The staff at the JT decided last week to take a day — one day — to drive around Jewish Baltimore and meet the Jews of Charm City. I was assigned the 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift, and it’s amazing the light you can find in the darkness.
I can’t give away our whole feature story, which you’ll see in the coming weeks, but I will tell you there is a calm in Jewish Baltimore in the wee hours of the night.
Photographer David Stuck and I took to the streets, charged with a caramel latte and a hot chocolate, circling between Old Court Road and Northern Parkway.
At around 2:30 a.m. we stopped at Seven Mile Market only to meet a frum night manager stocking the shelves with macaroni. He let us in reluctantly but warmed up as soon as we started talking. We got a backroom tour and a lesson in the pallet jack (which picks up the pallets of foodstuffs), and we got to schmooze about flour packaging and how it is the cause for many a mess. Mr. Weiss said he had some ideas for making that better — but that will be for another time.
We met a blood technician at Sinai Hospital and a mother picking up iced coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and we talked with Robert Bagwandeen, the baker at Goldberg’s. He gave us a freshly baked bagel — straight off the wooden plank. You have never tasted anything that good.
It was tiring; I was tired. It was cold; my toes are tingling just thinking about it. It was strange; the folks at Weinberg Place would only speak to us through the glass door and turned us away.
But it was awesome.
Great, because when I used to look out of my living-room windows at the midnight streets of Baltimore I was somewhat afraid. I feared a quick run to the car, my eyes always on alert for an attacker I imagined lurking behind the trees. I figured only freaks come out at night.
Not so in Jewish Baltimore. Northwest Citizens Patrol was out protecting us as we prepared for our “mission.” Marilyn Mendelsohn was making sure our citizens stay healthy during her eight-and-a-half-hour shift at the hospital. And just about 4:30 a.m., several men were found shteiging in the Ohr Hamizrach bais medrash and learning a page of Talmud in Ahavas Yisroel Tzemach Tzedek.
So holy is Jewish Baltimore.
I still can’t say that I would advocate walking the streets of the city at night, but I can say there is light in the darkness. I doubt I will ever have a chance to do this experiment again, but if I do, I want to tag along with Hatzalah and be a part of healing our community. Or maybe I would go with the folks who volunteer for Shomrim so I could see what it really means to keep our community safe.
Friday night is the third night of Chanukah, the festival of lights. May the blessing of light be on you this holiday season, and may the candles bring warmth on an otherwise cold night.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief