and he served as president of the Washington County Ministerium from 1994 to 1996, the first rabbi to ever hold those positions.

"I feel I did a lot inside the Jewish community and I did a lot outside the community," Rabinowitz said. "Now the rabbi will be treated like any other senior pastor."

B'nai Abraham member Philip Gamerman said Rabinowitz's "work in the community at large was quite important. He did a great deal to let the community in general know who we are."

Rabinowitz said he has seen a growing tolerance for other religions and a lessening of antisemitism in Washington County.

"Over the years, I taught the community to speak of houses of worship, to be more inclusive in their language," he said. "There are different paths up the mountain that are equally valid. They all lead to God."

Inside the synagogue, Rabinowitz revised the curriculum of the religious school, which has about 90 students, he said.

He also revised the guidelines for bar and bat mitzvahs and confirmations and made an effort to include non-Jewish parents in those services, he said.

Setting an example

But most of all, Rabinowitz said, he tried to set a good example. "Our mission as Jews is (to do) charity, little acts of loving kindness and world repair. I tried to model that kind of behavior," he said.

"He's a caring man who was willing to give of himself to help others who are in need. In that way he excelled in the job," Gamerman said.

Weiner leaves behind her own legacy.

She was assistant director of the Washington County Health Department's Substance Abuse Prevention Program from 1989 to 1995, when she left to become the founding director of the Washington County Family Center, which primarily serves teens who are pregnant or have children up to the age of 3, she said.

Each year, the state-funded center, which is in part of the old Washington Street School, teaches parenting and job skills and offers academic and health education programs to about 150 families, Weiner said.

"I can see that it's made an impact on people's lives," she said. "I really like what I'm doing here."

Leaving will be "sort of bittersweet because I feel like I'm not finished here with this program," Weiner said.

Weiner's boss Carrol Springer, assistant director of adult, child and family services at the Department of Social Services, said Weiner "enriched the basic concept (of the center) by adding on other services."

"Her personality and her energy and her talent ... have really gotten the thing off to a good start," Springer said. "She's done all the hard work. She really has created a very solid foundation for another director to come in and build on."

A replacement for Weiner has not been hired. She will leave the center in mid-July to join Rabinowitz, who starts July 1 as the director of education and the second of two rabbis at the 800-family Reform congregation of Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, N.Y.

He will be responsible for a religious school with more than 500 students, a nursery school and a special needs Sunday school, Rabinowitz said.

Lewis C. Metzner, president of the B'nai Abraham congregation, said Rabinowitz had been here nine years, one of the longest stints of any rabbi in the history of the synagogue, when the board of trustees decided not to renew his contract.

"Things change," Metzner said. "People look for new blood."

A petition supporting Rabinowitz was presented to the board and "there was a lot of popular support for him staying," Gamerman said.

New rabbi

Rabbi Janice Garfunkel, of Silver Spring, Md., has been hired to replace Rabinowitz in August.

Garfunkel, who is leaving posts as director of the Jewish Study Center, an adult education institute in Washington, D.C., and chaplain of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes in Rockville, Md., will be the first woman rabbi to serve at B'nai Abraham.

Rabinowitz and Weiner say they have enjoyed their years in Washington County.

"There's a sense of public service and community service. There's a warmth to the community," Rabinowitz said. "Certainly, Wendy and I are sad to leave and I think the overwhelming majority of the congregation is sad too. It was time for me to make a move up."

B'nai Abraham member Carolyn Gamerman predicted that "any community that they are part of will be enriched as ours was."

The Herald-Mail Articles