The Rabbinical Assembly’s annual convention will be in Baltimore this year (beginning February 2017) and I was asked to write something about Charm City that would introduce the rabbis to some of our city’s unique qualities and nudge them to attend. Here’s what I wrote: (It was inspired by Jennifer Weiner’s NYTimes homage to Philadelphia before the DNC earlier this year.)
In some ways Baltimore is an unusual choice for the Rabbinical Assembly convention. There are those who might say that it is nisht geshtoygen, nisht gefloygen neither here nor there. But in other, more important ways Baltimore is the perfect choice. Not only because Baltimore is on the front lines of every important social, religious, racial, and economic issue facing the country today but also because it is an absolutely funky, fabulous town.
Jacob Blumenthal and his team are hard at work planning an engaging and full convention and we won’t have much down time. But if we did, here is what I’d want to show you and do with you while you visited Baltimore.
We would try to get to Fort Mc Henry (where our National Anthem was composed one night during the War of 1812) really early in the morning so we could be the chosen volunteers to assist the park rangers in raising the flag over the Fort. From there, it is a short drive to the American Visionary Arts Museum for their wacky Kinetic Sculpture Race where teams design and engineer human powered works of art to race through Baltimore City and the Inner Harbor. Expect to see giant butterflies, floating pigs and yellow submarines.
But then we would be hungry, so we would head out to Jewish Pikesville to Serengeti, our kosher steak house for my favorite, the Pulled Brisket sandwich with Lamb “Bacon” and onion jam on Ciabatta bread. After a nap to recover, we would go back towards the city to walk off our lunch and see the whimsical side of Baltimore. We would don our beehive hairdos and head over to Hampden. A haven for artists of the visual, culinary and performance variety, I love Hampden for its sweater clad trees, giant flamingoes hanging off buildings, and the sufganiyot flavored ice cream it makes every Hanukkah.
No trip to Baltimore would be complete without a visit to, or an understanding of, East Baltimore. Many of you have seen the HBO series The Wire, regarded by many as one of the best TV dramas ever made. Filmed largely in East Baltimore, it is in part a love song to the city of Baltimore in all its complexity, real grittiness, tragedy, racial divide, and social challenges. It depicts parts of Baltimore that are no less important than the Inner Harbor and Hampden or Jewish Pikesville and Under Armour’s new waterfront. To give you an updated look at the neighborhoods depicted in The Wire you may want to read The Beast Side by D Watkins, and Between the World and Me by Ta Nahisi Coates both of which depict the experience of growing up in East Baltimore.
By nighttime we would be in the mood to relax with a drink and some live music, so I’d take you to one of the local Irish pubs to hear O’Malley’s March, the Irish band fronted by Martin O’Malley former Baltimore mayor and democratic Presidential hopeful. He’s great on the guitar, easy on the eyes, and a pretty good example of the funky, fabulous city that I call home and that I hope you’ll visit February 26, 2017.