By Haydee M. Rodriguez
If Chabad epitomizes welcoming the stranger, Rebbetzin Rochel Kaplan has been a dedicated ambassador.
Kaplan supports and advances educational opportunities that highlight the joy of Judaism. A Brooklyn native who moved to Maryland in 1974, she and her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, have lived in Maryland for more than 40 years and together have been the force behind the creation of 32 Chabad centers throughout the state. Rabbi Kaplan has served as director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland and Rebbetzin Kaplan as its co-director. She is also the founder and director of the Aleph Learning Institute and director of Mikvah Mei Menachem of Baltimore, the latter of which is designed for Jewish brides and married women.
More than 10 years ago, Rebbetzin Kaplan spearheaded a campaign to create the Aleph Learning Institute, which she describes as “an all-encompassing community Jewish learning institute for Jewish men and women.” The institute focuses on ongoing educational opportunities for adults, and plans are currently underway to expand the existing institute, in the back of the Chabad shul on Pimlico Road.
One of Kaplan’s recent endeavors is a book of poetry. Kaplan recently published “G-d in the Details,” a book of 159 poems.
Asked about the inspiration to write poetry, Kaplan replied, “I guess you can say the Almighty put the ‘pen’ into my hand, and my knowledge, life experiences and challenges became the script, also scripted by God.
“I feel that I have a message I would like to impart along the path I was sent to share, what I’ve gleaned, learnt and the inferences I managed to tease out.”
She was also behind the release of the Pikesville Times, a free publication that had its email debut last month. The goal is to provide food for thought and an offering where, Kaplan shared, “everyone can learn something. For example, in our next publication, we will feature a story about loss, beyond COVID-19.”
Asked for her thoughts on people who have been severely affected by COVID-19, or those going through loss at this time, Kaplan reflected on her own personal losses.
“Personally, my family has tragically experienced the loss of a brother-in-law and an uncle,” she said. “The pandemic has hit everyone hard, so many in life-altering ways. In all my humility I can say that I take my strength from the Almighty. He is my rock, and we all need to hold on tightly to our belief. Inasmuch as we are creations by Hashem, the creator, we must trust that his will is with us and for us and supporting us for the life that he bequeaths us. It is time to wake up and love life and be thankful for what we were gifted and truly celebrate every breath, every day and every opportunity. Our soul is our essence, and it is there to carry us through hard times and to uplift us. The time is now. The day is short. Much has to be done.”
Kaplan is in her 60s, and in addition to her leadership roles, educational programs and fundraising efforts, she is also a mother and grandmother.
“My children and grandchildren are my assets, my lottery and my wealth,” she said. “God in his great mercy provides. When he gives offspring, he provides for their needs. We must work hard at caring for his children, as we partner together to make this world an abode for God to dwell with us.”
Haydee M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer.