According to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, approximately 3,600 new Jewish families have moved to Baltimore over the past three years. With 15 Jewish day schools and 17 preschools from which to choose, many are lining up to join the thriving Jewish community.
“We just love Baltimore,” said new arrival Howard Goldstein. “The whole community is so tightknit. There are numerous Jewish schools, synagogues on every block and of course, the delicious kosher supermarket Seven Mile Market. This community is very unusual and special. There is no place like it.”
According to The Associated’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, the number of Jewish households in the greater Baltimore area has increased by 16 percent over the past decade. While 54 percent of all Baltimore Jews hail from Maryland, 10 percent of new Baltimore residents come from outside the United States, with 4 percent from the former Soviet Union.
Reporting that 47 percent of Jewish children to 4 years old are enrolled in a Jewish preschool or nursery school, that more than 40 percent of children are enrolled in Jewish day school and that almost all are enrolled in some sort of Jewish educational program, one likely conclusion of the study is that Jewish families are attracted, among other draws, to Baltimore for the schools.
“The schools play a huge role in why Baltimore is so top-notch,” said Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland/Mid-Atlantic Region. “My job is to advocate for Jewish rights, and my office opened up seven years ago. I am proud of how strong the Baltimore Jewish community has grown.”
Since he promotes and lobbies for policies benefiting the Jewish community, such as for the adoption of universal pre-K programs in Maryland, he is thrilled by how the Baltimore Jewish community is prospering. After growing up in Silver Spring and attending Ner Israel High School/Rabbinical College in Baltimore, he decided to establish his home here.
“As a Baltimore resident myself, I can see how Baltimore entices the greater Orthodox community,” said Sadwin. “The housing and tuition prices are affordable, and there is a lot of harmony between the different groups. With Washington, D.C., and Baltimore City so close, Baltimore provides tons of job opportunities for residents. I also think The Associated and its various programs play a big role in growing the community.”
But the attraction isn’t solely among Orthodox families.
As the only egalitarian Jewish Day School in the Greater Baltimore area, Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS) serves grades K through 8 in a coeducational, small classroom environment.
“Many people find out about Krieger Schechter from word of mouth,” said Liz Minkin-Friedman, the school’s director of community outreach and engagement. “This year, we had families move to Maryland from Massachusetts and Virginia. Many of our families learn about our school from colleagues when they move to Baltimore for a job. Others hear about it from mothers at the playground.”
Owned by Chizuk Amuno Congregation, KSDS caters to all Baltimore Jews. It boasts a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, and according to Minkin-Friedman, one of the biggest draws is its dual-language curriculum.
“We teach 40 percent in Hebrew and 60 percent in English,” she said. “Our curriculum involves both general and Judaic studies. We are part of a national movement, and we provide a strong Jewish foundation for our students.”
After sending her children to a Solomon Schechter Day School in Boston, new Baltimore resident, and parent of two, Vicki Williamson felt that KSDS was the most natural fit.
“We moved to Pikesville over the summer because we wanted to be closer to our extended family,” said Williamson. “Krieger Schechter was exactly what we were looking for. They match up perfectly with our Jewish values, and I think the academics speak for itself.”
Howard and Sally Goldstein recently moved to Baltimore to find programs for their two younger adopted children. The family of six moved from St. Louis, Mo., and enrolled the pair in the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
“My wife and I always wanted more children, so we adopted two children from Texas: one Hispanic and one African-American,” said Goldstein. “We had to send our first two children away for school when we lived in Missouri because there were no strong Jewish schools in our area. We didn’t want to repeat that with our younger two.”
“We have a multicultural family, and Beth Tfiloh truly caters to our children’s needs,” said Goldstein. “Even though our children look different, they have never felt out of place. We heard rave reviews about Beth Tfiloh from students and alumni and thought it would be perfect for our children.”
Shifra Weinstein, who moved to Baltimore 10 years ago from Riverdale, N.Y., stressed that Baltimore has many educational options. Before she moved to the area, she went “school shopping” in three different communities in three different states. The moment she came to Baltimore, she knew she found her new home.
“We were looking for all-girl schools at the time,” said Weinstein. “I remember visiting Bnos Yisroel on my own. Immediately, I wanted to send my girls there. I called my husband that day and said, ‘That’s it, we’re moving!’”
While Weinstein could not wait to send her five daughters to the Bnos Yisroel School of Baltimore, first-week classroom complications reassured Weinstein that she made the right choice.
“My daughter, Yocheved, started getting sick during the first week,” she recalled. “She is asthmatic, and we realized she was having problems with the school building since her classroom was in the basement. I called up the principal, Sara Itzkowitz, [and I] panicked. We did not want to switch schools now.
“[Itzkowitz] said, ‘Give me two days. We’re not losing you.’ She then hired an industrial cleaning purifier,” continued Weinstein, who went on to serve as president of the school’s parent-teacher association for three years, “and our daughter never had a problem with asthma in the school again. At Bnos Yisroel, the kids come first. After Yocheved’s first year, she was never in a basement classroom again. Mrs. Itzkowitz made sure of it.”
Three years ago, Odeya and Jeremy Bedine moved to Bethesda from Atlanta for job opportunities. Falling in love with Beth Tfiloh and the Baltimore Jewish community, the family left their D.C.-area home and moved to Pikesville in May.
“Pikesville is the full package,” said Bedine. “While we looked at schools in D.C., nothing quite fit like Beth Tfiloh. My husband was commuting back and forth from Baltimore to D.C. before landing a job in Columbia, but we knew it was worth the commute.”
As families move to Baltimore for the schools, Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI) helps new arrivals transition into the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Park Heights. In the last fiscal year, 32 percent of families seeking housing assistance from CHAI were out-of-towners.
“Last year, we helped many families moving into Baltimore,” said Rachel Elliot, CHAI’s director of organizational advancement. “We helped seven from out of state and two from Baltimore County. Of the out-of-staters, we assisted three families from Israel, two from New Jersey, one from Canada and one from Iran.”
Providing $253,000 in loans and assistance and another $80,000 in grants for new home buyers, CHAI’s mission is to make Baltimore easier to afford.
“We know that many Jews want to live in Baltimore. We try to make it easier for them,” said Mitchell Posner, executive director. “Many of our houses have two sinks and multiple bedrooms for large families. We are set up for the Jewish migration.”
Concentrating on Northwest Baltimore, CHAI also rebuilds playgrounds, creates neighborhood programming and provides home-buyer counseling. In 2014, CHAI implemented 38 enrichment programs in Baltimore schools with a total of 893 participants.
“Many people move to Baltimore for the schools. We want to keep the community strong once they arrive,” said Posner. “We have renovated over 20 houses and even knock on doors to ask people in the community how we can best serve them.”
With the kosher restaurants, numerous synagogues, several Jewish community centers and educational choices, Bedine said it’s easy to be comfortable amid such Jewish infrastructure.
“People who are from Baltimore have no idea how special it is,” said Bedine. “We moved here for the schools, but we stayed for the community. It took a long time to find, but we are most definitely home.”