When Rabbi Dovid and Chani Reyder moved from Brooklyn to Catonsville this summer, they came with the goal of bringing Jewish life to a campus area. But the community beyond University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) is also buzzing with the news of the Catonsville Chabad’s arrival.
Located at 1143 Circle Drive, the Chabad is perfectly placed: UMBC is located close by, with nearly 1,000 Jewish students. Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jeremy Fierstien shared mutual friends with Rabbi Reyder before Catonsville’s Chabad was founded. At a welcome barbeque for the Reyders, students who frequent UMBC’s Hillel were able to get acquainted with the family and ask questions about the new Chabad.
“My students, the leaders of the Hillel, [given the Chabad is new] seem to be starting a good relationship with him,” Fierstien said. “All signs are pointing to a wonderful relationship.”
The Chabad offers dinners every Friday at 7 p.m., as well as a lunch-and-learn program and holiday events. Rabbi Reyder noted that the Chabad is available to anyone who is looking to listen or connect with Judaism.
Some of the Hillel students went to daven with Rabbi Reyder for Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Fierstien said there is talk of a learning group between the two with a third organization called Jewish Learning Connection.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Jr., who grew up in the Catonsville area, was happy to learn of the establishment of a Chabad.
“Traditionally these centers open in sparse or underserved Jewish communities, so it’s very important, they bring Jewish families together,” Ehrlich said. The governor added that it serves a purpose beyond the Jewish community in bringing the state together. “I also look at it as a reminder of the very important, large, prominent and active Jewish population in our state.”
“I am just tickled that it’s here,” local resident George Faber said. “Just tickled!”
Irme Herbst, pharmacist-in-charge at the Jewish-owned AME in Frederick, said that she is “very interested in it. I want to be a part of it.” Herbst stated she would like to see meetings for Jewish business owners there.
“It’d also be great if it draws new people to the area,” she said.
Theodore Jessa, one of the many Social Security Administration employees in the area, shared in the optimism.
“I work for SSA so certainly it would be nice to have afternoon services,” he said after he reminisced about the traditional services he attended in Cheverly, where he used to live.
“We just got started, but we would also like to have a synagogue and a designated area for students,” Reyder said. He also hopes to hold a grand menorah lighting next Chanukah, with plans to approach the city for permission to post “Light and Kindness” signs.
They already host a Pizza & Parsha class for students, and offers students meals on Mondays at 8 p.m. Beyond formal meals, which usually attract around 25 people, the family encourages community members and students to just come by and schmooze.
“Someone stopped by just this morning,” Rabbi Reyder said. They are able to talk about how to deal with different situations in life, for example.
Jessa pointed out that Chabad houses play a particularly special role for communities comprising people with wide-ranging levels of observance.
“Some people get intimidated by religious institutions, but when you see a Chabad house it seems to be a warm place; a family atmosphere.”
The rabbi’s family is a perfect example of this. While Mrs. Chani Reyder cooks for the students, she has many roles as part of Chabad of Catonsville’s operation. Mrs. Reyder was previously the program director of the biggest Jewish Children’s Museum in the U.S., located in Brooklyn, and now she is the “brains and life” of the Catonsville Chabad, according to the rabbi. The website features their daughters Manya and Basha (who just joined the family on Aug. 31), who participate in many of the activities at the Chabad house. They accept donations because this is the family’s full time work responsibility and they are not funded by any organization.
Bruce Coopersmith, who is on the board of directors of B’nai Israel Congregation in downtown Baltimore, said he was thrilled to hear of another Chabad opening.
“Chabad captures the spirit of modern Judaism,” Coopersmith said. “Jews today just want to feel respected; they don’t like to be classified. These are places they can walk in and participate, where they can feel good that they’re Jewish, regardless of background.”
As Jessa said, “It is beautiful to see a Chabad in different places; to see people come from not just one location.”
Rabbi Reyder touched on this idea himself when he said, “Be aware of the unity of kindness.”