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History of Kemp Mill Synagogue

Kemp Mill Synagogue held its first service on Parashat Parah, March 17, 1990 in a house purchased to serve as a temporary facility for the new congregation by a group of ten generous investors. That first service was attended by 50 worshipers. In January 1990, those same investors became a makeshift board of trustees and voted to found the Kemp Mill Synagogue, incorporating the synagogue as a non-profit corporation.

Founding Philosophy

The founding philosophy of KMS combined study, prayer, spirituality, and community to create an encompassing institution. In 1994, Rabbi Jack Bieler officially became the first rabbi of KMS. As the leader of the KMS community, Rabbi Bieler has led and inspired the development of an ambitious program of shiurim, study groups, scholars-in-residence and educational programs. Weekly Divrei Torah by men and women enlighten the congregation by offering a diversity of perspectives. Youth groups and social activities contribute to creating a warm and engaged community.

Founding Rabbi

Rabbi Yaakov Bieler was the founding rabbi of KMS and served as our Mara D'Atra until his retirement in 2015. Rabbi Bieler has published numerous articles on Jewish education and issues facing Judaism today, especially from the perspective of Modern Orthodoxy. His Divrei Torah, podcasts, articles and other writings can be found on his website "Rayanot Yaakov" and on his blog "Contemporary Explorations of Jewish Texts and Thinkers".

Rabbi Bieler was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and received an MA in Jewish Education from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Education in 1974. Following graduation from Yeshiva, Rabbi Bieler served on the faculty and was Chairman of the Talmud Department of the Joseph H. Lookstein Upper School of Ramaz from 1974-1988.

During his tenure at Ramaz, Rabbi Bieler concurrently served on the faculty of the Adult Education Institute of the Lincoln Square Synagogue between 1971-1977, and as permanent scholar-in-residence of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun from 1977-1988. In 1985, he received a Jerusalem Fellows fellowship and spent the year with his family in Jerusalem. In 1988, Rabbi Bieler assumed the position of Lead Teacher and Chairman of the Judaic Studies Department at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, now as Berman in Rockville, MD.  He served as the Upper School Assistant Principal in charge of Judaic Studies from 1991-2005.

KMS Today

Kemp Mill Synagogue held its first services in our current home on Kemp Mill Road on Shabbat of September 19 1998. Our beautiful building is the hub of our community, and a place where we gather to daven, learn, celebrate, and observe lifecycle events, smachot and rituals together.

To this day, KMS remains a synagogue that relies on all of its members to realize the aspirations and vision upon which it was founded.


An important question that members of any synagogue should be regularly asking themselves is: What are the qualities that should and do set apart our Shul from other similar institutions and organizations? If a synagogue is viewed merely as a place of prayer and Tora study, a location where people gather in order to fulfill their religious obligations, then one Beit Knesset should not be all that different from another. However, if a particular group of pray-ers and learners are striving to become something greater than the mere sum of their collective presences on Shabbat, Yom Tov, and during the week, then it becomes necessary to articulate the nature and values of the religious community that they are looking to create. Many of the members of KMS believe that the Shul’s rapid growth and popularity stem from strong commitments by the overwhelming majority of the membership to several principles:

Serious and inspiring communal Tefilla

From the outset, all Minyanim at KMS have been marked by a seriousness of purpose and devotion to Kavod HaTora (respect for Halachic Judaism) and Kedushat HaMakom (a sense of sanctity of place.) For this reason, services are distinguished by the exclusive sound of individuals engaging in Tefilla, as much group singing of the prayers as possible, the absence of personal conversation, parents insisting their children be seated quietly with them or requiring them to attend groups meeting during times of prayer, and the expectation that every member do his share in making a commitment to the daily morning and evening Minyanim throughout the year. We welcome men and women’s participation and for this reason, there are an equal number of seats for men and women in every venue where services are conducted. Women are also represented on the KMS Ritual Committee, which develops, and reviews synagogue policies associated with prayer. As opposed to synagogues which depend upon a small core of individuals to maintain the various services provided, we have always advocated broad participation by as many individuals as possible in all Shul activities, and Minyanim are no exceptions to this rule. The same concept drives our commitment to having as many Ba’alei Tefilla (leaders of prayers), Ba’alei Kri’a (Tora readers), and Darshanim (deliverers of Tora thoughts) as possible drawn from the ranks of our membership. From the standpoint of efficiency and consistency, it would be more practical and perhaps even allow for a higher standard of excellence were these tasks concentrated among a small group of experienced and gifted individuals. But we believe that a great deal more is gained in terms of feeling ownership, responsibility, participation and commitment when we rotate these assignments among the widest number of members of our community.

