Pikesville Jewish Congregation holds groundbreaking for new spiritual home

Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer addresses members of Pikesville Jewish Congregation during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer addresses members of Pikesville Jewish Congregation during the groundbreaking ceremony (Jesse Berman)

On a warm Sunday morning, with the last of the year’s cicadas still buzzing about, adults and children gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony of a new Pikesville Jewish Congregation building.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate the beginning of our next spiritual home,” said PJC Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer in his opening statements during the groundbreaking on June 20. While the adult audience listened, their children busied themselves swinging from a nearby jungle gym or decorating bright-yellow plastic hard hats at wooden benches. “Each of you are supporters. Each of you have invested in our community. Each of you are important and significant to the identity of our shul.”

The new facility, expected to be completed in seven to 10 months, will include space for a synagogue, luncheons and lifecycle events, said Shaffer prior to the event.

PJC began planning for the new facility’s construction a few years ago because the congregation was outgrowing the existing synagogue, said Daniel VanderWalde, president of PJC. The current facility had originally been a private home that was converted into a shul, Shaffer explained. Since its founding, PJC has grown from 20 to 30 families to around 150 families.

“Our community desperately needs a more proper building, a place for our community to come together to pray, to celebrate, to be together with lifecycle events, to learn,” VanderWalde said. “And this new building is going to give us that opportunity to do that.”

The new facility is expected to have enough space for 300 to 350 families and will be built right next to the existing structure, with a corridor connecting the two, VanderWalde said. PJC plans to repurpose the existing facility once the new structure is ready, possibly for a community building, Shaffer said.

The congregation has been holding outdoor services under a tent because of the pandemic and will continue to do so until the new facility is complete, according to VanderWalde.

With an overall price tag of $2 million, funding for the new facility largely has come from PJC’s congregants themselves, VanderWalde said.

“Everyone’s been incredibly generous, and it’s an impressive level of commitment from the community itself,” Shaffer said. “We’re very grateful. We feel very blessed to have such a generous congregation.”

One contracting company, General Paving & Contracting, will handle the construction of everything outside of the new facility, such as excavation, demolition and utilities, while a second, Hencken & Gaines, will construct the new building itself, VanderWalde said.

Shaffer hopes the facility will be completed on schedule to provide the community with what they are looking for.

“Thank God we’ve seen a lot of families return to the community,” he said. “And we are very eager to make our own spiritual space, to make a comfortable and inspiring space.”

The new spiritual home is being built by the next generation of Jewish leaders, he said.

“This is a new generation of Jewish leadership,” Shaffer said. “The leadership of the synagogue is really young families, people in their 30s raising young children.”

“It’s going to be extremely exciting and emotional for those who have been involved since the start, when we first met in members’ family rooms,” VanderWalde said. “To be able to have a proper building to daven in and pray together, it will be very special.”

Shaffer is also looking forward to the new facility’s opening and sees it as an excellent way to bring the community back together after the past year of social distancing.

“It’s obviously incredibly significant for us as a community to be able to be together,” Shaffer said. “We’ve been in a year where it’s been required for us to be apart from each other for health reasons. And so it’s going to be incredibly special to be able to celebrate together in one space that we’ve built together.”

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