I recently went on a bus tour of Druid Hill Park and its once-Jewish ‘hoods that was presented by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. With my old friend Barry Kessler, the museum’s former curator, leading the tour, you knew you were going to learn a lot. Barry has an encyclopedic mind.
And since there were a lot of senior citizens who grew up in the Druid Hill Park area (or remember going there to visit friends and family) onboard, you knew there were going to be a lot of firsthand recollections of that neighborhood’s golden age. Not a mousy generation.
So the tour was the perfect mix of scholarship (Barry) and folksy remembrances and anecdotes.
But what was missing – like at so many other Jewish gatherings – were young people. Granted, the tour was on a Wednesday morning, so most people under 30 are either in school or at work. But I think it’s fair to say that a nostalgic journey through Eutaw Place and such would not attract a lot of Gen-Xers or Millennial types even on a weekend afternoon.
Which is their loss. Because more than anybody else, it’s young people who should’ve been on this tour and would’ve benefited.
Why? Well for one thing, it goes without saying that the only way you can properly understand where you and your community are coming from is to know where you’ve been. On this tour, they would’ve seen that we fled some amazing, gorgeous areas that brimmed with style, character and grace, a world that few have us have ever really lived in.
But a tour like this one also makes you appreciate how important the city’s health is to all of us. After all, if the “Great Recession” has taught us anything, it’s how interconnected we all are – socially, culturally, economically, politically, etc. There really are no islands, so if you hear on the news about a murder “down” in Reservoir Hill, you’re only deluding yourself by saying you’re still safe in Pikesville and Owings Mills, that “that place” is so far away. We’re all connected. (Sorry to be so Pollyannaish, but it’s true.)
That’s something people who lived in the city during Baltimore Jewry’s golden age understood well. And that’s something we’ve lost track of, even with all of our cell phones, Twittering, emailing and Facebooking that seem to enhance our abilities to contact each other but thwarts anything resembling actual communication.
Instead of happy hours at bars, why don’t the community’s organizational young adult divisions take tours of East Baltimore and learn about what a thriving community really looked like? Why aren’t we taking our day school and religious school students on tours through the city’s onetime Jewish centers, to understand what came before and what could (to a certain fashion) be again?
The whole time I was on the bus, I kept wishing that my own children were with me, hearing the stories and learning the specific histories from Barry. They could’ve learned a thing or two, probably a lot more than they were learning in school that day.
The older folks on the tour, they didn’t need to learn about where Wagner & Wagner’s or Manheimer’s Pharmacy were. They already know. They know how special it all was. They didn’t need to learn about the 1948 civil rights action at Druid Hill Park when Jewish and black tennis players got arrested for playing together on clay courts. They already know.
After all, they lived it
But we didn’t.