An Address In 21117

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, “Rabbi K,” says he thinks the Jews in  Owings Mills are searching for a deeper spiritual connection.  (David Stuck)
Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, “Rabbi K,” says he thinks the Jews in Owings Mills are searching for a deeper spiritual connection.
(David Stuck)

It is a big sacrifice for an Orthodox family — especially one with five children — to live outside of a community with an eruv, an enclosure that allows one to carry items from inside his or her home around the neighborhood on Shabbat.

It is likewise challenging for a frum family to raise its children in an area of the community where there are few other — if any — shomer Shabbat [Shabbat observant] children with whom they can play.

But this is a sacrifice that Rabbi Nochum and Chanie Katsenelenbogen not only are willing to make, but one of which they are today tremendously proud. About eight years since they started Chabad Center in Owings Mills, they completed a several-thousand-square-foot expansion of the facility, located at 11299 Owings Mills Blvd. The reason, said Rabbi K, as he is affectionately known: “The center was bursting at its seams.”

At Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services a few weeks ago, more than 650 people attended — many of them families with young children.

“Chabad of Owings Mills is the go-to source for traditional Judaism in the area,” said Rabbi K. “There was an unmet need for a vibrant and diverse traditional Jewish community in Owings Mills. We were able to accommodate that.”

The center will celebrate its growth on Oct. 6 with a special event, featuring Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff, who is best known for his interview with Helen Thomas. Rabbi Nesenoff asked Thomas about Israel in an interview that took place on the White House lawn. Her answer, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” and to “go home” to Poland and Germany, revealed a side of Thomas that haunted her until her death.

And while attendees are being riveted by the speaker, they will also be enjoying the new facilities. How did an Orthodox synagogue targeted to less observant congregants — that doesn’t charge a membership fee — grow so quickly and so tremendously?

Rabbi K said he thinks it is because Chabad is nonjudgmental.

“We don’t judge anyone. Our doors are open to any and every Jew of all levels of observance. … We don’t question. All are welcome to celebrate, learn and pray and socialize,” he said.

But those who are close with Rabbi K — his followers — say the rabbi and his wife have more to do with the location’s growth that anything else. Bruce E. Kauffman, for example, said Rabbi and Chanie K “inspired me” and that they are “such warm people.”

What is inspiring is not just that they run a Sunday school for 30 children — one that kids want to attend — or that they are certified instructors for the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and provide classes in Jewish subjects for 30 or 40 adults each semester. It is not their Passover Seder, which brings in more than 100 people. It is not Chanukah on Ice. It is that Rabbi K “doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk,” said Kauffman. “He extends himself at all times for his fellow Jew, and he is really committed to helping people who are not affiliated reconnect with Judaism. … He accepts you for who you are and has tremendous patience. There is no pressure. You go at your own level and how you feel comfortable, and he helps get you where you want to go.”

Noted Richard Nudelman of Owings Mills, “Rabbi K and Chanie are really a beacon to the community in Owings Mills. [The Chabad Center] is not just a shul, it’s not just a religious school. It is a warm, welcoming environment to Jews of all degrees of knowledge”

Jonathan Welfeld expressed similar sentiments. He met Rabbi K eight years ago and has grown his family with the center. He said he and his wife were looking for something to help connect their family to Judaism as they raised their then young children.

“He clued my kids in. He lit their souls,” said Welfeld. Today, his kids attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

Rabbi K, who moved to the United States from England in 1999 and married in 2003, said he thinks the market was ripe — and still is — in Owings Mills. He told the JT that “people are looking for more meaning in their lives, more spirituality. Children are known to ask good questions and parents don’t always have great answers. They realize they need to be more involved.”

He said, “There are thousands of Jews in Owings Mills. We will not rest until we reach every single one.”

Who Lives In Owings Mills?
• Owings Mills has 12,100 Jewish persons in 5,300 Jewish households
• Combined, the Owings Mills/Reisterstown areas have essentially the same number of Jewish households today as in 1999 but fewer Jewish persons (22,800 in 1999; 19,100 in 2010)
• Some 23 percent of the Jews living in Owings Mills are under the age of 18
Source: 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study

The Jewish community is invited to celebrate the expansion of the Chabad Center in Owings Mills
Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Special guest: Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff

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