A View from Reservoir Hill

I live in Baltimore, in a neighborhood that was once the Old Jewish Neighborhood but aspires to become the New Jewish Neighborhood. Now called Reservoir Hill, it unites what used to be two communities: Eutaw Place, the grand boulevard with its elegant town homes, and Lake Drive, which included several blocks east of Eutaw with more modest row houses. African-Americans have for decades constituted the large majority of the neighborhood’s inhabitants, but in recent years Reservoir Hill has become an increasingly diverse community, a rarity in Baltimore, one that includes more and more Jewish families.

For the past five years, I have served as rabbi of Beth Am Synagogue, a 40-year-old shul in a 93-year-old building. Beth Am tries to deepen the connections between our members and our mostly non-Jewish, African-American neighbors. Last year, in January, we packed over 350 people into our social hall to hear and dance to the rhythms of a terrific, eclectic jazz band called the Afro-Semitic Experience. On Sukkot, near our community’s urban farm, we cosponsored a greens-and-kugel cook-off and ecumenical lulav and etrog demonstrations. Such events may not repair the world, but they are, at least, acts of tikkun shechuna—they repair the neighborhood, softening boundaries, and, perhaps in some small way, restoring bonds that were broken or strained decades ago.

Our synagogue isn’t in the neighborhood that made headlines last month, but we are close. The shocking death of Freddie Gray after his short trip down nearby streets in a police van on April 12 hit many of us quite hard. After shul, on Shabbat morning April 25, I joined some members of the congregation to walk one mile west and meet up with Jews United for Justice and our black neighbors. Together we marched through the streets of west Baltimore, picking up additional protestors along the way. Eventually our group and others converged on City Hall. By the time I got back to Reservoir Hill, I had walked about seven miles and, even though I knew that I was a far cry from Selma in 1965, I thought of Heschel and felt like my “legs were praying.”

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About the Author

Daniel Cotzin Burg is the rabbi of Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore.


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