An Orthodox Destination

Gary Skulnik, with daughter Irit, 2, and his wife, Polina, and daughters Celia, 6, and Rachel, 9, said the neighborhood
Gary Skulnik, with daughter Irit, 2, and his wife, Polina, and daughters Celia, 6, and Rachel, 9, said the neighborhood "enriches life." (James M Thresher - Twp)

By Janet Lubman Rathner
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, October 15, 2005

At first glance, the Silver Spring neighborhood of Kemp Mill resembles many other subdivisions built in Montgomery County in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A closer inspection, however, reveals something a little different.

Interspersed among the tree-shaded blocks of ramblers, split levels, Cape Cods and Colonials are four Jewish schools and three synagogues. At the Kemp Mill Shopping Center, along with the usual Giant Food, CVS pharmacy and Chevy Chase Bank, are a kosher butcher and a kosher bakery that do a thriving business.

The reason?

At least half of the community's approximately 10,000 residents are Orthodox Jews.

"Kemp Mill has probably the largest Orthodox population in Montgomery County," said Shonny Kugler, a real estate agent and resident of Kemp Mill since 1966.

Kemp Mill has been a destination for Orthodox Jews since 1961, when the Young Israel Shomrai Emunah synagogue relocated to the leafy suburb from Washington.

"There was no Orthodox community until we moved out here," recalled Gedaliah Anemer, senior rabbi at Shomrai Emunah. "We started having services in my house. A small synagogue was built a year later."

The synagogue has grown along with Kemp Mill. Today it operates out of a building on University Boulevard, where there is also a nursery school, and one on Arcola Avenue.

"We have 800 families," Anemer said. "Kemp Mill is pleasant for the Orthodox. I have this proprietary feeling about it. I'm like a father."

The high number of Orthodox Jews who call Kemp Mill home is apparent on weekends, when, rain or shine, people are out in droves, walking to places of worship. Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday and lasts until sundown Saturday. Kugler said that religious tenet attracts Orthodox Jews to Kemp Mill. "They need a synagogue within walking distance," he said. "They relocate for that."

Herzel Kranz, the rabbi at Kemp Mill's Silver Spring Jewish Center, said that while other areas in Montgomery County have substantial Jewish populations, "Kemp Mill is the Jewish neighborhood of Washington."

"Potomac has synagogues," he said, but "a synagogue does not make a community. It's the infrastructure; the schools, the mikvah [ritual bath], a butcher shop, bakeries, bookstores. It's either here in Kemp Mill or a mile away in Wheaton," Kranz said.

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