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For heritage and tradition

Jewish group preserves cultural and religious services year-round

Created date

April 12th, 2016
Riderwood Jewish community members

Riderwood Jewish Community President Bert Kaplan welcomes new members to the group. (From left) Dick Pawliger, Nancy Pawliger, Bert Kaplan, Howard Ledder, and Gloria Ledder.

Riderwood is home to about 450 Jewish people, representing roughly 17% of the resident population. With such a robust and active Jewish population, the resident-run Riderwood Jewish Community is able to put on a wide variety of events and activities. 

Bert Kaplan, who recently became the group’s president, says regular activities include a book club, a Yiddish group, a secular Jewish study group, a reconstructionist study group, Hadassah, and a Tuesday DVD and lecture series. On Sundays, there are presentations on Jewish history, culture, art, and music. Friday night services take place in the chapel, and Saturday morning services are in Arbor Ridge, Riderwood’s continuing care health services neighborhood. 

New discussion series

This year, the community will begin hosting a new twice-monthly discussion series led by Rabbi Stan Levin. Bert says it will revolve around the Old Testament and explore what it means to be Jewish in modern America. 

“Having a huge Jewish population allows us to do all of these different things,” Bert says. 

Recent Sunday presentations have included a program on Sephardic music and a showing of Above and Beyond, a film about American Jewish pilots who volunteered to fight for Israel in its 1948 war for independence. 

Upcoming Sunday events will include a performance by Jewish musician Robin Helzner, a jazz concert by Jules Levine and Josh Perlman, a presentation about famous Jewish delis, a Klezmer music performance, a discussion of how Jewish cantorial melodies appear in Broadway musicals, and a Hannukah celebration in December. 

“I think of the Riderwood Jewish Community as a place where people get together and do Jewish-related activities, whether it is prayer, discussion, or just to talk about common interests,” Bert says. “It’s the people that make it happen, so when people walk in, they experience a sense of familiarity. One of my goals is to enhance the involvement of as many Jewish residents as possible in our activities, and we try to do that by having good programs and a really enjoyable atmosphere.”

Inclusive festive

Riderwood’s Jewish community also organizes holiday celebrations. In March, they were planning a party for Purim, the most joyous Jewish holiday that celebrates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all Jews in the ancient Persian Empire. 

As is customary, the festive Purim celebration will include drinks and traditional foods like hamantaschen, triangular cookies with sweet fillings.

“Purim Fest will be combined with the Friday night service,” Bert says. “Some people will come in costume, and there will be some tomfoolery.”

One of the community’s most anticipated annual events is the Passover Seder, which takes place this year in April. A Maryland rabbi comes to Riderwood for the Seder, and hundreds of residents, as well as their family members and friends, gather to enjoy the traditional meal, featuring matzoh, bitter herbs, sweet fruit and nuts, and other symbolic foods. 

For some Jewish people, the cultural aspect of Judaism is most important. Consequently, people don’t need to be particularly observant—or even Jewish, for that matter—to attend the events and celebrations organized by Riderwood’s Jewish Community.

“The Jewish community at Riderwood is very vibrant, diverse, and inclusive,” says long-time Jewish resident Millie Spector. “When we put on an entertainment program, we might have 300 people attend, and around one-third are not even Jewish.”

Preserving heritage,

Bert says he has always enjoyed being active in the communities where he has lived, so it seemed like a natural evolution for him to assume a leadership position in Riderwood’s Jewish community. There are 15 or 16 residents on the group’s board, and at least 60 who actively volunteer to help put on programs and special events. 

Bert says the dedication and commitment of all of the board members and volunteers make it easier to be president. 

“There really is some sense of commitment to preserve our heritage and our tradition,” he says. “We want to bring that along with us.”

In addition to putting on events and presentations that all the residents can enjoy, the Jewish people living at Riderwood also add to the richness of the community in many other ways.

“A lot of Jewish people have a high level of education and high sense of volunteerism, so they are involved in everything from the library group to the science clubs to music groups, and they make this a much more diverse community in many ways,” Bert says. “Riderwood is a great community, and we in the Jewish community do whatever we can to help it get better and better for everyone.”