Rally Promotes Idea Of Sabbath

May 18, 2009

Author: Matthew Hay Brown

Source: The Baltimore Sun


For Yoel Benyowitz, setting aside work at sundown on Friday, lighting the shabbos candles and spending the next 24 hours in prayer and fellowship with family and friends "recharges our batteries, both physically and spiritually."

It's an experience that he wishes more Jews enjoyed. The 47-year-old father of four, a computer information specialist with the state Department of Transportation, joined thousands of fellow Orthodox Jews in Park Heights on Sunday for a rally to promote observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

The event, the first of its kind in a dozen years, came as local Jewish leaders consider a plan to open a community center in Owings Mills on Saturdays.

Officials at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, which operates facilities in Owings Mills and Park Heights, say the move is necessary to meet the needs of the largely nonobservant community in the northwestern suburb. But the Orthodox, who refrain from labor, operating electrical appliances and other activities from sundown on Friday until nightfall on Saturday, say it would violate Jewish law.

"What one idea expresses our identity? What one concept expresses our heritage?" Rabbi Aharon Feldman, dean of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, asked the midday gathering outside Northwestern High School. "We are giving up our identity, everything we stand for, by compromising shabbos."

JCC President Louis "Buddy" Sapolsky, who was invited to sit on the dais but did not speak at the rally, said afterward that he had "unbelievable respect for the Orthodox leadership and for the crowd that turned out."

"Our board has a responsibility to serve the entire community," he continued. "Different people have different ways of observing. Some people don't observe at all. We feel that by giving them the opportunity to come to the center, it could be the beginning of a Jewish journey for them."

The JCC board voted 41-4 last week to open the Owings Mills facility on Saturday afternoons beginning in June. The final decision rests with the board of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which is scheduled to vote on the matter next week.