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Neely Tal Snyder, program director at Pearlstone Center, dies

Neely Tal Snyder, co-founder of JQ Baltimore, a Jewish LGBT advocacy organization, died.

Neely Tal Snyder, program director at the Pearlstone Center and a founder of JQ Baltimore, a Jewish LGBTQ outreach and support organization, was killed Aug. 10 in an automobile accident on Route 30 near Reisterstown.

The Pikesville resident was 37.

Ms. Snyder was stopped and waiting to make a left turn onto Mount Gilead Road when her Hyundai Elantra was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer. She was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she was pronounced dead.

"Baltimore County police are still investigating the accident," said her husband of 14 years, Rabbi Joshua Snyder, who is executive director of Goucher Hillel.

The daughter of Jody Harburger, director of Israel Bonds for the Washington area, and Sheila Harburger, a social worker, Neely Tal Harburger was born in St. Louis.

She spent her early years there and later moved with her family to Orlando, Fla., and finally to Harrisburg, Pa., where she graduated in 1996 from Susquehanna Township High School.

Ms. Snyder earned a double bachelor's degree in 2000 from Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She earned a master's degree in 2001 in informal Jewish education, also from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

From 2001 until 2008, she was an informal Jewish educator at the Jack M. Barracks Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

She had worked as director of teen engagement at the Louis D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore before joining the Pearlstone Center, a Reisterstown conference and retreat center, two years ago as program director.

Jakir Manela, executive director of the Pearlstone Center, told The Jewish Times that Ms. Snyder was "very special, and the pain and the loss will never really go away."

"She definitely, undoubtedly, and not just at Pearlstone but for the whole community, brought a love of Torah, and a love of community and really principled action [and] leadership … into our lives. [She brought] community into our lives in real ways that benefited people all around her," said Mr. Manela.

"And we were blessed to have her as colleague and to witness that miracle of what she brought to the world," he said.

"Her boss, Jakir, came to the shiva house and said that Neely 'could dance among the chaos and when things were going crazy, she didn't go crazy.' She could always calm things down and get them back on track. She could steer the ship in the right direction," said her brother, Noah Harburger of Baltimore.

"I was extremely close to my sister and we were involved in each other's lives, but I heard so many stories I didn't know from those who came to the shiva house," he said. "She gave of herself selflessly and was always looking to do some good, and wasn't doing it just to make herself feel good."

Mr. Harburger said his sister organized a free weekend retreat at the Pearlstone Center for students from an impoverished West Baltimore school.

"She showed them the farm, they worked in the soil, and she taught them songs that stuck with them," he said. "They kept in touch and during the riots, she called the school's social worker to make sure the kids were OK."

The students returned Ms. Snyder's kindness and generosity with some of their own.

"When the kids heard what happened to my sister, it was like they had lost their mother," said Mr. Harburger. "They scrounged among themselves and collected money in order to buy her daughters three backpacks of school supplies, so their father wouldn't have to worry about it."

In 2012, Ms. Snyder amd Mindy Dickler co-founded JQ Baltimore, a Jewish LGBT advocacy organization.

"She felt very strongly for Jewish youth who were coming to grips with their sexual and gender identity," said Ms. Dickler.

"Many were not accepted in the Jewish community, and she wanted them to stay attached to their Jewish identity," she said. "As they came out, she wanted them to feel as though they had a place in the Jewish community. She wanted to right that wrong."

Her husband agreed. "She was a very, very strong advocate for the Jewish LGBT community."

Rabbi Snyder said there was a tremendous outpouring of support for his family in the wake of her death.

"There must have been a thousand people at her funeral and another thousand came to the shiva house to tell stories of how she had helped them," he said.

"Her first-grade teacher from when we were in St. Louis, who now lives in Baltimore, came to share memories when she heard what had happened," said Mr. Harburger. "She spent her whole life helping others find their place and showing them how to give."

Ms. Snyder enjoyed knitting, pottery and celebrating the Jewish holidays with family and friends.

"Neely was a very engaging, meaningful and passionate person," said her husband.

She was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where funeral services were held Aug. 12.

In addition to her husband, parents and brother, Ms. Snyder is survived by her three daughters, Shalva, 8, and twin daughters, Ayelet and Nava, 5; and a sister, Aleeza Wilkins of Bethesda.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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