By Justin Regan
Jennie Schwartz, 53, is an OB-GYN from Reisterstown who’s been playing cards all her life. From family game nights as a kid, to date nights with her husband, to Las Vegas vacations.
It all came together in a big way earlier this month when Schwartz won the Virtual Mid-Atlantic Poker Tournament, hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
“I said ‘OK, I’m the only female here,’” Schwartz said. “I would like to represent well because women are definitely underrepresented in poker. I would like to finish in the top half, it’ll be great. And then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m at the final table. Oh my gosh, I have a huge chip lead.’”
Schwartz wasn’t the only one who raked in the chips. So did the FIDF Baltimore Chapter, which raised more than $30,000. The organization provides various resources and support to Israeli soldiers. The tournament has been an annual Charm City fixture since 2015, but it went virtual this year due to the pandemic. Schwartz said she was able to use that to her advantage.
“On this particular poker site they always showed your whole cards if you got to the end,” Schwartz said. “So you couldn’t muck your cards if you lost the hand. So you actually knew a lot more than you would in another kind of tournament where people didn’t show their cards if they lost. You could really see who was pushing with not much and who was really aggressive.”
Schwartz’s strategy of laying low and reading the room paid off as she bested more than 80 opponents to claim victory. She’s now gained entry into the Maryland Live! Poker Tournament in Hanover. As for the money raised, it’ll go to support the Kedem Battalion, a search-and-rescue unit that conducts emergency operations in Israel and around the world. The Baltimore Chapter supports them as part of the FIDF Adopt-A-Unit Program.
“As a Jew, Israel is very important to me,” Schwartz said. “Supporting the soldiers who maintain the freedom of that great country is why I support FIDF.”
Schwartz’s Judaism has been important to her since she was a kid growing up in rural New Jersey. It wasn’t easy being Jewish. She was the only Jew in her elementary school, and her hometown synagogue was burned by arsonists.
“There was a known KKK group nearby,” Schwartz said. “The whole temple wasn’t completely destroyed, but it did need to be redone and refurbished, and certainly the books smelled like smoke.”
Even though she never had a bat mitzvah, Schwartz said Jewish holidays were still important celebrations for her family. She grew closer to her Judaism in college and married Jonathan Schwartz. The couple moved to Baltimore for her residency at Sinai Hospital.
“One of the things that attracted me to come to Baltimore was because Sinai back then, it said ‘Sinai the Jewish Hospital,’” Schwartz said. “And I instantly felt a comfort here that I hadn’t felt in any other place.”
Schwartz still works at Sinai as an OB-GYN with Aurora Women’s Health. She chose the profession because she likes helping women, especially when it comes to reproductive rights and delivering babies.
“I also want to make OB-GYN care less uncomfortable because it is an uncomfortable subject,” Schwartz said. “Bringing up examining yourself is uncomfortable. So I figured if I could make it less bad then women could get the care that they needed.”
Schwartz and her family originally worshipped at Temple Emanuel, and have been at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation since the merger in 2016. Her husband is on the synagogue’s board. They have two kids, and her daughter used to spend her summers at the Jewish sleepaway camp, Camp Louise.
Schwartz said she enjoys the warmth of the Baltimore Jewish community that she’s experienced from day one.
“I really like that I have quite a strong and diverse Jewish community here,” Schwartz said. “I think that has been very nice. The diversity in general. I live in a neighborhood which is quite a diverse neighborhood, and I love that. I think that’s really important to develop all the relationships here.”
Justin Regan is a freelance writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times. He produces the American Rabbi Project podcast.