Maryland and Delaware Shore
Baltimore at the Beach
Sheri Green of Reisterstown has fond memories of spending summers with her cousins in Ocean City. The family piled in the car and headed for the Sea Watch, a condominium community.
“We didn’t have minivans back then. Nobody did. We had the chairs; we loaded all the junk. My mother even loaded a cooler with meals. And we would see everyone we knew, the boardwalk and Jolly Roger. We would trek up to Rehoboth at some point during the week,” she says.
After she married, Green and her husband expanded their horizons, visiting Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks.
This summer, however, Green’s sister is expecting a baby, and she wants to stay closer to home.
So Green is returning to her roots. This August, the Greens and their two kids will spend a week at the Sea Colony in Bethany Beach.
Like so many others in the Baltimore area, local Jewish families pack up and head for the beach every summer. Anecdotally, it seems the most popular beach dates are the third or fourth weeks in August, after camp ends and just before school starts. In fact, many visitors say you can’t walk ten feet down the boardwalks in Ocean City, Bethany or Rehoboth without running into someone you know.
Case in point: Eight-year-old Ari Wister of Pikesville will attend tennis camp and Camp Holiday this summer. Afterwards (you guessed it), the family will head for Ocean City.
Amy Wister doesn’t mind seeing familiar faces. In fact, she makes a point of coordinating activities with friends.
“We try to meet up on the beach, water rides and boating, different activities. It’s more fun that way because I only have one child. A lot of my vacations, a lot of times, I coordinate with other families for that reason.”
When Jill Bers’ two boys were little, the family managed to beat the crowds by vacationing slightly off-season. But the kids are 8 and 6 now, and with camp and school, the Bers family has little choice but to join the rest of humanity at the beach in August.
“We would go to the beach over Labor Day,” Bers, of Pikesville, recalls. “As soon as they started school we couldn’t do that little trick anymore. So now we wind up like everyone else (going) in August. We typically go to Ocean City.”
“When we go to Ocean City, we know other families that are going, and we make a point of hooking up and doing things together,” says Bers.
When she was a kid, Mindy Caplan of Baltimore says her family went to Ocean City every summer “like clockwork.” She remembers her parents and their friends sitting in a big horseshoe on the beach while the kids ran around and had fun.
These days, Caplan’s sister and brother-in-law have a place at the ocean, and they take Caplan’s three kids for a weekend in August.
“She’s continued the tradition,” Caplan says. “It’s crowded as all get out. They go to Nicola (Pizza). There’s a Japanese sushi restaurant she takes the boys’ cause they’re into that.”
While Ocean City remains a favorite destination for many, some observers say it seems that more and more Jewish families are bypassing Ocean City in favor of Bethany Beach or Rehoboth, both in Delaware.
While at the beach, vacationers naturally want to shop…and eat! Many visitors say most of the popular beach-town stores and restaurants don’t have any particular Jewish vibe. There are, however, a couple of exceptions. The Tideline Gallery in Rehoboth sells handcrafted mezuzahs, menorahs and other Judaica. Owner Bill Hammond says the items are popular for second homes and as gifts. And he notes that August is their busiest month.
Many long time beach goers rave about the Nic-o-Boli’s served at Nicola Pizza in Rehoboth.
“They take the pizza dough. …It’s like a pizza rolled up and it’s to die for ’cause the crust is really thin,” Caplan says.
“The place is so small. They don’t take reservations. You’re literally sitting on benches outside this place watching people go by. Invariably someone you know will sit down with you,” she adds.
Not everyone is happy to run into half the people they graduated from high school when they’re on vacation. “I think Ocean City is like being in Owings Mills,” says one disgruntled local mom. “Not my choice, but I do it for the family.”
But even for families that have traveled the world, the pull of the ocean remains strong. And sooner or later, many head back to their old stomping grounds.
“I felt I needed a break. We’ve done other things,” says Green, who had visited other beaches, but is returning to Ocean City this summer. “I think it will be nice this year now that my kids are older. They do want to be with their friends…to hang out with their friends on the beach.”
Surf, Sand and Services by the Sea
The Maryland and Delaware beach communities both boast thriving Jewish communities, made up of year-round residents, second-home owners and summer visitors.
“We get a number of people who drop in on a Friday night. If they happen to be here on any of the holidays, they check us out,” says Helen Hammerman, membership chair for Temple Bat Yam in Berlin, Md. The Reform Temple offers a reduced-price membership for part-time residents.
In Rehoboth, the Seaside Jewish Community,an unaffiliated congregation, also prides itself on its welcoming environment.
“At Seaside, we have 225 to 250 members. We have 30 children in religious school,” says board president Miriam Zadek. “With a membership this size, we can easily pull 50 people in on a Friday night or Saturday.”
“When a person who is not a member contacts one of us and says they will be in Rehoboth and have to observe a yahrzeit, we have pulled together a minyan for them,” Zadek notes.
In Baltimore, synagogue attendance often drops in summer. At the beach, Hammerman notes, it’s just the opposite.
“We get a number of people who drop in on a Friday night.”
Bat Yam even offers a summer camp in August.
“We often are told this is a nice, welcoming place we have. We love to see new people,” Hammerman says. “We get people from Baltimore, Washington, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.”