Owings Mills Torah Center Opens its Doors (Photo Essay)

By Devorah Klein for Hamodia
Posted on 02/28/13

Baltimore, Md - Feb. 28 -  On February 1, 2013, on the second floor of an office building on the corner of Reisterstown and McDonogh Roads in Owings Mills, MD, the Owings Mills Torah Center officially opened its doors.

The goal of the Torah Center, which is run by Rabbi Aaron Tendler and Rabbi Yisroel Gelber, is to help the Jews of Owings Mills connect with Torah, give meaning to their lives, and help them to keep growing.

“About 25 years ago, when I was living in Eretz Yisrael and traveling to yeshivah daily by bus, I began a chavrusa with another younger man who took the same bus route,” recalls Rabbi Tendler. “I found out that this young baal teshuvah had grown up in nearby Randallstown, Maryland, and attended public school there while I was growing up on nearby Yeshiva Lane. In his youth, he had no idea that a world class yeshiva was practically in his backyard. I pondered that fact – while Ner Yisroel was sending kollelim to reach out to the Jews in cities like Atlanta and Cincinnati, there were Jews in our own 'daled amos' who did not even know of our existence. I was determined to change that one day.”

Eventually, Rabbi Tendler moved back to Yeshiva Lane in Baltimore to assume the position as head dorm counselor for the Ner Yisroel high school. Owings Mills had developed tremendously since Rabbi Tendler's childhood days, and the area that was once farmland was now populated with housing developments.  Partnering with Etz Chaim, which was already operating some programs in the area, Rabbi Tendler began running a Shabbos morning program for the local Jews.

This month, Rabbi Tendler and Rabbi Gelber established the independent Owings Mills Torah Center.

Above: Particpants enjoy Purim Seudah at the Owings Mills Torah Center (Photos courtesy of OMTC)

According to surveys and estimations, there are at least 20,000 Jewish families in Owings Mills, with about 2500 families living within a one mile radius of the Center. “I felt I had to keep the organization going. I could not imagine having so many Yidden living right here and no one reaching out to them.”

The participants themselves are very excited about the Center which prides itself on being warm and welcoming.  Mr. Allan Kaufman, one of the veteran participants in the programming, explains, “It is an awesome outreach program. While it is run by Orthodox people, all Jews are welcome. We don't look down on anybody.” Participants are encouraged to bring their friends as well.

Rabbi Yosef Romanoff, director of the Jewish Learning Experience, has been hired to organize programming for the Center.  Planned programs include a Sunday morning program which will feature a Shacharis minyan, breakfast, and lecture/discussion group; Partners in Torah chavrusa learning for men and women; and programming for the Yamim Tovim. Rabbi Romanoff also hopes to lead a weekly parashah group with interactive discussion, highlighting Chazal's viewpoint on various topics in the parashah.

In addition, home study groups known as Chavurot will continue, coordinated by active participant Allan Kaufman. In these Chavurot hosted in various local homes, Rabbi Gelber presents various scenarios related to a specific topic, leading to discussions and the Torah perspective on the matter.

The highlight of the Center's programming is Shabbos morning davening, which includes regular Shacharis, followed by Mussaf featuring explanations, page pointers, and lots of singing. Before Mussaf, in lieu of a standard drashah, Rabbi Tendler opens the floor to questions and discussions on the parashah. A weekly kiddush follows the daveningBachurim from Ner Yisroel accompany Rabbi Tendler to this minyan, and take turns davening for the amud and leining from the Torah, providing them with leadership training as well. The Shabbos morning program usually attracts about forty individuals of all ages.

In addition to Shabbos morning services, all holiday services are also conducted at “the Little Shul in the Hood,” as the participants fondly call it.

Aaron and Denia Pearlman, who have also been a part of the group for many years, explained that there are tens of thousands of Jewish families living in Baltimore County in the area “outside of the beltway,” many more than there are in the heart of the Orthodox community which is “inside the beltway.” However, there are very few resources allocated to those families. The Owings Mills Torah Center services many of these families who would not consider traveling “inside the beltway” to gain access to Torah classes and other Jewish services. “The Center is a light in the neighborhood,” Mr. Pearlman explained, “We feel very fortunate to be so close to Ner Yisroel - we can feel a part of that community, even though we do not actually live on their campus.”

The Pearlman's daughter, Jenny recently returned from a visit to Israel, and is thrilled to be able to continue her path to Yiddishkeit at the Owings Mills Torah Center at her own pace. “Rabbi Tendler and Rabbi Gelber are so special and so accessible. There is a huge need for this center to be available for the young Jewish community in this area.”

Rabbi Romanoff echoed their feelings, “We are here for any Jews who want to feel a connection to Yiddishkeit. We are very welcoming of anyone who is attracted to our community. We hope to expand to something bigger, guided every step of the way by daas Torah, which is the key to our success.”

For more information on the Owings Mills Torah Center, please contact Rabbi Tendler at atendler@juno.com.