Chana Kaplan has only ever run a Chabad house during a pandemic.
She and her husband, Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan, opened the Chabad of South Baltimore — which also serves the University of Maryland, Baltimore — in July of 2020.
Chana Kaplan, 24, is from Montreal. After high school, she did a one-year teacher’s training program at a seminary for women in Tzfat, Israel. She then spent a year as a schlucha at the women’s program of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. After that, she returned to Montreal, where she taught at a high school and met her husband.
Kaplan and her husband wanted to start a Chabad house, and they were drawn to Baltimore because Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan grew up in Pikesville. The couple now runs their Chabad house in Harborview, where they live with their children, Mendel and Peretz. They have held COVID-friendly programs like Shabbat 2 Go packages, outdoor holiday celebrations and some virtual events. They also now host Shabbat Social dinners and are planning for the High Holidays. Kaplan said that anyone in need of Yom Kippur plans should reach out at chabadsobo.com. For Sukkot, they will also have a sukkah at Tabrizi’s.
What was your Jewish upbringing like?
I grew up in a Chabad family. My parents actually did not have that upbringing, and they both made their journey and came closer, through Chabad, to their Judaism. Growing up, our home was Chabad, but it was always with this added appreciation of recognizing the journey that my parents [took], the choices that they made. So that really contributed a lot to my connection with Judaism, with God, that is a very personal and very real connection, and that was what inspired me to now move and help share that with others as well.
Did you have a particular interest in starting a Chabad house for young adults and university students?
Having had that time at Mayanot, where I saw students coming for their gap year, for a semester abroad, and just in general I think that this stage in one’s life is a very formative stage. A lot of us are exploring, discovering ourselves on so many different levels. As a Jew, the full picture is complete when you also get to explore and discover your heritage, so this age group is really something that I inherently felt that there was such a power, such a potency to whatever happens during these years, and also, so much fun. I really make close friendships with the people that we’ve met, so we feel very lucky and privileged that this is what we’re involved with.
What was it like starting a Chabad house during the pandemic?
It was unique, and also, all we knew. … The students that we did meet literally became like family. We’ll have them sleeping over now for Shabbat, once everyone was vaccinated sleeping over for Shabbat. One of them got married, we went after their wedding, their shevah brachot, we went and we were part of the shevah brachot. We’re in touch with some that have by now moved away, and we’re really just very close friends. What they expressed was, in such a lonely time, and for some of them it was their first year, first semester here, and so it was that much more important. We may not have been able to reach as many as already now we’re seeing — last Shabbat, we had a big crowd, and that was our first welcome Shabbat for the semester — we didn’t have that last year. But we did have those one-on-one connections that we did continue to grow, to blossom and led to meeting that many more.