Jewish residents give haven vibrant identity


September 25, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Upper Park Heights carries an unmistakable Jewish stamp: more than a dozen synagogues line Park Heights Avenue, and every Saturday hundreds of Orthodox Jewish walk to services.

But at this time of year, the neighborhood's Jewish identity is magnified. On the Jewish New Year and on Yom Kippur, more people than usual attend synagogue. The streets around the synagogues are flooded with cars, and traffic jams form after services.

And in the last two weeks, dozens of temporary buildings have sprung up around the neighborhood, each known as a Sukkah and used to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, which began last week and concludes Tuesday. During the festival, Jewish families eat and sometimes sleep in these buildings, which usually are no bigger than 100 square feet.

The area, which is about 65 percent Jewish, is made up primarily of four city neighborhoods: Glen, Cross Country, Fallstaff and Cheswolde. It is bounded approximately by Northern Parkway, Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Avenue and Smith or Slade avenues.

Just about any kind of home can be found here: There are mansions that sell for $500,000, and small semidetached homes for closer to $50,000. There are high-rise condominiums and apartment houses. There are Colonials and split-levels, many in developments such as Pickwick and Wellwood, circa 1950. And there are older homes, some in need of some tender loving care.

There are few new homes, though.

A couple of dozen new homes were built in the 1980s in a development known as Templegate, and homes selling for about $300,000 are under construction at the edge of the neighborhood, near the Beltway.

Stuart and Esther Macklin live on Bancroft Road, part of Bancroft Park. That area carries a historic designation from the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation because the area was designed by Frederick Olmstead. Mr. Olmstead also designed Roland Park.

"We get urban convenience but it's like living in the county," Mr. Macklin said. He said the houses are surrounded by woodlands and open space. And he said it's not unusual to see a fox or other wildlife strolling through his back yard.

Mr. Macklin, who owns an architectural firm, said he also enjoys living near some of the city's architectural standouts. One of the local synagogues, Temple Oheb Shalom, is significant because it was designed in part by the founder of the Bauhaus Movement, internationally known architect Walter Gropius.

Haven for world Jewry

Orthodox Jews tend to cluster in small areas because they must live within walking distance of synagogue; they are not allowed to drive on the Sabbath or on holidays.

Most Orthodox Jews consider the neighborhood defined by the local eruv, a string of wire on utility poles that surrounds the neighborhood. The eruv, a ritual enclosure of the neighborhood, allows them to carry -- anything from house keys to baby strollers -- on the Sabbath.

Combine the presence of the eruv and the critical mass of Jews, with the multitude of Jewish institutions along Park Heights Avenue -- such as the Baltimore Hebrew College and the Jewish Community Center -- and Jewish families seem to have about everything they need. There are also about a half-dozen kosher restaurants, Jewish bookstores and groceries along Reisterstown Road.

All this has made the area a haven for Jewish people around the world, including Russians, Ukrainians and Iranians, said Rabbi Murray Saltzman, who has been at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation for 17 years.

And he said Jews with very strict interpretation of the Jewish religion, the Hassidic Jews, have particularly sought out homes in Upper Park Heights and houses which they could renovate into synagogues, Rabbi Saltzman said.

Citizens Patrol

The Northwest Citizens Patrol, an anti-crime group run by Orthodox Jews, patrols the neighborhood every night.

The participants label their cars with signs and cruise the Upper Park Heights community, looking for crime or suspicious activity. For the past decade, eight to 10 men have gathered at the synagogue for their nightly orders before fanning out into the community for three hours of patrol.

The patrol has become nationally known for helping to reduce crime -- with feature stories in the Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio.

It has also been the cause of occasional rifts between Jews and African-Americans because only Jewish men have been allowed to patrol. But that source of tension seems to have been mitigated last week, when the patrol agreed to allow non-Jews to participate.

Daryl Milburn, who lives in a bungalow one block off Park Heights Avenue, laments that Jews and African-American's aren't friendlier.

"We don't get together in this neighborhood, there are no block ** parties or other communitywide events," Mr. Milburn said.

He said the biggest impact of the Jewish community, the nightly patrols, were a good idea, though he felt African-American were sometimes singled out.

Feeling safe

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