Entering the Pardes: Inside Beth Joshua Congregation’s Meaningful New Name

Written by Jonathan Krisch on . Posted in Community News

The Cepler family was overwhelmed when, a few weeks after moving to Aspen Hill, Maryland, their 7-month-old son experienced major medical problems. “We weren’t sure how we were going to manage,” recalled Michal Cepler. But shortly after reaching out to Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Joshua Congregation, help began to appear.

“Community members were stopping by with food, helping around the house, and even getting our daughter to and from preschool,” Cepler said. “We were introducing ourselves as families were dropping off meals. It was an incredible outpouring of support!” At that time, Cepler recounted, she knew she was living in a kehilah (community) of interconnectedness.

So it was very fitting when Cepler, now president of Beth Joshua, officially launched the synagogue’s new name, Kehilat Pardes: The Rock Creek Synagogue. While “pardes” can be translated as grove, orchard, or paradise in Hebrew, the congregation sees Pardes as a place of interconnectedness.

“We identify as a spiritual and close-knit community, where we support each other and help each other grow,” said Topolosky. “We are striving to create a paradise here of accessible, meaningful Jewish connections.”

To launch the rebranding, the synagogue hosted multiple events. Rabbi Topolosky conducted a series of classes about the mystical Talmudic story of four scholars “entering the Pardes.” The theme of the congregation’s Shavuot learning was “The meaning of a name,” and included shiurim (classes) on topics such as biblical name changes and how names impact our perceptions.

Kehilat Pardes has experienced tremendous growth in the past five years, which drove the rebranding effort. As more young families moved to this Rockville neighborhood, there became a growing sentiment that the synagogue’s name should inspire and provide a vision for the community.

The “Joshua” in Beth Joshua referred to Rabbi Joshua Klavan, one of the founders of Berman Hebrew Academy in 1943 when it was located in Washington, D.C. He passed away in 1953 and Berman Hebrew Academy moved to Rockville in 1999. Congregational leaders wanted new members to feel ownership of the synagogue’s name and identity.

As referenced in the new name, the Kehilat Pardes neighborhood is nestled along Rock Creek Park; but the reference to Rock Creek Park also has deeper meaning.

During the name search, Vice President Miki Cohen Moskowitz discovered a geographic anomaly about the Aspen trees that surround the community in Aspen Hill: Though they appear on the surface to be individual trees, they have interconnected root systems. Thus, the kehilah’s interconnectedness appears to be mirrored in the actual environment that surrounds them.

The other implication of the new name pertains to the fact that in Jewish tradition the acronym “PARDES” refers to the four levels of meaning in the Torah, from the simple reading (p’shat) to the secrets within the text (sod). As a Modern Orthodox synagogue with a strong spiritual focus, Kehilat Pardes is interested in critically analyzing text and unlocking those secrets.

In fact, the new Kehilat Pardes logo itself contains some sod, with the pattern of leaves on the logo reflecting the gematria (numerical value of the letters) of Rabbi Akiva’s most famous quote: “‘Love your fellow as you love yourself’ — this is a major principle of the Torah.”

By Jonathan Krisch 

Jonathan Krisch is a board member of Kehilat Pardes — The Rock Creek Synagogue (formerly known as Beth Joshua Congregation), which operates out of Berman Hebrew Academy in the Aspen Hill neighborhood of Rockville, Maryland.