An Introduction to

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist


The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

Genesis 12:1




Adat Shalom’s genesis took place when the national Reconstructionist office agreed to support an outreach High Holy day service led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz in the fall of 1987. About 110 people attended the services, which were held in a small auditorium in the Jewish Community Services Building on Hunters Lane in Rockville. That building, which is now the Jewish Day School’s upper campus, would, for a time, house Adat Shalom’s first one-room office. Besides a handful of long-active Reconstructionists in the area, most participants were new, unaffiliated, and willing to try something a bit different. Interest in continuing to meet beyond Yom Kippur was established at a break-the-fast at Sid and Sandy’s house. Over 40 people came to the first organizational meeting in November 1987 to discuss next steps. Rather than create a monthly lay-led study group or informal havurah, the group was excited by the bolder approach to actually create a new synagogue. Sid agreed to serve as the part-time rabbi of the group with some modest compensation. The lawyers in the group proceeded to file the papers of incorporation. Lisa and Neil Makstein were elected as Adat Shalom’s first co-presidents.

Location, Location, Location

From day one, the prime communal time was Shabbat morning services, accompanied by a full lunch to help members bond with one another. The idea was met skeptically: “People are busy”, “children have sports”, “no one will stay around for lunch”, “why not Friday nights?”. Yet Saturdays offered more time, the chance for Torah study, and greater opportunities to build a community. Beginning with two Shabbat morning services per month, which expanded as the congregation grew, the services were an instant hit. Torah School has also met on Saturdays, further strengthening the uniquely high attendance at Adat Shalom’s services and programs alike. Regular services began in January 1988 in the beautiful Potomac Presbyterian Church on River Road. Within just two years, we outgrew that space and moved to Christ Lutheran Church on Old Georgetown Road, near downtown Bethesda. Soon even that wonderful facility was not adequate for our needs. Though grateful for the hospitality shown us along the way, and aware of the advantages of sharing space, the community began to see the need for its own home. Lengthy community meetings, feasibility studies, and idea-sharing ensued. In 1993 the congregation voted to purchase land and build a home. By 1995 Adat Shalom began to enjoy its first “Jewish” space at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville with an agreement to stay no longer than five years. Soon thereafter a 4.7-acre track with a house on it was purchased in the Carderock Springs neighborhood at the western edge of Bethesda. A$3 million capital campaign, with over 85 percent of the community participating, allowed us to break ground on the second day of Sukkot, 1999. The new building was dedicated on Shabbat Vayikra, April 1, 2001.


Diversity and inclusivity have long been hallmarks of Adat Shalom. The community has been welcoming to singles, empty-nesters, and interfaith households as well as those who are gay, lesbian, divorced and childless. The diversity of the congregation not only cuts across class lines but also includes a wide geographic spread. We remain a “destination” rather than a “neighbor-hood” shul. Adat Shalom has turned this diversity into a strength. The community was built as members volunteered to train other members in synagogue skills or teach classes. In the process, more members became able to lead parts of the service, and the ethos of participation was strengthened. D’var Torah discussions took the place of sermons so that many voices could be heard during our services. Members, as teachers and mentors, have always helped teach our youth. A culture of learning, action, and participation was created. Adat Shalom became a place to lovingly wrestle with every aspect of the Jewish tradition, to explore one’s spiritual journey, and to discover the warmth of community. Early on, a Statement of Principles signaled the community’s commitment to take matters of ideology and purpose quite seriously. The Principles hold up our ideals to the established membership and explain the congregation essence to prospective members. Thus Adat Shalom has always attracted people who “bought into” what we were trying to accomplish. While open and inclusive, we have always been comfortable saying, “Adat Shalom is not for everyone” – meaning that new members should be ready to participate and to grow Jewishly. Adat Shalom’s annual retreats are a highlight of the program year. Attended by hundreds of members, here the community relaxes and bonds, while learning about key aspects of Jewish life. Many of the retreat themes were later shaped into communal guidelines about Shabbat, tzedakah (sharing our wealth), gemilut chasadim (acts of personal caring), Tikkun Olam (acts of social justice), and Avodah (service to the community). These guidelines, now integral additions to the Statement of Principles, express our ideals for both personal and communal behavior.