Sophisticated Limud Tora

Tora study is considered to be of equal importance to Tefilla among the activities that take place at KMS. In addition to the obvious role that such learning plays as a religious activity mandated by Tora SheB’Ktav and Tora SheB’Al Peh (the Written and Oral Traditions), the particular type of learning that we have tried to promote at KMS, is an approach to our original sources that courageously and honestly deals with the issues of faith, morality, and how to apply our Jewish law and tradition to the situations that arise in the complex lives of those who have defined themselves as Modern Orthodox Jews. Difficult issues are confronted directly, questions are not avoided, and conflicts and tensions are investigated and openly discussed. Our learning not only calls upon us to rely upon our Jewish educations and knowledge, but also our educations and experiences associated with the secular world, which we value and in which we wish to play significant roles. In addition to the Rabbi, we offer Dvrei Tora and Shiuropportunities to all members of the congregation. In addition to presenters from within the KMS community, we are interested in extending invitations to outside personalities, both men and women, who can further enlighten us with respect to the challenges that we face as Orthodox Jews engaging in the modern world. While we attempt to assure that presentations within the Shul fall under the rubric of Tora study as opposed to the sort of scholarly presentations that are more in keeping with a university than an Orthodox synagogue, we recognize the value of not only adding to our membership’s already existing knowledge, but also exposing them to fresh ideas and concepts. Just as we feel that the strength of our synagogue community is reflected in the numbers of members that personally attend and participate in communal Tefilla, the same is true regarding communal Tora study. Tora learning can only be represented as an authentic Shul value when the overwhelming majority of the membership avail themselves of the opportunities that he synagogue offers. KMS is committed to offer Shiurim (classes) on different levels, meeting at different times, on a variety of topics that are constantly being changed. If there are Toralearning venues that are currently not being offered by KMS, interested members should approach those responsible for Shul programming and we will do our utmost to be responsive to these expressed needs.

Service to KMS and the community

KMS, from its inception, has stressed an activist and populist approach regarding the Shul’s operation and organization of activities. Although the synagogue’s professional staff h as increased over the years, the vast majority of programming offered by KMS takes place only because we have volunteers ready to devote the time and energy needed. Volunteers have assisted in maintaining the building, physically participated in the synagogue’s maintenance and upkeep, annually put up and disassembled the Shul Sukka, and served on numerous committees responsible for a broad variety of Shul functions. The Ritual Committee is made up of representatives of the various constituencies participating in our Minyanim, including a rotation of Gabbaim, who regularly revisit policies and practices to assure that as the synagogue evolves, the quality and nature of the religious services are appropriate. Bikkur Cholim and Chevra Kaddisha/Bereavement Support are obviously major responsibilities of our Shul community, and as many members as possible are urged to offer their time and energy to these important causes in some sort of useful manner. The Education Committee plans the various Tora presentations that take place throughout the year, as well as the schedule and identity of the series of Scholars-in-Residence who will visit the community. The synagogue newsletter, Kol Mevaser, is edited by a number of individuals who are responsible for its contents, its layout, and its production. The Youth Committee oversees and facilitates youth programming as well as collaboratively generates new programming initiatives for children of all ages. The members of the Social Action Committee not only concern themselves with the needs of KMS itself, but also deal with matters of importance for the community at large. The Kiddushcommittee has featured a rotation of the entire membership whose weekly responsibilities consist of preparing, setting up, and then cleaning the area(s) utilized for our Kiddushim. The Special Needs Committee seeks out means by which families that face particular challenges to more easily participate in KMS events and programs. KMS members are leaders and participants in Jewish Federation, local day schools, the Rabbinical Council, the Emunah Society, the Kemp Mill Civic Association, and the Orthodox Union. It is important that as our membership grows, the spirit of broad participation be maintained and even increased in order for us all to feel that each of us have deeply vested interests in the continued excellence of KMS, of which we feel so proud.

Commitment to Youth

The synagogue takes seriously the responsibility to provide not only its adult membership, but also the younger members of its families with a meaningful, positive and inspiring Shul experience. We understand that positive attitudes towards prayer, Tora study, participating in Jewish community, and religious observance are formed at a young age, and therefore, in addition to the home and the school, the synagogue must play a pro-active role in attempting to help foster these sensibilities among its children. To this end, quality, age-appropriate Shabbat and Yom Tov programming is a high priority in terms of budgetary and space considerations, as well as with respect to plans to improve and expand the KMS facility. The Youth Minyan, which is entirely run by adolescents, is considered as important as any other Minyan in the synagogue, since we recognize that skills developed in this Minyan will contribute to participants being encouraged to serve as leaders both on the college campus as well as in the communities where they may eventually take up residence.  The youth of our community are the future not only of our synagogue, but at least in some part, Modern Orthodoxy, and we must expend every effort to try to positively contribute to that future.

Commitment to the State of Israel

KMS defines itself as an institution that is dedicated to Zionism and the support of Israeli culture and society. We regularly feature speakers and conduct symposiums, which address issues relevant to current events in Israel as well as in the world at large. While the Shul is careful to try to avoid offending the sensibilities of its members, who represent a wide range of political views with regard to the political and military policies directly affecting the future of the Jewish state, we also realize that it is important to remain informed concerning rapidly changing developments. The synagogue supports and participates in theBnai Akiva youth movement, KMS is one of the prominent sponsors of the community’s Israeli Independence Day celebration, full Hallel is recited on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim at the Shul’sMinyanim, and we promote regular missions to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation and the Orthodox Union, all further reflecting our involvement with and concern for Israel. We welcome into our midst and offer assistance and support to the members of the Tora MiTziyon Kollel, sponsored by the Berman Hebrew Academy, as well as Israeli families coming to Washington on Sabbaticals, and appreciate the additional flavor of Israel that we gain through their presence.

From the description of these five central commitments of the Kemp Mill Synagogue, one should be able to understand the types of things which we are striving to achieve. In order to improve our synagogue experience continually and fulfill our potential for being a strong, vibrant spiritual community, we recognize the need to reflect regularly upon the nature and quality of our services, Tora learning opportunities, and ways of conducting Shul affairs. We welcome all those who wish to assist us to turn our aspirations into realities, to identify some area(s) of synagogue activity which interests them, to become actively involved and join us in building our Kehilla.

Sefer Minhagim

The updated Sefer Minhagim can be found here.

Prayer for the Welfare of the Government

The prayer for the Welfare of Government of the United States of America can be found here.

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784