Pikesville Jewish Congregation (PJC), an up-and-coming modern Orthodox shul, is bringing Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer onboard as its lead clergyman. Founded approximately four years ago, the congregation, which began as a group of 40 excited families meeting in basements, has grown to a congregation of 100 families with an established shul on Carla Road.
Shaffer, 32, is a London-born rabbi who moved to the United States at the age of 14. He comes to Baltimore with his ordination from Yeshiva University following a stint at Beth Shalom in Long Island, N.Y.
“The opportunities represented here in the Jewish community in general are vast, and my parents wanted me to be a part of that,” he said. “The experience of working with families and supporting and teaching people [at Beth Shalom] was very inspiring and powerful for me, both religiously and personally. That inspired me to join the rabbinate to try to build community.”
Shaffer cited a number of factors that drew him to Baltimore, explaining that its large, vibrant Jewish community is very attractive, particularly with its Jewish schools and professional leadership.
“There is a tremendous vibrancy about this congregation in particular; everyone is eager for the future, which is really infectious,” he said. “This 100-plus-family shul is looking to grow and engage in meaningful Jewish life. My goal is to get to know people in a meaningful way and to learn together with them. PJC is a growing community with a sincere desire for a religious experience, and I am excited to contribute. I want to reach new people and widen the tent of the Pikesville Jewish community.”
In addition to adding more families, the most notable growth in the congregation has actually come from within families with approximately 15 babies being born last year, according to Donni Engelhart, president of PJC.
The congregation was formed by a large group of people who were seeking a positive, warm, nonjudgmental kind of modern Orthodox community, “warm, joyous and family friendly,” Engelhart said.
“We were very excited by [Rabbi Shaffer’s] dynamism and creativity and passion for community building,” he continued. “His humor and approachable manner and his ability to teach Torah are wonderful. I hope that it will bring energy and growth and will motivate people, individually and in the community as a whole, to grow and find more inspired connections with our Jewish identities and traditions.”
The previous rabbi, Daniel Lerner, who joined the congregation in September 2014 and led it for two years, left to teach at Yeshiva University.