People of the Book

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Evan Tucker

Places like Pikesville are where creativity goes to die. Pikesville is a place where the most temperamentally conservative people, born lower-middle class, found an upper middle class living by doing exactly what their parents and teachers ordered them to do to the letter of the crossed t and dotted i. The average Pikesville resident did exactly what he or she was told as though life has never been any more complicated than an instruction manual. I know from experience, few Pikesville residents have anything like the experience or the imagination to realize just how complicated life can get.

When Jews of imagination and originality, who don’t fit in the six dots — artists, intellectuals, true entrepreneurs, are forced to stay in Pikesville, they have always been the very picture of lifelong misery. I could easily devote the next dozen columns to profiles of Pikesville lifers from my parents’ and grandparents’ generations who deserved much better than you ever gave them. But whether out of misguided loyalty to you, or because they simply did not have the moral support of any of you to realize the extent of their potentials, they stayed, and their loyalty to you was repaid with lifelong derision and scorn.


Shame on you.

Pikesville is already a very different place from where I grew up. Baltimore is not the city it once was, and the most obedient children of the most obedient parents have all moved away, chasing opportunities no longer available to anyone who wants an upper middle class lifestyle in Baltimore. They’re in New York, they’re in Washington, some of them even went further afield.


Some Pikesville children saw how obedient their parents were, and took their parents obedience to the next step. They answered to a higher authority, and became so frum that they’ve decried their overly responsible parents for not being responsible enough. Were they more responsible, so these children of my generation reason, their would have realized their ultimate responsibility — not to their children, but to Hashem.

And then there was the third type of kid. The more imaginative of your children, the natural rebels, the kids whose talents were not the ones you properly valued because you could associate no reliable career to their gifts. It’s true, the ability to draw well, to write well, to perform well, is neither a way to make money nor a decent pension. But rather than let your children become what made them unique, you tried to box them in.

And rather than pursue their gifts for creation, these peers of mine took the only option left to them. They took their gifts for creation, and devoted their gifts to destruction. People of my generation who should be writing the novels and painting the paintings and singing the songs that commemorate this unique place in all its bizarre uniqueness (and for better or worse, Pikesville is absolutely unique), are now the subset who works in nonprofits to pull the whole thing down — Pikesville, Israel, any vision of Judaism that says that you can be simultaneously Jewish and an American patriot, a liberal who are respects all other communities and still owes its first loyalty to the Jewish community. The cautious liberalism and derekh eretz of baby boomer Jews that built this community is now replaced by the radicalism and tikkun olam that you all inveigh against every day — I hear it from every one of you like a broken record, and so does every Jewish kid of my generation. If the current state of young Jews dismays you, blame no one but yourselves. You could have been 1,000 times more accepting of different kinds of Jews, and you chose not to accept us with a vengeance.

Pikesville is a concentration of Jewish security, wealth and homogeneity that is perhaps unique in 3,000 years of Jewish history. A Hashem-bestowed gift wrapped in a bow of pastrami. And how did you use this gift? Did you use it to build a community that worked for all Jews? Or did you use it to build a lifestyle that worked for you and your immediate group of friends without looking even once to see how the lives of Jews whose personalities were just 1 percent different from your own might be improved? The same narrow diligence you used to build this community is now the cudgel you use to destroy it.

What will save Pikesville, the only thing that will save it, is the one thing you did everything you could to banish: imagination. You need entrepreneurs to find ways replenish your Conservative and Reform shuls and schools. You need cultural attractions that will make Jews visit Pikesville for a different reason than a bar mitzvah, and you need to convince Jews from elsewhere to move here for a different reason than Ner Israel. You need visual artists to re-paint the shuls in a way that makes them contemporary attractions. You need new kinds of songwriters and composers as hazzans in your shuls. You need urban planners to redesign the old neighborhoods to work for non-frum families in the 21st century. If Pikesville wants to stay upper middle class, it desperately needs a creative class who can show that Pikesville is more than just a way station where baby boomer Jews wait for their spouses to retire before they move away to Florida or Olam HaBa.

This will take all the vision and foresight that you’ve done everything in your life to avoid having so far, but if you want the efforts you made for your community to mean something to future Jews generations, this is what you have to do. The way to do it is to make amends for the sin that got you to this ignoble state – you rejected your creative children and told them they have nothing of value to offer.

Offer them this.

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at podomatic.com/podcasts/oldnewland.

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