The Orthodox congregation Ezras Israel of Washington was founded in 1907 and led by Rabbi Arthur Bogner for many years. As its membership dwindled in the 1970s, Rabbi Bogner, like many others, looked to the Montgomery County suburbs for the shul's future. In 1978, before he retired from forty years of service to Ezras Israel of Washington, Rabbi Bogner placed an ad to determine whether there was interest in having an Orthodox congregation in Rockville. A number of people living in the area answered that ad, and several are still shul members today. Rabbi Bogner bought the house at 320 Lorraine Drive to house himself and the new shul, and Ezras Israel Congregation of Rockville was born. Services were held in his basement, and at that time the Rabbi provided almost all of the financial support. Every other Shabbat he and his son, Nathan, arrived to lead services, read the Torah, and give us learning and guidance. Because the congregation was on its own on the alternate weeks, everyone pitched in to keep the congregation going. There was a minyan almost every Friday night, on Shabbat morning and evening, and on Yomim Tovim, largely due to the population of Iranian Jews who lived near the shul. Since then these attendees, as well as many others from the early years, have left the area. In 1983 the Rabbi arranged to rent a room at 200 Rollins Avenue, again financed by him and a few of the members. Having reached his mid-eighties, Rabbi Bogner fell ill and was unable to continue to carry the burdens of a struggling congregation. He retired fully in 1987 and moved to Israel. Macey Kronsberg and Dr. Harry Polacheck assumed leadership of the Congregation after Nathan Bogner became unable to remain involved in shul affairs. The shul survived through the sale of tickets for High Holiday services (first at the JCC and in recent years at the Ring House), membership fees, and contributions. The rental arrangement at 200 Rollins Avenue continued until 1992, when we knew it was time to find a place of our own. With help from the treasury of Ezras Israel of Washington, which had in the meantime sold its building in downtown Washington, President Zev Halpern and the Congregation purchased our shul's permanent residence at 803 Montrose Road. The original Ezras Israel Congregation also gave us three Sifrai Torahs, a memorial board with plaques, curtains for the ark, table covers, chairs, prayer books, and other items essential to a shul.
Under the leadership of President Rachmil Jacobovits, the congregation addressed the need to add spiritual leadership to assure the shul's continued growth. With the help of The Center for Rabbinic Leadership, the congregation retained the services of Rabbi Eli Weiss in 1995. The congregation modified the interior of the building to provide a residence for the Rabbi and his family on the upper two levels and a place for the congregation on the lower level. Under the leadership of President Lazer Fuerst, attendance at services increased. Under Rabbi Weiss' tutelage, Ezras Israel expanded its services to include a Sunday morning minyan, classes, and an eruv surrounding the community. We have celebrated bar and bat mitzvahs, held Brit Milot, weddings, and funerals, and celebrated a Hachnosat Sefer Torah (Torah dedication). We have hosted numerous lectures and presented Talmud classes. We are members of the Orthodox Union, and our Internet site at www.ezrasisrael.org provides visitors with information about our shul and its schedules and programs. Ezras Israel is now known as an institution that serves the spiritual needs of traditionally minded Jews.
After four years of service, Rabbi Weiss left our shul. With the dedicated work of a rabbinical search committee, we found new and vigorous spiritual leadership in Rabbi Eliezer Kreiser. Now in his fourth year, Rabbi Kreiser's influence is strong, and his and Perel's outreach an d wel coming spirit welcome all visitors to our community. The Rabbi and Perel joined their family to that of Ezras Israel and are the warm nucleus of the shul—teaching classes, welcoming guests, and always seeking to help Jews from all walks of life connect with their Torah roots. With Rabbi Kreiser's continuing involvement in the community, the Ring House, the Hebrew Home, Aish Hatorah, and the Vaad, our small and friendly shul has become an important community resource. This year, with the Kreisers moving into their own house, the Congregation was able completed Phase 1 of our building expansion program by renovating the building and moving the sanctuary upstairs. With this move, our shul evolves from a "shtibel" in the Rabbi's basement to a community facility where we meet every shabbat to daven and share each others joys and sorrows.
One of the oppportunities to publicly acknowledge those who make Ezras Israel such a special place is the annual banquet, at which we honor people who bring honor to our congregation by their deeds and service to the to the Jewish community everywhere. In 1999 we recognized Dr. Jack and Elsie Trombka. In 2000 we honored Rabbi Oscar Groner, in addition to holding a farewell dinner for Rabbi Eli and Tova Weiss. In 2001 we honored our six "minyan-aires" Sam Ackerman, Rudy Abraham, Fred Bieler, Ephraim Friedman, Nathan Jacobs and Hans Nussbaum. In 2002 we honored Ana and Bernardo Kliksberg for their Tikkun Olam work on behalf of our fellow Jews of Argentina as well as for bringing worldwide attention to our little Shul. Rick and Ilene Van Houter encouraged Ezras Israel's sponsorship of the two Ben Yehuda Street Fairs at the JCC of Greater Washington in June and October of 2002. In 2003, they were honored for their hard work leading to a great success for the merchants of Israel and also for bringing recognition to our congregation. Ilene and Rick also strengthen American Jewry's link to Israel, as they continue to provide us locally with news about Jewry worldwide and events that are shaping and reshaping the world political arena. In 2004, thanks to the Jacobovits family we welcomed a new Sefer Torah into our midst with a celebration that involved a large percentage of our immediate Jewish neighbors. Sue Fuerst published an extraordinary article about this event in the Washington Jewish Week of January 1, 2004. Sue and Lazer have contributed significantly to the growth and smooth running of Ezras Israel Congregation since they joined our community in 1988. The same year, we were pleased to honor them at our sixth annual dinner. Lazer has served as Treasurer since 1991 with only a two-year hiatus to serve as President. He has been a gabbai, a chazzan-on-demand, the construction foreman on the Succah each year and active participant on the past Rabbi search, High Holiday and Eruv committees. Sue has contributed to Ezras Israel by establishing our newsletter, Kol Ezras Israel, publishing the above-mentioned article as well as editing our annual dinner journal in 2001. At that time there were 6 honorees whose biographies Sue masterfully recorded for posterity. We are grateful to Sue and Lazer for making Ezras Israel an important part of their daily lives and wish them many more years of good health, happiness and contentment as well as success in all of their endeavors.
Last year, we honored the unsung volunteers of Ezras Israel, those individuals that have a crucial role in the day-to-day life of our warm community. We are now heading towards the year 2007 which would be, please G.. which will mark the centenary of existence for our synagogue. Yehi Ratzon that we will continue to grow, provide help and be an important part of the Jewish Community of Greater Washington !
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