“Now, we love walking to services on Saturday morning and running into Lakelands neighbors who are also on their way there,” says Polsky.
It’s been almost 15 years since Shaare Torah was officially founded with five families, gathering in people’s basements and eventually growing the congregation, finding larger spaces in which to hold services, and opening a nursery school in 2002. The biggest turning point for the congregation, however, came in fall 2006, when the synagogue officially opened its doors in Lakelands.
Said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, who also lives in Lakelands, walks to services and has been with Shaare Torah since its early days, “It took almost 10 years to grow our membership, dream, plan, raise money and build our new home in Lakelands, and it continues to be a blessing.”
“Rabbi Jacob,” as he is known, said that Shaare Torah has welcomed over 70 families since completing the building. The nursery school, which started in a church on Darnestown Road, has doubled in size.
“We have been able to continue to improve the quality of the program given the spaciousness, light, adjacent restrooms, and equipment we’ve been able to add in our building,” said Blumenthal.
Shaare Torah President Barbara McGowan said that the nursery school has definitely attracted new members to the congregation since the building opened to its young students in January 2007. “The growth of the nursery school has also contributed to the growth of the membership,” said McGowan.
The building is not done yet. McGowan said that there are plans to finish the building in phases — first with the addition of a social hall, then additional classroom space, and eventually a new sanctuary. Initially, the plans were to have the social hall project in the works by now, but because of the economy, plans are temporarily on hold.
“Things are in our sights, but it needs to be the right time. We are balancing being able to pay our bills with being able to help our members, too. This isn’t the right time to start a new building project,” she said.
Many of the long-time members agree that while the building is essential to the growing congregation, it’s the community and the people that make it what it is. Rebecca Prigal’s family has been there since the beginning. She said, “There has been tremendous growth since the beginning, but the building was only one piece of that growth. Having our own building has made it possible to do great things more frequently for more people in the community. The building also ‘put us on the map’ so that more people can find us more easily.”
Kelli Kahalas, who remembers attending board meetings in the basement of a Lakelands home, agrees. “It is the community of people we have. Warm, caring people who would open their homes to us at anytime,” she said. “The people make the synagogue, not necessarily the physical space.”
Did You Know?
Shaare Torah is open to neighborhood groups to use as a meeting place. It’s also the only synagogue within the city limits of Gaithersburg, and the congregation gives back to the community through events like the annual walk for the homeless, food drives and volunteerism to benefit Gaithersburg HELP, and treat delivery to first responders during the winter holidays.