Just a few years ago, many of the Jewish residents of Ellicott City believed themselves the only Jews in town, until Rabbi Yanky Baron showed up.
Baron opened Chabad of Ellicott City’s first physical space during the summer of 2019. Part of his role there was finding Jewish people to do outreach to. At one point, Baron found four or five Jewish families in a single cul de sac.
“A lot of people thought they were the only Jews in the area,” Baron said. “Everyone thought they were the only one there. So I surprised them.”
While the Chabad had to make do with a rented space for the majority of its existence, it now has a new spiritual home, having bought a new property at 9785 Route 99 in Ellicott City. The Chabad organized a mezuzah hanging ceremony the day of the purchase, on July 14.
Before this new location, the Chabad had been renting a storefront beneath an apartment on Route 40.
In addition to organizing Jewish activities and holiday programs, much of Baron’s efforts in the beginning focused on simply determining whether there was a sizable enough Jewish presence in the area to justify a Chabad, he said. He was encouraged to learn of a sizable Jewish presence in the area, even if its members were not aware of each other at the time.
When the pandemic made the use of the center difficult, Baron often made house visits during social distancing, bringing residents a Jewish experience in a box. As the pandemic receded, the Chabad was able to hold some small events of 10 to 15 people, such as a Purim party.
It was in April 2021 that Baron decided to commit to Ellicott City and begin looking for a permanent home there, he said. On July 14, the Chabad chanced upon what Baron called a perfect location. It was highly visible and logistically central, able to serve both the eastern and western sides of Ellicott City. The Chabad closed on the property that very day after coming up with the $75,000 down payment.
Their rented storefront could accommodate between 20 to 30 people, Baron said. By contrast, the new property, which already has a house built on it, can easily accommodate up to 50, and at three-quarters of an acre, he sees plenty of room to expand if more funding becomes available as the community grows. Close to 100 could be accommodated simply through the construction of a parking lot, Baron said, which will make this an early priority.
Other possible additions that Baron envisions include a self-standing synagogue, spaces for challah bakes, a Hebrew school or afterschool art programs. The fact that the property has no neighbors was also a perk, he said.
Additionally, the move from the rented space to an owned property means the Chabad is no longer paying someone else’s mortgage, Baron said. Finally, at the rented property the Chabad was not able to so much as put up a sign on the storefront to indicate where they were, while at the current property they have set up a large outdoor menorah to highlight its location.
Funding for the purchase of the new property largely came from a partner database that Baron had been building while making connections in the community, he said. Funding rarely comes from the headquarters in Brooklyn.
“When someone gives money towards something, it shows that they want it to continue,” Baron said. “A Chabad house, if it’s not being supported locally, it doesn’t have a future.”
Asked what the new location will mean to the local community, Baron explained that the new space provides the community with a place where they can feel comfortable expressing their Jewish identity.
“For people locally, it’s the heart of Jewish life,” Baron said. “It’s a space where Jewish people can consider their own personal home, so they can feel comfortable expressing, learning, engaging their heritage, their religion.”
For those who wish to contribute to the Chabad, Baron invites them to visit chabadellicottcity.com/yourjewishhome.