August 2021
For Mary, It's All About Inclusion and Connection!

Stop. Shhh. Do you hear that? Yes. That’s Mary, one of Harford Chabad’s most vocal supporters. You may recognize Mary, too, the CEO of Harford County Public Library.

Mary grew up in Baltimore City, daughter of Catholic and Methodist parents, attending St. Dominic Catholic grade school, and Northern High School.
“I always refer to myself as being a mutt, because my dad was Catholic and my mom was Methodist,” Mary said. “So, we grew up kind of a hybrid.”

Frequent family trips through Harford County to Delta, Pennsylvania, later led to a move to Bel Air when she was in her 20s, where Mary has lived ever since.

Wait. What? Where’s the part about Hebrew school, and only attending shul for the High Holidays, and the inspirational piece about rediscovering her Judaism?

Well, that’s not part of Mary’s story, because this is a story about connection, not conversion. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of inspiration! Because, well, Mary is a pretty inspirational sort of woman.

Also the most vocal supporter of Harford County Public Library, Mary attends a lot of civic events, as you can imagine, where I bet you can also imagine who she met…

“There's an old photo of us on Facebook when he first came to town and he got involved with Chamber of Commerce activities,” Mary remembered, about her first encounter with Rabbi Kushi Schusterman. “He's very embedded in the community, which is great. That's his strength.”

That commitment to being an active part of the community? That sparked Mary’s interest, because… 

“When I became library director up here, one of my things was being embedded in the community. If something's happening in Harford County I want the library to be involved in it. You will see us everywhere. We have so many partners out there, because we have to break down these silos.”

That spark of connection with Rabbi Kushi grew. “We have the same philosophy, which is wonderful.” At the same civic events where Rabbi Kushi and Mary connected, she also met and got to know the late Andy Klein, then president of Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland. She jokes about their immediate bond. “There we were, the rabbi, the Jewish businessman and the Catholic school girl.” 

Familiar with Judaism from former work at a Baltimore Jewish hospital, Mary was nonetheless unfamiliar with Chabad and its philosophy. But she saw similarities in the rich history of Judaism and the rich history of Catholicism. And Rabbi Kushi’s philosophy of inclusion mirrored her own mission at the library.

“His philosophy is engaging the community, making the presence of the Chabad known. That it's here to support the community and it doesn't really matter if you're Jewish or not. He is very inclusive, which I found very appealing on many different levels,” she said. “When you’re a public library, one of the things you believe in is being inclusive. I cherish the things that are different from what I know, and  I learn from that. And that's how I think we grow as a culture, as a community.”

Rabbi Kushi saw how successful the county library’s annual galas were and asked Mary if she would help plan Harford Chabad’s 10th anniversary gala.

She was surprised. “I’m not Jewish!” she said, but was finally convinced and was happy to help. If you don’t know, the Harford Chabad’s 10th Anniversary Gala was a smashing success, thanks to people like Mary. And you!

Since then, Mary has witnessed firsthand the level of involvement Chabad has in the wider community and attends community events, like the annual giant menorah lighting at Chanukah in the Park. 

She says it’s that community spark, that spirit, that people need right now. 

“They need a sense of belonging, of something that is solid. Something that they can count on. And I think that's what Chabad brings. I noticed the steadying influence in the community in Harford County.”

But beyond that civic connection, Mary’s involvement with Harford Chabad has impacted her personally.

“It's really helped me personally to expand my knowledge of the Jewish faith and to have a better understanding, which I think helps me be better as a person,” she said. “It opens up my heart a little bit, and my mind. It’s not like I wasn't familiar with Judaism, but up here it was not a big presence, until Kushi arrived. And I like that. I like diversity. I like learning new things. I like meeting new people. And for me, that really brought an enrichment that was not here before.”

See! I knew Mary would inspire you! So, get involved! Your support of the Harford Chabad helps keep that spark of community involvement, those connections alive, to enrich and enlighten your community!