Jewish Geography Redefined: Growing Downtown Jews

Downtown JCC

By Elizabeth Schuman

Jewish Baltimore is a community of stories. What local doesn’t have a grandparent who came here from the Old Country, settling in neighborhoods like Eutaw Place (my grandparents), Lombard Street or elsewhere in East Baltimore? And what newbie to Baltimore – that would be anyone who did not go to high school here – doesn’t recognize the Jewish geography game locals play upon meeting one another?

That’s why the newest twist on Jewish Baltimore is so fascinating. No longer is living Jewish relegated to a few northwest zip codes in the suburbs. Today’s Jewish 20-somethings and 30-somethings want all that Baltimore City has to offer: walkability, culture, architecture and history.
In their must-have mix? Being Jewish … but on their terms.

Enter Charm City Tribe and Rabbi Jessy Gross for meaningful Jewish conversations and connections with a modern flavor. Charm City Tribe connects people Jewishly without the constraints of four walls. The setting is less institution-based, says Rabbi Jessy, and more about people looking out for one another, learning together and creating supportive communities. The “Torah on Tap” concept is about meeting people where they are … which might be in a local restaurant, in a home or over a beer at a neighborhood bar.

The “Jewish on their terms” doesn’t end when this generations marries and has children. With more families than they could accommodate, in February, the new Downtown Baltimore JCC, or DBJCC, moved from its temporary home at the Jewish Museum of Maryland to a permanent location on Light Street. Today, the bustling Federal Hill center is poised to hit its 100th family membership and now offers dozens of programs and activities during the week.

For Kim Jacobsohn, program coordinator, the concept is to offer Jewish opportunities for families in the city. These families are committed to living downtown and living Jewishly. She explains that young families downtown are seeking the same type of community as our grandparents, but with a modern twist.

There are Family and Shabbat Happy Hours, with wine and beer for the adults and kid-friendly fare. There are dozens of classes for all ages, including “Messy and Messier,” a class for toddlers that keeps the artistic, colorful mess at the DBJCC rather than in the home. There are partnerships with other Baltimore organizations such as the Enoch Pratt Free Library. There are frequent visits from Associated agencies such as Pearlstone Center, PJ Library ( a program of the Macks Center for Jewish Education) and the nearby Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The goal is to create Jewish connections and learning for families. “We want to make the Jewish experience in the city more enriching,” says Kim. “One of the best things we hear is, ‘What did we do before we had the DBJCC?’”

Our suburban model of Judaism isn’t going anywhere. What is changing, however, is the narrow footprint of where to live and how to live. The Associated is helping to build and define the Jewish community for those singles and young families who are choosing to live in downtown Baltimore.
Our grandparents would be proud.

To learn about Jewish resources in downtown Baltimore, check out these sites: Charm City Tribe: http://www.jcc.org/adults/charm-city-tribe/
Downtown Baltimore JCC: http://www.dbjcc.org/ and the Jewish Museum of Maryland: www.jewishmuseum.org.

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