It's business as usual for many in diverse Baltimore

Yule be served on Christmas

December 26, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

From Pikesville to 33rd Street to Corned Beef Row, Baltimore residents and visitors were providing proof yesterday that you don't have to be Christian to have a blast on Christmas.

While most mall parking lots were vacant, many of the businesses that remained open bubbled with a celebratory mood, even among those who don't celebrate the holiday in the religious sense.

In Pikesville, Jewish couples whose children were in school spent their day off from work having a mini-honeymoon at Goldberg's New York Bagels. On 33rd Street, Hindus were preparing for Christmas parties, and Muslims were laying in extra stores of lamb and goat to share with friends.

People of all faiths or none at all found their way to East Baltimore for the near-religious experience of a corned beef sandwich and cream soda at Attman's deli.

With temperatures mild and the sun shining brightly, the holiday seemed to expand to take in more people.

"Everybody's in the spirit. Christmas is a wonderful holiday," said Suzanne Rosman, a Jewish Federal Hill resident who was waiting in line for a sandwich at Attman's.

For many Baltimore-area Jews and not a few gentiles, the holiday began with a trip to Goldberg's restaurant and bakery - a Pikesville institution that recently moved into expanded quarters on Reisterstown Road.

Owner Stanley Drebin said baking started at midnight, producing thousands of his establishment's award-winning bagels. He was expecting to sell more than twice what he would on a typical Tuesday.

"This is one of our biggest days - this and the day before Yom Kippur. Why? Because nobody else is open," Drebin said.

There was, in fact, a smattering of businesses open along Reisterstown Road, but not enough to keep the bagel emporium from being packed in the late morning with a clientele that mirrored the diversity of Judaism itself.

"The Conservatives, the Orthodox, the Reform all get together [here]," said Drebin, himself an Orthodox Jew.

Lane Gordon of Owings Mills, sitting alone at Goldberg's because his wife was working, accepted congratulations on his impending 50th birthday and enjoyed a bagel with a tangy scallion spread. He, too, was struck by the mingling of everyone from the ultra-Orthodox to the nonreligious.

"Food gives you a sense of belonging," he said.

While Gordon doesn't celebrate Christmas, he certainly was enjoying the day. "I think it's all good. We're all trying to find something - a good life, a good meaning, to instill good values in our children," he said.

For some couples whose offices were closed - such as Matt and Rina Walter - it was a chance to have a rare weekday off without the children in tow. Their daughter and son attend religious schools, neither of which closed for the Christian holiday.

Matt Walter had mixed feelings about the parental respite.

"It's nice, because we get to get off and spend a bit of time together," he said. "[But] I'd rather have the kids with us so we could have done something as a family."

Outside, Ruth Adelsberg was distributing leaflets for a charity sale at nearby Belsky's Furniture and Baby Basics to benefit the Chesed Fund. She said she treats Christmas as a "mitzvah day."

"We try to fill the day with doing good things," she said. "For me it's just a time when other people are keeping what's important to them and I respect that very much."

And, in her way, she shares in it. Last night she was planning to visit Hampden to see the famous Christmas light display there.

At Punjab Groceries and Halal Meat on 33rd Street at Barclay Street, Janu Burma, a student at Baltimore Community College, was stocking up on Asian delicacies for a party last night. A Nepalese Hindu, she said the celebration of Christmas has become a tradition in her country.

Mohammad Arshad, who works at the market, said the store caters mostly to people from India - Christians, Hindus and Muslims like himself. He said Christmas is part of his culture, too.

"A lot of people buy the lamb and goat meat - whole leg - and invite in other people," he said.

Over on Corned Beef Row, Marc and Debbie Attman were getting a chance to lunch on their own food after the midday rush. Where other Lombard Street businesses close down, they open Attman's for a half-day and attract customers from far and wide - some of whom come back Christmas after Christmas.

"We have people who come in from Montana. We're everywhere now," Marc Attman said.

Stuart Dvorkin and Gail Sander, who were lunching at Attman's, had come from Northern Virginia to spend a few days in Baltimore. The former New Yorkers say the city feels like a borough of their hometown.

The couple said they celebrated Hanukkah a few weeks ago and were treating Christmas as a chance for a break.

"There's a different orientation when you're not celebrating the holiday," Dvorkin said. "We just look at this as a nice time to chill out, to relax."

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