A close-up look at Jewish Baltimore
Casey Spigel, owner of Forever Wireless, greets at least a dozen people with hugs and handshakes within 15 minutes of entering The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Fells Point. “He’s like the mayor of Fells Point,” says Samantha Blumberg, Spigel’s friend of many years. Spigel often meets friends here for a mid-work-week break. “It’s a good place for young professionals; it’s not judgmental or pretentious. It gets us through the week,” says Spigel, who seems to share a genuine gift of gab with his parents, Arie and Tsipora. Both are from Israel, but they met in Baltimore when frequenting the Pimlico Diner.
It’s a half-hour until Fred Weiss’ “lunch break.” The night manager at Seven Mile Market is stocking boxes of pasta: first, the rotini; then, the macaroni. Weiss serves not only as a stocker, but also as a kosher supervisor known as a mashgiach. During his shift, from 10:15 p.m. to 7 a.m., he clears the floor, uses the pallet jack to move hundreds of items and restock the shelves and goes through the store to remove anything that’s damaged. Weiss is eager to check his phone as it nears 3 a.m. He says, “My wife sometimes calls during my lunch break.”
Marilyn Mendelsohn is good with blood. For 25 years she has been a medical technologist, the last five at Sinai Hospital. She says she likes working in the middle of the night because it allows her to be home during the day. On one of her breaks — she takes one every 50 minutes — she grabs a cigarette outside, despite the frigid night. She says her department has between three and six people per shift. How many tubes of blood does she personally test per evening? Hundreds.
Robert Bagwandeen isn’t Jewish, but he might as well be. For 14 of Goldberg’s 15 years he has served as the kosher bagel shop’s baker. His shift starts at 2 a.m. and ends at 7 a.m., and between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., he makes 150 dozen bagels — first the seeded bagels, then the sweet ones and finally the plain. “It’s nonstop from when I start the baking,” says Bagwandeen . “You have to really think. It’s like a game. You lose five minutes, it can get off. Five minutes is really very important to me.”
Menashe Sadik and several others can be found poring over their Jewish texts in the study hall of Ohr Hamizrach, the local Iranian synagogue. Sadik says he and the others arrive as early as 4:45 a.m. to learn Torah. A holy scene in Jewish Baltimore!
Rachel Perry gets her fix at the kosher Dunkin’ Donuts on Fallstaff Road, ordering two cups of iced caramel latte. She says, “I’m a little addicted. It’s vital — quite amazing, actually.” She reminisces about the last fast day. Just as the fast ends, she says, the line is out the door. “Everyone goes. Dunkin’ Donuts is a staple.”
Quite comfortable flying through the air at high speeds, Max Offit peels off an indy grab on his friend’s indoor ramp in Reisterstown before heading out to school at Franklin High. At 16 years old, he’s been skating half of his life. “My friends in the neighborhood always were skating, so I wanted to do it,” he says. Offit is sponsored by Vu Skateboard Shop in Parkville. While Offit says he skateboards every day in the summer, it becomes more difficult to find time during the school year. When the weather is good, he skates at friends’ houses or on his own backyard ramp a few times a week. But when winter hits, he swaps his skateboard for a snowboard. ”Winter is so short!”
Safety patrol guards Clara Zaiman and Mali Glazer, both fourth-graders, arrive early at Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville to help younger students negotiate the carpool line. They open car doors, make sure children exit safely and walk some of the littlest ones into the building. Clara, who has a sprained toe, says she usually does jumping jacks while waiting to help out. “It’s fun,” she says. Mali adds, “I feel good helping others, and I like the privilege of doing this job.”
“This is his third career,” says Lauren Reck of 12-year-old Expletive. Ex, for short, is an off-the-track thoroughbred and was a steeplechase racehorse but now is a show-jumper boarded at Helmore Farms. Reck rides Ex at least twice a week. “He’s great to ride, and he’s a good jumper — well-bred, brave, athletic; he takes care of me,” says Reck, who has been riding horses since age 4. Reck is a Southern Jersey girl but has been a “native” Baltimorean for more than 20 years. “He’s named Expletive because he’s kind of a pain. No one else could put up with him. He comes by his name honestly.”
