Why I Give:
Finding Jewish Identity at the JCC
I am a native Baltimorean, but I didn’t grow up in Pikesville or Randallstown, or the areas that most of you think of when my peers say they grew up in Baltimore. I am not really good at the high school Jewish geography game, because I was one of three Jews in my high school graduating class; I guarantee you that you did not know me in high school. My family did not belong to a synagogue, so I am not good at that Jewish geography game either.
I grew up in Reisterstown when 795 didn’t exist. There were hardly any restaurants or shops or even a movie theater. I remember my grandfather, my Zaddy, worrying because my parents were moving to as he called it, “Klan Country.”
The year was 1978, and my parents decided to move to Reisterstown because they heard that The Associated had bought a plot of land and was planning on building a JCC in Owings Mills. The JCC, my parents told me, would be a good place for me and my brother to grow up. So my parents, and many other families like mine, moved to Reisterstown and joined the new Owings Mills JCC.
It wasn’t easy growing up in Reisterstown. I was called antisemitic slurs and was given zeros on tests that were given on the high holidays because I wasn’t at school. I even remember one of my teachers telling me that I had to choose between being a good Jew or being a good student.
In third grade, a classmate called me Jew Bagel. I went home and cried to my parents. But they did not switch me to a new school, call the principal, the board—all things that I think we would do today. Instead, my mother looked at me and simply stated, “You’ll go to the JCC, where you will find kids like you.” And I did.