Jewish Baltimore stood up and cheered (with its many votes) for the JT’s first annual Best of Jewish Baltimore contest. With close to four dozen categories, from best bagels, diners and restaurants to top remodelers, car washes, day camps and boutiques, there were hundreds of nominees receiving votes from our JT readers. But there can only be one frontrunner (with the exception of some ties) in each category and today we list them all below, with a half-dozen category winners highlighted. Cheers to the winners and our loyal readers who selected them so we could bring you 2018’s Best of Jewish Baltimore.
Best Family-Friendly Activity: AVAM, JMM and The Zoo
We had a three-way tie for Best Family-Friendly Activity between the American Visionary Art Museum, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, three popular and entertaining venues for a family outing.
Earlier this month, AVAM celebrated its 20th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race that begins and ends at the museum — a venue known for its eye-catching mirrored mosaic exteriors and exhibits of the country’s “visionary artists” who create art outside the mainstream, such as Baltimore’s own screen painters.
Family-friendly activities include the museum’s temporary exhibits, such as the upcoming “Great Mystery Show,” this summer’s “Flicks from the Hill” and permanent installations such as the Jim Rouse Visionary Center.
“AVAM offers up a visual feast fascinating for everyone from little kids to discerning adults with content that seamlessly weaves together art with science and humor with philosophy,” said AVAM founder and director Rebecca Hoffberger. “After reveling in the galleries, families and children can make and take artwork that’s inspired by our work in our galleries in our hands-on, monthly drop-in workshops. AVAM is a celebrated Baltimore cultural attraction, inspiring enthused visitation from herds of foreign travelers to Nobel Laureates alike.”
Hoffberger describes AVAM’s secret as, “Torah by stealth that goes down with a big gulp of joy.”
The American Visionary Art Museum is adjacent to the Inner Harbor at 800 Key Highway. Visit avam.org.
Just about 2 miles away, in the old Jewish neighborhood of Jonestown, is the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Housed in the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue complex, the museum was founded in 1960 to save the historic structure. The complex now includes the Lloyd Street Synagogue, B’nai Israel Synagogue and the museum building.
With a focus on Jewish American history, especially Jewish Maryland and Jewish Baltimore, the museum’s exhibits feature related events and programming for families and children. For the upcoming exhibit “Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini,” the museum has a host of related public events, including book talks on Houdini’s life and his wife Bess and a history of side shows and magic shows.
The exhibit opens June 24 in conjunction with the museum’s annual “Magic of Jonestown Festival.”
“Some things you do just for the kids, and others are just for adults,” said JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert. “But what truly makes JMM family-friendly is that it’s a shared learning experience. Whether the topic is the Bill of Rights or Harry Houdini or even our Lombard Street neighborhood, we try to be the starting point for family conversations.”
The museum offers the Esther’s Place gift shop and tours of the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue. Around the corner from the museum families can get a taste of “Corned Beef Row” at the two remaining Jewish delis on Lombard Street.
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is located at 15 Lloyd Street. Visit jewishmuseummd.org.
A trip to the zoo is probably one of the most popular must-dos for families, and The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has tons of family-friendly activities, not to mention more than 1,500 animals representing about 200 species living in a myriad of “naturalistic exhibits.”
In addition to the obvious attraction for kids and families of animal sightings and interactions, there are train rides, the Tundra Buggy and Giant Tree Slide. The zoo is also host to special activities for children, such as birthday parties, Zoo Snooze family overnights, Animal Craft Safari, Stroller Safari and Breakfast with the Animals. Summer camp registration is underway for children entering grades 3-9.
“Connecting with wildlife, learning about conservation and the environment and feeling more in touch with nature are all aspects of a positive experience, but enjoying time with family or friends, having a chance to talk with zoo staff or volunteers and getting through the zoo as comfortably and easily as possible are also important elements of a terrific experience,” according to the zoo’s history statement.
— Susan C. Ingram
Best Performance Venue: The Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center
The Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Baltimore was constructed in 1914 and became one of the region’s most popular movie houses and vaudeville performance centers. The theater shuttered briefly in 1990 before being renovated and rebranded as the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in 2004. It is the only theater in Maryland that features touring productions of Broadway plays and musicals.
