Founded in 1853, B’er Chayim began as an Orthodox congregation but soon tended towards a more Reform type of Service. The Congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1905 and adopted the Union Prayer Book in 1907. A small group split off in 1925, creating Beth El Congregation. The two congregations rejoined in 1934.
Over the ensuing years there were merger discussions with Beth Jacob, the Conservative synagogue in Cumberland. Merger was achieved in 1998 at which time the Torahs, memorial tablets and other Jewish objects were transferred to B’er Chayim. The combined congregation has prospered and maintained an average membership of 75-80 family units.
Through their services, B’er Chayim strives to meet the needs of both their Reform and Conservative members. Friday evening services begin each week at 7:30 pm. There are monthly Saturday morning services on the second Saturday at 10 am. On the fourth Saturday of each month there is a children’s service at 10 am followed by Torah study at 11 am.
The prayer book is the CCAR “Gates of Prayer”. An Oneg follows weekly Friday evening Shabbat services, sponsored on a voluntary basis by members of the congregation.
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first night and both mornings of the holiday. The Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur Day services are attended by both reform and conservative members. There are two separate endings to Yom Kippur afternoon services, one at aprox. 5 pm followed by a break-fast; and one at sunset. The prayer book for High Holidays is “The Gates of Repentance”. The Silverman Mahzor is used for the second day of Rosh Hashanah and the latter afternoon and closing services of Yom Kippur.
There are special Shabbat services such as the Hadassah Shabbat at which Hadassah members conduct the service. We also celebrate other Jewish holidays including Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, Shavuot and Tu B’Shevat. A community Seder is held on the second night of Passover.
The Temple building was constructed in 1864 (at a cost of $7,427.02!).
In 1899 the Congregation purchased a lot adjoining the rear of the Temple and erected a building for use as a parsonage – and that was its use for many years. Later uses of this building included offices and a clubhouse for members. By the mid 1930’s the building was used by the Sunday School which is its use today.
In 1975, B’er Chayim Temple was listed on the National Register for Historic Places, and today is recognized as the longest continuously operating Temple building in the State of Maryland.
Congregation B’er Chayim