Baltimore’s Jewish Suburban and Urban Dwellers
Finding a Jewish lifestyle in Baltimore
By Amy Landsman
Special to the Jewish Times
Where are your stomping grounds? Wegmans in Hunt Valley, or the downtown Baltimore farmers’ market? Hannah More Park or Patterson Park? The shul down the street, or something new altogether?
Many of Baltimore’s young families are nicely settled in the suburbs. Others are forging a lifestyle downtown. We look at two families who, although they have different zip codes, have an equal commitment to making Judaism a big part of their lives.
“Our world is downtown,” says Amy Eisner Reich. “We live in Butcher’s Hill; walking distance from Hopkins, where my husband spent the last seven years training…Our block is very peaceful. Neighbors sit on the stoop.”
Downtown Baltimore has lots to offer young couples, from interesting restaurants to funky architecture and mall-free shopping. But raise a family there? Conventional wisdom says once they have kids, most families pack up and move to suburbia where they are closer to Baltimore’s established Jewish community.
But not everyone. These days, an eclectic group of Jewish families, some long-term Baltimoreans and others from out of the area, are calling downtown home and happily raising their kids in the city — the Eisner Reich family among them.
Amy Eisner and Daniel Reich have lived in Baltimore for seven years. Amy teaches writing and literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Daniel is a physician-scientist at the National Institutes of Health and an adjunct professor of radiology and neurology at Johns Hopkins University.
They’re not locals; Amy is from New Jersey and Daniel was raised outside D.C.
“We grew up suburban, but we have no interest in the suburbs,” Amy says.
The family was very happy with the downtown child care they found for their two kids, 5-year-old Josie and 3-year-old Simon, who attended the Johns Hopkins Child Care Early Learning Center and the Bolton Hill Nursery School.
Before heading to Baltimore, Amy and Daniel lived in Manhattan, so their Butcher’s Hill row home seems plenty big. “We have way too much stuff,” Amy notes, while also admitting that, yes, “It is a little hard having the bikes in the living room.”
The big difference between the city and the suburbs is the poverty, which is hard to miss, no matter how well you live, she says.
Despite their love for downtown, Amy and Daniel felt the need to connect with a Jewish community. Although there are many residual synagogue buildings, there are few actual synagogues and no educational or community center, says Amy, although the Jewish Museum of Maryland is pinch-hitting.
As a result, the family belongs to Chevrei Tzedek, a Conservative congregation in northwest Baltimore. (“The people are great,” Amy notes.)
Because they want something closer to home, Amy organized the Downtown Baltimore Jewish Family Network. (See resources.)
“It’s a way of reaching out and finding out if anyone else has the same needs you have and to share information and experiences,” Amy explains, who says the group has about 70 members.
“Now we’ve networked. Now I know lots of Jews downtown. We’ve had informal Shabbat dinners, holiday gatherings,” she says.
In addition to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, Amy credits the Jewish Community Center, Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, Congregation Kol HaLev and Chabad Lubavitch of Downtown Baltimore with helping foster the urban Jewish community.
In fact, this fall, Beth El is launching a satellite religious school in Federal Hill for the first time.
Plus, the JCC has hosted Tot Shabbats and Hands on Holiday programs at downtown locations and has teamed up with the Jewish Museum of Maryland to host occasional Tot Shabbats.
Amy knows she’ll never be considered a “native.” Yet she’s lived here long enough that she feels a real connection to Baltimore, running into people she knows every day, from every part of her life.
“Our family rituals are Patterson Park, the downtown farmers’ market. There are so many things within reach downtown. There are always festivals to go to. We go to the Walters Art Museum for art projects. And, as Amy says, although she owns a minivan, she rarely has to drive “more than three miles.”
Downtown is “very eclectic, very diverse,” says Amy. “I love that.”
Settled In Suburbia
“I’m definitely more of a suburb girl. I was raised in the suburbs. I love to drive,” laughs Jennifer Kosmides. “I think the closest to the city my husband and I ever got was Cross Keys,” where the couple owned a condo at one point.
Jennifer, her husband, Greg, and their three kids, Julian, 9, Evan, 7, and 5-year-old Ayden, live in the Fields of Sagamore development in Reisterstown.
Jennifer was born and raised in Long Island, but she’s a Towson State (now University) graduate, and her husband is a local, so they have lots of built-in connections in the area.
Suburban life suits the family. “I take them to Hannah More Park, Meadowood Park on Falls Road. Over the summer, they’re in camp, but we have a pool in our yard,” says Jennifer, who adds that one of their favorite family rituals is watching movies together.
“We’re huge movie-goers…For something me and the kids do together, it’s movie time! They love that.”
The family is affiliated with Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills, where all three Kosmides kids went to preschool. Jennifer is currently a stay-at-home mom who previously worked in special education.
Between the carpool lines at her kids’ schools (Krieger Schechter Day School and the Jemicy School), the routine grocery shopping and all the general shlepping around, Jennifer spends a lot of time in her car.
“I’m a Wegmans’ shopper. That’s my second home,” she says.
But you won’t find Jennifer in a minivan. She muscles around town in a Chevy Suburban.
“It’s funny because everyone knows my Suburban. Aside from the fact that it’s painted green, my husband went and put these ridiculous black rims on my truck. You can’t miss me coming … Everywhere I go the male population between the ages of 18 and 30 are like ‘Those are really cool!’ It’s a guy thing,” she jokes.
On a more serious note, Jennifer’s commitment to the Jewish community make the suburbs the right choice for her and her family. In fact, the family had been living in Mays Chapel, but all the friends Jennifer made after her kids were born lived in Owings Mills or Reisterstown. Plus Greg, a mortgage banker, ended up opening an office in Owings Mills, so moving just made sense.
“My husband’s not Jewish. I feel that I’m very fortunate in that he’s so embracing of my Judaism and obviously of the children’s … I wanted to immerse myself in the Jewish life here … My mom and I, and my dad, we always talk about how important our heritage is, and our culture is. It really truly is and I definitely learned that more as an adult than as a child. And now that I have my own children it is truly important,” Jennifer explains.
“Ten, 15 years ago I knew I’d have children, but I never thought they’d be going to a school like Krieger Schechter,” Jennifer muses. “It’s amazing how things worked out and how glad I am things worked out this way.”
Resources for Jewish City Dwellers
- Downtown Baltimore Jewish Family Network DBJFN.groupsite.com
- Beth El Satellite Religious School For information, call Beth El at 410-484-4543.
- Chabad Lubavitch of Downtown Baltimore chabaddowntown.net