Although her life was cut short, Neely Tal Snyder’s impact was felt in Baltimore’s Jewish community and beyond. The wife, mother of three daughters, advocate and educator died in a car crash Monday morning at the age of 37.
“She felt so strongly about the things that were important to her,” said Autumn Sadovnik, a friend and colleague. “She really cared about people. She was so smart, so compassionate.”
Snyder was working as program director at the Pearlstone Center at the time of her death.
On Monday morning, Snyder was stopped on Route 30 in Reisterstown waiting to make a left turn onto Mount Gilead Road, where Pearlstone’s property is located, when a Peterbilt tractor-trailer struck her Hyundai Elantra from behind, according to Baltimore County police, who responded to the crash at 7:28 a.m. She was transported to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where she was later declared deceased. The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.
The Baltimore County Crash Team is investigating to determine if charges will be filed and will present its report to the State Attorney’s office when the investigation is complete.
Snyder was a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and previously served as the director of teen engagement at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education as well as the informal Jewish educator at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa., from 2001 to 2008.
In a statement on the organization’s Facebook page, the Pearlstone Center remembered Snyder’s life as “one of dedication to excellence in Jewish education and of passionate commitment to her community.”
Pearlstone Executive Director Jakir Manela said everyone at Pearlstone is heartbroken, and during sessions with a grief counselor on Monday, employees in every department of Pearlstone spoke about how Snyder treated everyone with love and affection.
“She’s very special, and the pain and the loss will never really go away,” Manela said. “She definitely, undoubtedly, and not just at Pearlstone but for the whole community, brought a love of Torah and a love of community and really principled action [and] leadership … into our lives. [She brought] community into our lives in real ways that benefited people all around her. And we were blessed to have her as a colleague and to witness that miracle of what she brought to the world.”
Snyder co-founded Jewish LGBT advocacy organization JQ Baltimore in 2012 with Mindy Dickler, among others, and while there are new co-chairs now leading the organization, Dickler said JQ Baltimore would not have come into being without Snyder.
“All that our group achieved in the past three-and-a-half years would not have happened were it not for Neely’s passion and drive and commitment that Jewish LGBT youth should feel welcome in their Jewish community,” Dickler said. “I’m certainly old enough to have been her mother, and yet I learned so very much from her. She was my mentor, my adviser, my collaborator. No one person could have achieved all that Neely accomplish in her all-too-short life.”
An email to Dickler from Catherine Bell, national program director at Boston-based LBGT advocacy group Keshet, said Snyder “had a vision for a better world and knew how to pursue that vision with warmth and intelligence and commitment.”
That warmth and her dedication was felt by her neighbors, including Rabbi Faith Cantor of Beth El Congregation, who said she crossed paths with Snyder when her family moved to their neighborhood and the families’ kids started playing together.
“Her home was always open for hospitality,” she said. “They were always sharing their lives with every part of the community. She didn’t tell you how to observe Shabbat, she showed you how to observe Shabbat.”
Cantor called Snyder a “connector” and said her energy and outside-the-box approach to education left a lasting impact on the community. She recalled an email from Snyder a couple of weeks ago inviting people to bring their friends to Family Farm Camp at the Pearlstone Center, an example of her warm personality.
“I never saw her without a smile,” she said. I never heard her speak harshly. She had this positive outlook on everything.”
Beth El Director of Education Dr. Eyal Bor said he met with Snyder when planning for the school’s participation in Hebrew School on the Farm last year at the Pearlstone Center. Bor said her creative planning “brought a different taste to Hebrew Schools” and created a “positive and engaging experience” for students in light of trends of declining school enrollment.
“She was a passionate educator who was extremely committed,” he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Director of Education Brad Cohen, who got to know Snyder during the past five years through CJE and the Pearlstone Center.
“Neely was an amazing colleague who was thoughtful, energetic, intentional, passionate, fun to work with and really was successful in the things she did,” he said. “She really tried to meet students where they were at.”
Sadovnik, who considers Snyder a mentor, said her legacy will be her passion for welcoming diverse groups of people and making sure everyone is able to contribute to society.
“We need to work harder to be a more inclusive Jewish community,” she said. “There are so many informal experiences that we have in our community that can engage people in different ways, and as a woman in the Jewish Community, you can engage in traditional and modern ways that are meaningful and have big impacts. Her daughters, who meant so much to her, will carry on and continue to welcome people at her table who may not have felt welcomed at other tables.”
Snyder is survived by her husband, Rabbi Joshua Snyder, executive director of Goucher Hillel; her daughters, Shalva, Ayelet and Nava; her parents, Jordan and Sheila Harburger; and her brother, Noah Harburger, and her sister, Aleeza Wilkins.
Funeral services will be held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road, Pikesville on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 3:30 p.m. Interment is at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Garrison Forest Cemetery in Owings Mills. Please omit flowers.
Contributions in her memory may be sent to Goucher Hillel, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, MD 21204, the Pearlstone Center, 5425 Mount Gilead Road, Reisterstown, MD 21136 or JQ Baltimore, 1601 Guilford Ave., 2 South, Baltimore, MD 21202.
Justin Katz contributed to this report.