Federation's Community Chaplain Brings Joy with Mobile Sanctuary

It’s been a pop-up sukkah. It’s been a matzah-baking station. Now, it’s a traveling sanctuary.

In recent weeks, Federation’s Community Chaplain, Rabbi Hillel Baron, has been bringing a 3 x 3 mobile sanctuary to those isolated or homebound during coronavirus, giving them a Jewish experience and allowing them to commemorate Shabbat.

As Community Chaplain, Rabbi Baron is used to making regular weekly and bi-weekly visits at nursing home facilities, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and private homes throughout Howard County, often providing Shabbat foods like challah and gefilte fish, and sharing a blessing or a thought on the week’s Torah portion. Because his visits have been restricted during coronavirus, he has come up with a novel way to give seniors and those homebound a spiritual experience at a safe distance, repurposing a former pop-up sukkah and matzvah-baking station into a traveling sanctuary.

“This is a great way to reach people who I am not able to closely interact with right now,” said Rabbi Baron, “a small way to create a consecrated religious space for those who may be yearning for a spiritual connection.”

Rabbi Martin Siegel, a resident at Panda Family Home Assisted Living and Rabbi Emeritus of Columbia Jewish Congregation, was one of the first to utilize the sanctuary. Rabbi Baron set up the unit on the deck of the Panda facility, putting a table, rugelach, and a prayer book inside. Atop the square tent he put a tallit—a Jewish prayer shawl. 

Normally when Rabbi Baron visits a facility or an individual, he leads Kiddush—the ritual Shabbat prayer recited to welcome the Sabbath—and he sometimes recites a prayer called “Mi’sheberach”—a personal prayer for healing. Once Rabbi Sigel entered the sanctuary, Rabbi Baron recited this prayer for him. Because the mobile unit was once a matzah baking station—one of the small rooms that is used to make one ingredient of the matzah, which is then passed through a window—the sanctuary has a window through Rabbi Siegel could see Rabbi Baron.

“G-d’s presence is everywhere,” said Rabbi Siegel, “but by going into this space and doing a mitzvah [good deed as proscribed by the Torah], we can make G-d’s presence felt, even in places like an assisted living facility.”

To Rabbi Baron, it is an especial honor to bring this spiritual resource to Rabbi Siegel, a pioneer of Jewish life in Howard County.

“When I first started out in Howard County, Rabbi Siegel helped me get established,” said Rabbi Baron. “It’s a sort of communal obligation. We owe him as a community to take care of him. And we have to make whatever efforts we can to reach anyone who may need it.”

Rabbi Baron hopes that this consecrated religious space can continue to bring joy and comfort to those who are isolated right now. If you or someone you know would like to arrange a visit with Rabbi Baron, please send him an email or leave a voice message or text at 410-340-0371.

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