Ladybugs are Ellen Perlman’s special weapon. She distributes them among her five varieties of romaine lettuce to ward off infestations. “I work a lot,” she says. “It’s pretty much a 24/7 operation.” Perlman transitioned from her role as a full-time stay-at-home mom in 2012 to become a farmer at Chesapeake Aquaponics, which she owns and operates. The career change has been more of a life change. With construction of the farm coming to a close, she spends most of her time now prepping her plants for winter farmers’ markets, where, she anticipates, she will be the only farmer selling fresh greens.
“I have always loved dogs and cats, but I always wanted more,” says Linda Michel at the small farm in Owings Mills, where she lives with her husband, Roger, two goats, two sheep and two alpacas, as well as her cats and dogs. Michel greets the animals and pours feed in the troughs as they come running over. It’s a long way from the Liberty Heights neighborhood where the jewelry designer and animal lover grew up. In addition to caring for the animals, Michel also cares for the grounds. “I’m the only one on the tractor.”
Action! Yisroel Jerome Bethea directs young actor Simmy Vanderhoof in their parking-garage location of the Snider Plaza building in Pikesville. Bethea is filming with a Sony FS100 digital camera to create a fundraising film for a local nonprofit. The segment will depict part of a chase scene the boy imagines. Shooting for two to three hours, the final edited film will be about five minutes. Bethea’s company, LTD Studios, is in Pikesville, where he lives with his wife and three children.
Mark, Eric and Eddie Wingrat work in the “candy store,” the nickname affectionately given to the cooler where their flowers await cutting, pruning and planting to create displays or bouquets. The busy days at the family-owned-and-operated Flowers & Fancies in Owings Mills involve taking orders from individuals, hotels and supermarkets, checking on their stock and ordering new blossoms. Of the sometimes-crazy requests they receive from customers: “We always say yes!” says Eddie. “We just say it with flowers.”
Dan Naor, a former submarine officer in the Israeli navy, has made an indelible mark on Baltimore. “This waterfront property came up for sale, and I found some people to put their money together, and we bought it,” says the chief operating officer of Baltimore Marine Centers, which includes five waterfront locations with hundreds of boat slips, several office buildings, restaurants and condos. Naor walks through the BMC shipyard at Pier Seven near its heliport, which houses several helicopters that can be chartered on demand for medical transport, as well as executive travel and special events. “Baltimore’s a great city, a port city with a great location between D.C., New York and Philly. I love it here. I’m never leaving.”
There’s no business like show business! The North Oaks Choir practices for its December recital, led by Shazy King. They sing together once a week during the fall, winter and spring. Some of the choir’s favorites are Broadway show tunes, but today’s practice includes holiday favorites and even a little dancing. The recitals provide a unique opportunity for North Oaks residents’ children and grandchildren to turn the tables and watch their parents and grandparents onstage, basking in the performance glow.
Joshua Polak, owner of Guitars of Pikesville, checks “the action” on one of the guitars he has in stock. The action measures the distance between the strings and the neck of the guitar and ensures that the instrument is comfortable to play. “Sometimes, for beginners you want the action to be low,” says Polak. He describes his store as “somewhat of a neighborhood hangout.” Stop by for the store’s weekly jam sessions or to take a lesson.
It’s all business for Councilwoman Rikki Spector (D-5), as she attends a Baltimore City Planning Commission meeting at the Benton Building in downtown Baltimore. Today, the discussion is about the proposed 25th Street Station Project in Remington. Along with the slew of protestors and supporters who attend the meeting to make their voices heard, Spector spends the afternoon listening to the fine details of the proposal, ranging from the elevation of parking lots to the locations and dimensions of entranceways and exits. A representative of the Northwest District, Spector has been a member of the Planning Commission since 1996.
Sam Gallant, DJ for WTMD radio’s afternoon drive show, is a bit more nervous than usual as he prepares to begin his shift. That’s because today is “all Beatles, all vinyl day” at the station. Not used to playing records on a turntable, his concern is about keeping the music transitions smooth. “Most of the time, I’m pretty comfortable here, but someone once told me, ‘If you’re not nervous when you go on, you’re doing something wrong,’” Gallant says. Born in Alaska (yes, Jews in Alaska!), Gallant has fully embraced Charm City. “Baltimore’s a great place — varied, diverse, old yet young, and coming into its own.”
