Shlomo Leibtag, a transplant from New York, now calls Baltimore home.
The 29-year-old grew up in Woodmere, one of the Five Towns on Long Island. As part of a family of five children, he was raised in a very Jewish environment in a very Jewish area. He attended HAFTR day school from elementary through high school; studied at a yeshivah in Bet Shemesh, Israel, for a year; and then went to the Cooper Union in New York City, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering.
Four years ago, he married. A year later, he and his wife, Esther, moved to Maryland, where he works for a pharmaceutical company in commercial vaccine development. They are now the parents of a baby daughter, Florence. Early on, the two discovered Chabad of Downtown Baltimore, which sits between where they used to live near the Inner Harbor and where they now live in Fells Point.
Leibtag frequents the center on Shabbat, and they go as a family to other events and meals as well; the couple also named their baby there. He says he gravitates towards the haimishe, close-knit feel of the Chabad House nestled in a neighborhood brownstone.
You have lived your life steeped in Judaism, but what is the beauty of religion for you?
To me, the beauty of Judaism lies in the culture and tradition it cultivates. Many of our religious practices have been performed for centuries, and by upholding these traditions, it gives us a direct link to our past.
You helped lead a service at the Chabad House during the High Holidays. What was that like, and are you trained specially to do this?
It was an honor to have the chance to lead the Shacharit service on Yom Kippur morning at Chabad. I am by no means a professional, but with our small community, we need to have all hands on deck. I did not receive any specific training, but through the years of attending synagogue on the High Holidays, I was able to learn the tunes and cadence of the service.
The work you do is crucial, and certainly in the news right now. Can you explain it a little?
In light of what the world experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed emphasis on the importance of vaccines as a preventative measure to sustain global health. Over the last three years, I have been involved in the process of setting up new manufacturing sites to expand the global supply pneumonia and HPV vaccines.
Describe the difference in flavor between Baltimore and New York. What is appealing about your new hometown?
There were many virtues of living in New York — my family and most of our friends live there — but since moving to Baltimore we have made several close friends and my brother and my wife’s family aren’t too far away (they live in Silver Spring, Md.). Of course, with the larger Jewish community in New York, there is a much wider choice of synagogue, days schools and kosher restaurants; however, choice isn’t always a virtue, and to be honest, I think the kosher pizza shops in Pikesville are on par, if not better, than those in New York.
Ultimately, while Baltimore City is considerable smaller than New York City, it still has everything you need with sports teams, bars and Chabad all within walking distance.
What is the best thing about being a new parent?
When children sleep … no, just kidding! The best part is watching them smile and interact with the world around them with such fascination.