In 1987, Rabbi Sid Schwarz and a few others discussed "seeding" a new Reconstructionist congregation in lower Montgomery County, MD, to begin with High Holy Day services. Over 100 people attended those first services, most of them unaffiliated and willing to try something a bit different, along with a handful of long-time Reconstructionists. At a follow-up meeting, ideas for a lay-led study group or informal havurah were trumped by excitement to actually create a new synagogue; on the spot Rabbi Sid agreed to serve as the part-time rabbi, and an Adat Shalom tradition was born--three committees were formed! Soon a name was chosen (after great debate), papers of incorporation were drafted, and Lisa and Neil Makstein were elected co-presidents.
By January, 1988, Adat Shalom was holding bi-monthly services at the Potomac Presbyterian Church, with a move two years later to Christ Lutheran Church in Bethesda. Soon the growing community began to see the need for a building of its own. In 1993, members voted to purchase land and build a home, while moving in the meantime to the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. In 1995, we bought a 4.7 acre property in Bethesda where we intended to construct our congregational building. Through the late 1990’s we strove to build community and maintain our values and character, while carrying out a major capital campaign, and prevailing in a protracted legal battle over zoning. Adat Shalom did grow and flourish, and we were able to hire an architect to help us design a beautiful building in harmony with nature, deeply evocative of Jewish themes. Finally, in early 2001, our community joyfully celebrated the dedication of our new building. We were home.
Clergy and Staff
After Rabbi Sid so ably set things in motion, he transitioned to being an active member and our esteemed Founding Rabbi. His influential writings and teachings (e.g. Finding a Spiritual Home) continue to burnish our reputation. Fred Scherlinder Dobb started as an RRC student intern in 1995; two years later, after an intensive search process, he became Adat Shalom’s first and only full-time rabbi. He brings to his role warmth, humility, broad knowledge, and passion for ecology and social justice. Our first cantor, a talented volunteer and charter member, was Jack Feder. As demands on that role expanded, Anita Schubert was hired; among those she empowered to sing was member Rachel Hersh, who became our Hazzan in 1996. Rachel remains much beloved for her amazing voice, deep spirituality, and profound presence. Sheila Feldman is our efficient and dedicated Executive Director. We also enjoy pastoral and educational services from Adjunct Rabbi George Driesen; our empathic and devoted Pastoral Associate Vicki Bremen; and Founding Rabbi Sid Schwarz, whose High Holiday sermons, classes, and Shabbat services remain highlights.
Like many Reconstructionist shuls, we are proudly inclusive. Our membership spans young and old, singles and couples, gay and straight, intermarried and in-married, with children and without; we are a welcoming community for ‘non-traditional’ families, as well as traditional ones. Members come from across the metropolitan area (DC-MD-and-VA), and are exceedingly diverse in terms of Jewish background. From a few dozen charter households 25 years ago, we have grown to a congregation of some 485 households.
Adat Shalom has a talented, hard-working staff, but it remains a special place thanks largely to the commitment of its lay-leaders. From presidents to committee chairs to event coordinators, ushers to shleppers to envelope- stuffers, our remarkable activity and success flows from a high level of volunteerism and participation.
Building a close and caring community has always been Adat Shalom’s central priority. From day one, Shabbat morning services have been prime communal time, accompanied by a full oneg luncheon to help members bond with one another. Neighborhood “village” events, in-home potluck dinners, and much anticipated community retreats create further closeness. Our members are quick to reach out to support one another in times of illness and loss of loved ones, and to celebrate in happy times such as baby-namings, aufrufs, and b’nai mitzvah.
Learning has always been central at Adat Shalom. Begun in 1991, our formal Torah School educates nearly 200 students from pre-K through 12th grades, instilling a love of Judaism and Israel as well as knowledge of holidays, ritual, tefillot, and more. Learning is not limited to our youngest members, though; numerous and varied opportunities for study and learning infuse the life of our congregation, including Shabbat morning d’var Torah discussions, late-night Shavuot sessions, Torah & Talmud classes, and more. We have learned during day- long “Universities”, inter-city Jewish destination travel, and Israel trips. Besides prayer, fun and fellowship, our congregational retreats have included meaningful study sessions on Shabbat, tzedakah, tikkun olam, the Jewish future, kashrut, and world Jewry. Regular Shabbatonim let us learn from prominent Jewish scholars. Our clergy not only teach extensively, but empower members to become teachers, too. Education is continually re-thought here, and study is linked to action – chanting Torah and haftarah, leading services, serving the community.
Adat Shalom is deeply committed to a vision of constructive engagement with the world around us. Rabbi Sid (who literally wrote the book Judaism and Justice) led groups to South Carolina to rebuild a burned black church, and to Haiti to rebuild homes. Rabbi Fred, a Jewish-environmental educator and activist, has led numerous justice-related initiatives. Countless members have offered time, energy and skills to Yachad, Mazon, Manna, interfaith efforts, and more. Together we have advocated for marriage equality and justice for Darfur.
We are also deeply committed to walking lightly on the Earth and caring for Creation. One of just five 2002 EPA Energy Star Congregation awardees, our building reflects ecological concern through recycled, re-purposed, or ‘green’ materials, and careful attention to energy efficiency. We’ve chosen to be green in our operations and activities, too, from onsite composting to permanent plates, cups, and flatware for our onegs. Our vibrant organic "Mishnah Garden" has spurred discussions about Jewish food ethics, agrarian traditions and sustainable growing practices. And our recent 44 kW installation of solar panels (the first of any area shul, now beginning to be widely-emulated) shows visible support for renewable energy and the role it can play in curbing climate change.
This website has other stories from our history.
Our Holocaust Torah was dedicated at Adat Shalom on March 11, 2000, the morning of the Bar Mitzvah of Joel Schwarz. It was a gift to the community from the Schwarz/Perlstein family in honor of Joel’s Bar Mitzvah and he read from that very Holocaust Scroll that day in the presence of his grandparents, Allan and Judy Schwarz. For the full details of this story, click here.
For more information on Holocaust Torahs, click here.