Netivot Shalom Celebrates 18 Years of Community


On March 18, 2004, several Orthodox Jews in the Baltimore area met up to discuss the creation of a new Modern Orthodox shul. By December, Netivot Shalom had had its inaugural Shabbaton and started conducting services out of one of its founding members’ houses.

Netivot Shalom congregants celebrate Purim in costume. (Courtesy of Netivot Shalom)

Though its beginnings were humble, Netivot Shalom has helped foster a close-knit and caring Orthodox Jewish community and is now celebrating its 18th anniversary.

The synagogue threw a party in honor of their anniversary on March 19, appropriately titled “It’s Chai Time for a Party.” Congregants spent the morning celebrating at The Parke at Mt. Washington Clubhouse.

Community is the key tenet that Netivot Shalom was built upon, and it continues to influence the synagogue’s offerings. The shul has a focus on davening and laining, prayer reading and chanting, respectively, and while it has a rabbi it does not have a dedicated prayer leader. Rather, congregants themselves volunteer to participate in services, leading prayers and guiding the others.

“What makes us unique is the joyous inclusion of many people in our services,” said Jeffrey Coleman, Netivot Shalom’s president. Coleman joined the shul one month after its founding and has been with them ever since.

He also noted that they encourage all members of the congregation to participate in davening and laining if they are so inclined. While they follow the Orthodox rule of separating men and women for services, they have held “mixed voice” services in which men and women read scripture that is usually designated only for men to read. Teenagers and young adults also participate often.

“We have had extraordinary young adults help us lead, and it gives a vibrance to the synagogue to have these 14 to 16 year olds doing the davening,” Coleman added. “They are very proficient.”

Something that makes Netivot Shalom unique as a Modern Orthodox synagogue is its decision-making process. Members of the shul’s halacha committee are tasked with making leadership decisions and consulting Jewish law, but they also incorporate assistance from an outside Orthodox rabbi. The rabbi helps to provide guidance rather than acting as a leader.

“In many Orthodox synagogues, the rabbi is called the ‘mara de’atra,’ which means the master of the place, and it means the rabbi has the final word on all that happens within the synagogue,” said Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz, who has served as the synagogue’s rabbi since 2015. “Whenever there’s questions regarding halacha, my job is to provide the framework or limits of what is acceptable within it. Ultimately, though, the committee will implement the policy they are most comfortable with.”

Kaplowitz received his semicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a Bronx-area yeshiva that Netivot Shalom has always had close ties to. The initial Shabbaton in 2004 featured guest lectures from Rabbi Nathanial Helfgot, who still teaches there. An early congregant who attended YCT also played a major role in determining the path of the synagogue.

“We started in a house with rabbinic supervision, and one of our congregants was Rabbi Aaron Frank, who was a graduate of YCT,” Coleman said. “Through his direction, we found our way through halachic questions.”

Netivot Shalom also has many programs dedicated to charitable work and volunteering, right down to the community garden on their premises whose fruits and vegetables are donated to the Ahavas Yisrael Charity Fund.

“[Tzedakah] is one of the core virtues that our shul is founded on, and we’re always looking for ways to contribute to the broader community,” Kaplowitz said. “I think it certainly is enriching for our members to have those opportunities.”

More recently, Janice Michaelis has stepped in to serve as the shul’s membership committee chair and has been starting many mitzvah projects at Netivot Shalom. They have partnered with the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Foundation and raised over $1,000 for lone soldiers in Israel. And they just finished their 500 Hats Project in February, where they knitted hats for needy children in Baltimore.

Coleman joked that it is difficult for him to leave a Netivot Shalom service without another congregant inviting him to dinner.

“It is a terrific community of people,” he said. “There is no one in shul I don’t consider a friend.”

“I always say Netivot Shalom is one of Baltimore’s hidden gems,” Kaplowitz added. “It’s just been a true blessing for me to be a part of this community. And I’m glad that we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate 18 years and to really recognize all the individuals and families that have helped to get to where we are today.”

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