It has been about three years since The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Center made a decision to open the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Shabbat. At the apex of the decision-making process, more than 1,000 Orthodox Jews rallied on the lawn of Northwestern High School, calling on the organized community to keep sacred the holy Sabbath and not to open the building.
A small group of Orthodox leaders are continuing the fight — not with loud voices, microphones or public displays of dismay, but quietly, in a small shul on Park Heights Avenue. They call themselves “Hip and Holy.”
“A number of us got together and said we need to continue that campaign,” said Rabbi Yisroel Roll, who is spearheading the initiative. “The issue of closing the JCC on Shabbos is just one thing. We feel there is a lack of experience by the non-observant community of what Shabbat is. This is not because they are anti-religious, it is not because they are opposed to Shabbos, it is merely because … they have not had the exposure to connect to what Shabbos really is.”
Rabbi Roll, who is working with Rabbi Yaakov Novograd, is on a mission. The goal: to give those outside of Jewish Baltimore’s Orthodox community a taste of Shabbat — “a real Shabbos” — as he put it.
The Hip and Holy program is three-fold. First, Rabbis Roll and Novograd offer a Shabbat morning service for those interested in exploring Judaism on a deeper level. The class, which runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, requires no Hebrew proficiency and offers a laid-back open forum for participants to explore the meaning of life, spirituality and how to connect to a higher power. Following the service, attendees are invited to community members’ homes for Shabbat lunch.
In addition, another Hip and Holy element, is Friday night dinner invitations — again, to the homes of Orthodox community members. Finally, Rabbis Roll and Novograd will arrange for those interested to learn one-on-one with a member of the Orthodox community.
“This is experiential kiruv,” said Rabbi Roll. “But you can’t even call it kiruv. It is really about bridging the gap.”
“To be hip is what most people want, to be informed, up to date, aware and alert,” said Rabbi Novograd. “Real Judaism is traditional, but it is also ‘with it.’”
David and Helaine Sawilowsky have been participating in the program almost since its inception in late December 2011. The couple said they were on a spiritual journey, and Hip and Holy has offered them an opportunity to see “the beauty of Orthodox Judaism,” said David Sawilowsky.
Rabbi Roll stresses that Shabbat offers a time to reflect.
“HaShem rested on the seventh day, and we, as the Jewish people, should rest, too,” David Sawilowsky said. “We should spend Shabbos thinking about our lives and the things we did over the past week and that we would like to do better going forward — how we can improve ourselves as Jews, as people.”
The Sawilowskys attend the service with their two children, ages 10 and 11, who, they said, get a lot out of it, too. Both David and Helaine describe Rabbi Roll as warm and kind and said they are impressed by his insight and how attuned he is to individual participants.
“The beauty is, whatever level you are on, this is a place to feel comfortable and ask questions,” said Helaine Sawilowsky. “We are beginning to see the effect of Torah learning, and it is a priceless thing.”
Said Rabbi Novograd: “Shabbat is not just a day off, it is a golden opportunity to come closer to a deeper appreciation of Judaism and all that it stands for.”
The JCC and The Associated have not yet been contacted by Rabbi Roll about his hopes or plans. However, the rabbi said he would be interested and willing to talk with organizational leaders.
Barak Hermann, the JCC president-elect, told the JT that he understands the JCC’s opening on Saturday to be a “wonderful entry point for people.
“It [being open] has been extremely successful in Owings Mills,” he said.
Hermann noted that at this time there is no expectation to change the policy, but as a community leader he is committed to ensuring the JCC will build bridges.
“We will respond to everyone within the Jewish community,” he said, “from the Orthodox to the marginally engaged.”
For more information, visit hipandholy.tk or contact Rabbi Roll at firstname.lastname@example.org.