Adat Shalom has been and will remain an exceptional community due to the commitment of its lay-leaders. From presidents to committee chairs to event coordinators to ushers and shleppers, our remarkable activity and success flow from a uniquely high level of leadership and participation. Our community is immeasurably strengthened by member-led adult education programs, social action initiatives, worship services, support, and affinity groups, Shabbat potluck dinners, and holiday celebrations. Every time we attend a shiva minyan, join in a Torah discussion, make a donation, plan an event, bring food to the oneg – we build community. In 1996 Sid decided to devote his full-time energies to PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, which he also founded. After serving as our student rabbi for one year, Fred Scherlinder Dobb became Adat Shalom’s first full-time rabbi in June of 1997. Today, in addition to Rabbi Fred, the congregation enjoys ongoing rabbinic leadership from Sid, from congregant, turned rabbi, George Driesen and from students from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA. Hazzan Rachel Hersh Epstein has served as our cantor since 1995. Under her leadership, we welcome many congregational members who lead parts of our services. Toni Bloomberg Grossman serves as our Educational Director and Sheila Feldman, a longtime member of Adat Shalom, serves as Executive Director. Adat Shalom achieved some national prominence when Sid published his groundbreaking book, ’’Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews can Transform the American Synagogue”. The book argues that American synagogues need to evolve from the post-war, synagogue-center model, to a new paradigm called the synagogue-community. Sid based the new paradigm what was created at Adat Shalom, an innovative model featuring high levels of participation, inclusivity and engagement-a model which is now being widely emulated around the country.


The spirit of Adat Shalom has been aesthetically extended to its building through the creativity and vision of architects Robert Schwartz and Keith Peoples, working in close cooperation with members of Adat Shalom at every step of design and implementation. The synagogue and its environs express a deep sense of community, respect, and love for Jewish tradition, and a full embrace of the natural world and of our responsibility as stewards of Creation. Paraphrasing the great architect Louis Kahn, Bob Schwartz said that he and Keith sought to make the building “what the community wanted it to be.”

Biblical Themes

The sense of something special begins even from the parking lot. Two stone pillars set off the secular world from the holy space of the synagogue. The site design itself captures one of the recurring themes: recreating the movement from the everyday world to the sacred, embodied in the design of Solomon’s Temple, and ours. The pillars themselves recall the twin towers of Solomon’s Temple. The site is ringed with, and much of the building adorned with, cedars, from which Solomon’s Temple was built. Like the biblical temple, our building features numerous passages moving us closer and closer to the central space, the sanctuary. The rock garden and gravel parking area is reminiscent of the journey through the desert after leaving Egypt. The quiet water in front of the building represents a passage over the Jordan river into the promised land. The massing of the building is suggestive of mount Sinai, the place of our people’s covenant with Torah. Upon entering the sanctuary one is struck by the fabric in the sanctuary ceiling which diffuses the natural light. The fabric wraps the entire congregation in a tallit, the sacred prayer shawl. The fabric also recalls the tents that served as the dwelling place of our ancestors in the desert. We are reminded that Abraham and Sarah’s tent was open on all sides as a sign of hospitality{Gen. 18), a theme consistent with Adat Shalom’s commitment to be a well-coming congregation. The brass base and caps on the columns in the sanctuary-are represent the precious metals the people used to build the Mishkan, the holy tabernacle. The Jerusalem stone that surrounds the ark connects us to Israel while reminding us of the Western Wall, the only remnant of the second temple.


During the design process, Adat Shalom members expressed a desire that their new home connects with, rather than be removed from, the natural world. And from almost any location in the building, nature pours in. The areas that surround the building will be fully utilized by the community. The nature court outside the sanctuary will hold the sukkah in the fall. the Torah School courtyard beckons children for outside activity. The amphitheater behind the library will be the site of community gatherings and worship. The gardens will connect us to both local species and biblical ones. Other features of the building will remind us of the natural world. The quiet water at the front of the building will ripple with the first drops of rain, and the trellises holding arbors bring nature into the building. The sun plays a central role, with its light tracked by three different means in the sanctuary. At the east wall, a slot lets light pour in behind the bima. A skylight in the cupola above lets sunlight reflects off different colored walls as the sun moves around the building. Most prominently, the tent fabric will diffuse the light as the sun moves through the sig/. The sanctuary, social hall, school, and administrative area are all linked along central axes, like knots on a string. Standing at the exit doors of the social hall one can look down the hallway, past the sanctuary and nature court, into the school with a virtually unobstructed view. A unique aspect of our new building is its integration of the prairie-style house that was already on the property. Looking from the sanctuary through the nature court, one can see the front wall of the previous house, with its unusual facade of local stone. This stone is seen throughout the property. It is used on the pillars at the entrance, the back wall of the library, the stone wall in the administrative area, and the unique conical fireplace in the library and rabbi’s study.

Ecological Sensitivity

Rabbi Fred and numerous lay-leaders helped the community in its attempt “to walk lightly on the Earth” while building a permanent home. The VCT flooring in the social hall and school wing, and the carpet in the sanctuary are made

primarily of recycled material. The DIY wall and steel studs that make up the walls are also mostly from recycled materials. The wood flooring comes from well-managed forests, the shingles on the exterior come from tree stumps from past harvests, and the shelving and countertops are made from particleboard. The columns that support the entranceway are second-use logs, cutover a century ago. The Ner Tamid (eternal light) is solar-powered. Energy conservation also was a consistent concern. The building is divided into six zones, to limit the need for fossil-fuel-based heating and cooling. The clerestory windows and dark floor make the social hall work as a passive solar space. Natural ventilation flows throughout the building. On pleasant days, the air flowing between the high and low windows in the sanctuary and social hall creates a cool chimney-effect breeze.