Stacy Spigelman is busy styling Suzanne Levitt’s hair. Around her, other employees are chatting, cutting, styling and washing wigs for some of the LA Style salon clientele: Orthodox women, as well as women with medical diagnoses such as cancer and alopecia. Born and raised in Baltimore, Spigelman has always known she wanted to work in a beauty salon. “I always loved going to the salon with my mother and my grandmother,” she says. “I loved everything about it, and I spent many hours there. When I became frum, I didn’t think it went with the lifestyle, but then I thought, ‘I could do wigs.’” She’s been doing it ever since.
Marci Rubin, manager at Phillips Seafood in the Inner Harbor, arrives at 4 p.m. for her shift and is quickly brought up to speed by the morning manager. Though it’s steadily busy, Rubin says the fall and winter are usually quiet, but “it’s crazy in the summer.” Rubin interacts with everybody from locals to tourists and oversees up to five hosts, three bartenders and 18 servers during a shift. “It’s a lot of running around.”
After a speech by Maryland Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler at Tov Pizza in Pikesville, Israel Diamond of Northwest Baltimore asks some questions and shares his concerns. He and his wife, Bernice, want to hear what Gansler has to say on the state’s pressing issues. “My wife said I’m not getting dinner unless I come,” he says with a smile. For the upcoming election, Israel Diamond says, “We want a fresh face, and we don’t want the lieutenant governor … I still have my issues. I’m not sold on anybody.”
Herman Milton Heyn has a passion for the planets. “I got turned on to astronomy in eighth grade at Garrison by Miss Wicker. She drew the Big Dipper on the blackboard and told us to go look for it that night; I found it, and it hooked me,” says the street astronomer from upper Park Heights. Heyn has set up his telescope more than 5,200 times since November 12, 1987, when he first followed his urge to share his enthusiasm for the stars with passers-by. You can still find him at one of two locations: in Charles Village and in Fells Point, but his set-up is weather dependent.
Jael Freedman sees and senses details of her clients’ future as well as past at Breathe Books in Hampden. Freedman, from Randallstown, has been clairvoyant from a young age. “I always thought that people wanted to know,” says Freedman. “But they don’t. So now I don’t invade, I turn down the antenna. If you come to ask for information, I give it, but I don’t just offer it like I used to do; I’m 100 percent a healer more than anything.”
Detective Jeremy Silbert (left) of the Baltimore City police department checks in with officers at a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, where they discover a man driving without a license. Silbert also serves as public information officer for the department; he checks in on scenes and updates crime information on the department’s social media accounts. “People are really surprised [that I’m Jewish],” he says. “And many people follow that with, ‘You must be the only Jewish officer in the agency.’”
Evan Reisberg monitors the traffic in and out of The 8x10 music venue in Federal Hill, as he takes tickets, checks IDs and stamps hands of concert-goers. He keeps a tally of which band people come to see. Opening act Sophistafunk has just finished its set, so patrons walk outside to have a cigarette and get some air before the headliner, New Orleans’ Dumpstaphunk, takes the stage. The friendly crowd doesn’t require any heavy-handed security, but Reisberg spends the break making sure people exit one door and enter another. He says, “I’m constantly reminding them to leave their drinks at the end of the bar or on my front table when they go outside.” JT
On Nov. 21, 2013, the staff of the Baltimore Jewish Times sought out, photographed and engaged with Jewish Baltimore. Twenty-four hours. Three teams. One city. An impressive and diverse cross section of the area’s Jewish people.
What comprises Jewish Baltimore? A lot of very different people, places, traditions and organizations, to be sure.
“24 Hours Under the Radar” is a glimpse into the ordinary — and therefore, extraordinary — behind-the-scenes lives of Jewish Baltimoreans. These are people who infuse some of the Jewish into Jewish Baltimore because of what they do, how they act, what they believe and, in some cases, simply because they’re Jewish. And each adds to the unique flavor of the city.
The following profiles are just a glimpse into that deep well of Jewish identity, culture and pride found here in Baltimore.
There is much more to uncover.
Read the, “Reporter’s Blog” by Melissa Gerr. >>
Photographers: David Stuck, Melissa Gerr, Marc Shapiro
Writers: Simone Ellin, Melissa Gerr, Maayan Jaffe, Heather Norris, Marc Shapiro