Yechiel Shaffer
Yechiel Shaffer
The Rabbi of Pikesville Jewish Congregation in MD

1Book1PJC: A Summer Reading Project

In concluding my first week as Rabbi of the PIkesville Jewish Congregation (, a young, and fairly new community nestled in the heart of the large Baltimore Jewish community, I’m enamoured by the next generation of Jews leading this synagogue.

This past Shabbat 200+ people came and spent the day with each other, in our hunable synagogue building, eating, learning, and enjoying each other’s companies. Kids were playing, parents were connecting, and many in this diverse, Orthodox community looked right at home. I remember on Shabbat afternoon, over a cup of Rita’s ices, thinking that this is the most perfect way to spend a Shabbat.

So what is it about this community that created the environment for this?

I have only been here a week so the jury is still out but I believe the next generation of leaders are honing a skill that will be an invaluable asset for the future of synagogue life. Through the use of emotional intelligence, this new generation of lay leaders are being reflective, thoughtful and wise beyond their years in designing the synagogue of the 21st Century.

This skill assists these leaders in navigating the complex path of remaining a committed Orthodox community, while embracing new, and modern opportunities for meaningful engagement. This style of leadership creates a thoughtful space for people to be heard, while being respectful of those that differ from them. It has built the belief that every person is significant in creating one, unified Pikesville Jewish Congregation.

The Pikesville Jewish Congregation has comitted to some light summer reading in a program we are calling 1book1PJC (modeled after New York City’s similar book project). The community voted and chose to read together Stephen Dubner’s early book, Turbulent Souls. This kind of project is an example of the skill I mentioned above. While it is innovative in its style, it is actually a rather traditional type of program.

1Book1PJC Summer Reading Selection: Turbulent Souls by Stephen Dubner
1Book1PJC Summer Reading Selection: Turbulent Souls by Stephen Dubner

We will spend the summer reading this book and then gather in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days to share our thoughts and reactions. Everyone will have the chance to comment on their experience reading the book, and we hope that this shared reading will aid us in approaching God, on the holiest days of the year, with a sense of unity and joint purpose. Because, you see, learning in Jewish tradition has always been about connection. The Chavruta model, two partners engaging in study together, is often about what each partner can offer the other in pursuit of the truth.

The goal of the learning at our synagogue this summer will be about connecting with each other and with God. All too often these days learning has become about the transmission of information, and while that is critically important, perhaps the first step in that transmission is recognizing the tzelem elokim, Divine Image, in your Chavruta.

We as a community will commit to aquiring as much Jewish knowledge as possible but in beginning our journey this summer, we are starting with recognizing the greatness in humanity, and connecting with those who we share our community.

To learn more about or 1book1PJC project please visit for opportunities to contribute to our online discussion forums.

About the Author
Formerly the Assistant Rabbi of Cong. Ohab Zedek in NYC, and The Hampton Synagogue, Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer is the Rabbi of the growing, young community, Pikesville Jewish Congregation, in Pikesville, MD.
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