Our People’s House

Our Jewish heritage has been built into numerous elements of the building. The shtetl shuls of Eastern Europe are represented in the heavy timber frames around the building, the trellises and the base under the shingles. The shingles themselves recall the exterior of these beautiful wooden synagogues, as does the stepped roof. From both outside and inside, one’s eyes and feet are drawn to the sanctuary. The worship space has been the setting for Adat Shalom’s most profound communal moments, just as it has been to generations of our ancestors before us. The sanctuary is designed to feel intimate from any seat, yet one only needs to gaze upward to have a sense of majesty. Recognizing that community is built in numerous informal ways, the lobbies in our building are extra large to accommodate people gathering and talking. The porch sur-rounding the social hall will provide the space for extended fellowship during our heralded oneg luncheons. The quiet room at the back of the sanctuary will keep parents with young children connected to services, without concerns about the noise of their children at play. 

Judaic Aesthetics

Phrases from biblical, rabbinic and liturgical texts appear throughout the building. Each inscription offers a kavanah, a thematic intention, that suggests the sacred activity that will take place in that part of our spiritual home, from the kitchen to sanctuary. Of particular note are the engraved beams surrounding the seating area in the sanctuary. Inspired by the pillars supporting the magnificent sanctuary ceiling, these beams offer two variations of the rabbinic observation, “the world stands on three pillars”: Mishna Avot 1:2 completes the phrase with “on Torah, on service/worship, and on acts of loving-kindness”; Avot 1:18 concludes the same passage with, “on justice, on truth, and bn peace.”These two variations on the same text demonstrate the multiple layers of meaning that are yielded from the engagement with Torah study, a central part of Adat Shalom’s worship experience. A week after week people come to our sanctuary to understand their respective life journeys, through the prism of Torah and Judaism’s ancient liturgy. In the process, the community becomes the context for the Torah’s ongoing revelation. The ark doors, hand-crafted by Adat Shalom member, Steve Shafer, were designed by Steve with Bob Schwartz. The doors tease the imagination. Some will see the Etz Chaim (tree of life) the symbol of heritage with deep historic roots and branches reaching out to the heavens- and a symbol for Torah as well (see Prov. 3:18, and Torah service liturgy). Others will see the burning bush or perhaps, a menorah. Inside the ark doors is the parochet, the ark curtain, designed and crafted by award-winning Toronto artist Temma Gentles. Its central element is a giant fig leaf, one of the seven biblical species connected to the land of Israel, as well as the first recognizable tree to be mentioned in the Torah (Gen. 3:7). Juxtaposed against the entire tree/etz chaim on the ark doors, the leaf is a tree’s smallest part. We are reminded that our search for truth involves both scrutinizing the smallest detail of an issue, and seeing the “big picture”. Similarly, the various fabrics and textures employed in the parochet, some opaque and some allowing for light and sight to pass through, suggest the many ways of viewing the Torah and its multi-faceted teachings. As the tradition teaches, there are “seventy faces to the Torah” — shivim panim la Torah. Approaching the parochet more closely, one sees intricacies and details that escape the view from a distance. Woven into the border of the parochet is the Hebrew phrase: Ki imcha m’kor chayim, b’orkha nir’eh or (Psalm 36) -“You are the source of light; by your light, we see light”. However we each understand God, the Divine encounter is both life- and light-giving. Prominently above the leaf is the word “Halleluyah”, completing the phrase from Psalm 150 on the front wall: Koi haneshama t’hallel Yah, “with every breath we praise God.” The ner tamid, eternal light, is suspended above the ark. Made from alabaster, its inverted four-sided shape appears also on the sides of the roof outside, and again in the repositories that hold the kippot (headcoverings) just outside the sanctuary. This shape suggests the offering vessels used in ancient days, objects that both receive and give. On the roof, these unique gutters allow one to visually see the gathering of rainwater which, in tum, flows out the bottom. In the case of the solar-powered ner tamid, one can see the light streaming in from the outside and then refracted through the sacred eternal light. Because the sun shines through skylights behind and astride the ark, the arm that supports the ner tamid will also act as a sundial. Not only will the sunlight’s effect on the ner tamid change throughout the morning service, but the shadows will change with the seasons as the sun’s placement in the sky changes.

Community Process

As with every facet of our communal life, the building was a collaborative communal process. Virtually every aspect of its design, not to mention the campaign to raise the money for the building, was driven by members and involved a large cross-section of our membership. Members of Adat Shalom are proud of all that we have created together and excited about all that lies ahead. If you are not a member and would like more information, you will find most members happy to talk with you. You may also contact the synagogue office during the week. To paraphrase Psalm 127:1, “Unless God is involved in building the house, its builders labor in vain.” We have enshrined our deepest values within these walls. May Divine blessings abound on this building, on all who enter it, and for all the sacred work of the community that takes place within it.