Ron Legler has been the president of the Hippodrome for four years. Before arriving in Baltimore, he was president of the Florida Theatrical Association, and is currently a Tony Awards voting member, which sends him him to New York to see plays and musicals and vote for nominations. Despite seeing shows in beautiful theaters around the country, Legler says there’s something special about the Hippodrome.
“When I sat in the Hippodrome for the first time, it was that same experience you experience on Broadway,” said Legler. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful theater. It’s a very intimate place. Jackson Browne said it was like performing inside of a living room. When you can connect the stage to the audience, that’s a really good feeling.”
The final show this season is “On Your Feet,” a jukebox musical based on the lives and music of 26-time Grammy Award-winning husband-and-wife team Gloria and Emilio Estefan, which runs at the Hippodrome from June 5-10.
The Hippodrome’s next season will feature productions of “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” in the summer of 2019.
— Connor Graham
Best Family- Friendly Shabbat Service: Beth El and Beth Israel
Tied for Best Family-Friendly Shabbat Service were Beth El Congregation in Pikesville and Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills.
Beth El, a Conservative congregation founded in 1948, is led by Senior Rabbi Steven Schwartz, Associate Rabbi Dana Saroken and Cantor Thom King. A variety of family-friendly and child-centric Shabbat services are offered, including a Tot Shabbat, Preschool Prayground Shabbat, Shabbat Unplugged Family Service, Or Shabbat and a Shabbat Morning Family Service.
“The Beth El clergy and staff as a whole understands that not every congregant connects spiritually and Jewishly in the same way, so we pride ourselves on offering numerous entry points for spiritual connection,” said Beth El executive director Josh Bender.
“Just last year we implemented an interactive High Holiday family service for older elementary and middle school students and their families, understanding that they may not be ready to sit for long periods of time, but have graduated from Tot Shabbat and other services geared for our youngest children,” he added. “The service includes music, prayer, and interactive activities and conversation for the whole family and is led by clergy in one of our intimate prayer spaces.”
Beth El Congregation is at 8101 Park Heights Ave. Visit bethelbalto.com.
At the 62-year-old Beth Israel Congregation, Rabbi Jay R. Goldstein and Cantor Jen Rolnick are spiritual leaders, while Rabbi Rachel Blatt is director of lifelong learning.
The synagogue welcomes children and youth with services and activities targeted at families, with interactive, hands-on-learning services led by teachers, lay leaders and guest clergy, including Shababa for 2- to 5-year-olds and youth services such as Beginyan for elementary school-age children and TGIF Friday evening participatory family services.
“It is incredibly important to the Beth Israel kehillah to make sure that all families feel welcomed and at home in our building. We, of course, invite children to sit and participate in our services,” Blatt said. “We also understand that sitting for so long can make kids antsy so we also provide a bucket of toys to play with in the back of our sanctuary or they can bring back to their seat a busy bag filled with sticker sheets, books, activities and puzzles. If children just can’t stay in services, families can always go to our toy filled family room.”
Beth Israel Congregation is at 3706 Crondall Lane. Visit bethisrael-om.org.
— Susan C. Ingram
Baltimore native Neil Parish has been in the deli business for most of his life. His first job was at the now-closed Kaplan’s Deli on Liberty Road, but it was in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he finally opened his own shop called the Kibitz Room in 2000.
Seventeen years later, Parish made the homecoming he’d always imagined by bringing the signature oversized sandwiches from Kibitz Room and opening a second deli in Pikesville called The Essen Room.
“It’s the only career I’ve ever had,” he said. “Once it gets into your blood it’s hard to get rid of it.”
This time around, Parish recruited a lifelong friend, Louis Ellison, to be his partner. According to Parish, this plan had been in the works for a while. When a connection was made with a local landlord, the duo jumped at the opportunity to set up shop.
The Essen Room’s extensive menu features eight kinds of knish, cheese and fruit kugel, matzah ball and kreplach soups and an all-day breakfast menu. But whether it comes in a Reuben, with coleslaw and dressing, or on a roll by itself, Parish says corned beef is by far the shop’s biggest seller.
Parish says more and more delis are using prepared meats as a cost-reducing measure, which is why he prides himself on making nearly everything on the menu from scratch and baking breads and rolls on the premises.
“Most people today are buying corned beef precooked, and turkey precooked, but not us,” he said. “It’s the most expensive way to do it, but I’m in the food business so I’m not going to jinx the food.”
— Connor Graham
Best Chabad: Owings Mills
At 11299 Owings Mills Boulevard, Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen and his wife Chanie Katsenelenbogen lead Chabad of Owings Mills and offer the synagogue, school, adult and youth services and other activities. Chanie runs a popular bat mitzvah program for women who did not have a bat mitzvah in their youth. In the spirit of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Chabad of Owings Mills welcomes Jews from all levels of affiliation.
“Chabad is all about love. Love of God. Love of the Torah. But most importantly love of the Jewish people. We love each and every Jew and everyone is welcome without question,” the rabbi said. “Everyone is welcome to attend our synagogue, our classes, our programming and our Hebrew school. Everyone is welcome to join. We don’t judge people on their religious affiliation, we do not judge them based on how much money they have or their IQ level. Everyone is welcome to participate and to come and can attend Owings Mills Chabad.”
And you might be surprised by how many members Chabad of Owings Mills has, according to the rabbi…
“Chabad in Owings Mills has about 14 million members,” Katsenelenbogen said. “That’s because every Jew is already a member. That’s my answer.”
— Susan C. Ingram
Photographer/Videographer: Shlomo Photography
Shlomo Cohen’s business Shlomo Photography has been a staple in Maryland’s canon of professional photographers for 40 years.
Cohen’s exposure to photography began at an early age while he still lived in Israel. His father, who was a professional photographer, overbooked himself and sent an inexperienced 13-year-old Cohen to shoot the event he couldn’t make.
But it wasn’t until years later, after Cohen moved to the United States and got married, that he rediscovered photography.
The late Stuart Floam, a well-known Baltimore-area photographer, shot Cohen’s wedding. Cohen said Floam’s images “blew my mind. That’s when I knew he wanted to be a photographer.”
Cohen began working beside Floam for hardly any money at all. He was more interested in learning the craft, but quickly became a partner of Floam’s, briefly, before starting his own business in 1978.
“I decided to be on my own, which was very scary,” Cohen said, “but I took the plunge and everything else is history.”
In the competitive and ever-changing world of professional photography, Cohen attributes his success to maintaining a balance between friendliness and unobtrusiveness towards his clients, but most importantly, providing a product that is “quality, quality, quality,” he said.
“If you don’t have the passion and if you don’t shoot from the heart, and you don’t really enjoy what you do and you’re just doing it because you want to make a living, get out of the business.”
Even after four decades of shoots, Cohen describes each event as a new challenge.
Cohen says as long as he’s healthy he does not plan to slow down any time soon.
“I cannot wait for the next job.” JT
— Connor Graham
2018 Best of Jewish Baltimore
Beth Tfiloh Camps
Camps Airy and Louise
University of Maryland Hillel
University of Maryland, College Park
American Visionary Art Museum
Jewish Museum of Maryland
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
Baltimore Humane Society
Performing Arts Venue/Organization
Young Adult Programming
Charm City Tribe
Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School
Private School/Day School
Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School
Krieger Schechter Day School
Fort Garrison Elementary
Pikesville High School
Goldberg’s New York Bagels
Mount Washington Tavern
Miss Shirley’s Cafe
Double T Diner
The Essen Room
Quarry Wine and Spirits
Pikesville Tree Service
Brody Brothers Pest Control
Len the Plumber
Brothers Services Company
Crown Remodeling LLC
Classic Catering People
Zeffert & Gold Catering & Event Planning
Chabad of Owings Mills
Grey Rock Mansion
M&T Bank Stadium
Family-Friendly Shabbat Service
Beth El Congregation
Beth Israel Congregation
Dr. Theda Kontis
Dr. Michael Baylin
Greater Baltimore Medical Center
Sheppard Pratt Hospital
Falls Road Animal Hospital
Wilmer Eye Institute
Sparkle Car Wash
ZIPS Dry Cleaners
Zirkin & Schmerling Law
A Style Studio
South Moon Under
JS Edwards Mens Clothing
JoS. A. Bank
Towson Town Center
Pikesville Senior Center
Edward A. Myerberg Center