Jews predominate in northwest area of rich diversity

The aroma of freshly baked challah bread and pastries fills the air at Goldman's Kosher Bakery, a Friday morning destination for Orthodox Jewish families as they begin their preparations for Sabbath dinner.

"The Orthodox Jews are very concentrated in the area and to have stores that are kosher and nearby is very important," said Max Cohen, who along with his father has owned the bakery in the 6000 block of Reisterstown Road since 1974.

Within the borders of Upper Park Heights, the predominantly Jewish community has access to all of its needs: 12 synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, Baltimore Hebrew University and a number of Hebrew bookstores, kosher restaurants and grocery stores.

"Upper Park Heights is great because it is within walking distance to the synagogues and there are plenty of children for my kids to play with," said Linda Elman, who has lived in Fallstaff the past 13 years.

Large numbers of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Iran also have moved to Upper Park Heights. Brian Simon, a co-owner of the Central Hebrew Book Store on Reisterstown Road, believes that having a community so concentrated can only benefit those just arriving in the United States.

"I have seen many of the new immigrants come into my store," Simon explained, "and have seen how the community has helped them become more involved with their religious traditions and customs."

Upper Park Heights consists of four neighborhoods -- Glen, Cross Country, Fallstaff and Cheswolde -- and nearly 65 percent of its residents are Orthodox Jews. The community is bordered by Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Avenue, Northern Parkway and Smith Avenue (which becomes Slade Avenue).

"For many members of the Orthodox Jewish community, it is vital that a neighborhood like Upper Park Heights is there," said Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "It offers a place where they can live and walk to synagogues as well as offering stores they can frequent."

The homes, the majority of which were built during the Eisenhower administration, range greatly in price. Buyers can find a semidetached home in Fallstaff for about $70,000 and larger homes for $200,000, said Donna

McKay, a broker for Century 21 Elite Realty in Pikesville.

"Upper Park Heights is probably experiencing more of a transition period than Pikesville," McKay said. "A lot of people from New York move there because of the synagogues, while many feel in Baltimore that it is a step up from the inner city."

While many of the older residents are retiring, moving away from Upper Park Heights or entering assisted-living centers, they are being replaced with first-time homebuyers with families, McKay said.

Process of Transition

One organization helping to keep Upper Park Heights vibrant is CHAI -- Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. "There is an ongoing process of transition in Upper Park Heights," said Kenneth N. Gelula, executive director of CHAI.

"I love looking outside my office [on Park Heights Avenue] and seeing a retirement community and right next to it is a day-care center," Gelula said. "It truly represents the range of life in this community."

CHAI has tried to retain the homeowners in the area and attract new ones through home-buying workshops and mortgage counseling.

"This is a mature housing market with the majority of homes being at least 40 years old, so we encourage people in the community to reinvest in their property."

One person who found a home through CHAI's help is Avery Muller, who moved from his home on Glengyle Avenue to Bland Avenue in December with his wife and five children.

"Many of my friends live in the area and the number of Jewish families played a huge role in [my] moving to Upper Park Heights about 15 years ago," Muller said.

`Magnet for Orthodox Jews'

While Gelula said Upper Park Heights is "a magnet for Orthodox Jews," it is not limited to them. He said many groups live there and mentioned the numerous ethnic shops in the area.

"Yes, the community is mostly Jews, but there are many types of cultures in Upper Park Heights, which is good to have in any area," Gelula said.

"This is truly one of the most unique corridors in Baltimore with so many different cultures in such a small area."

The diversity of cultures in Upper Park Heights is just one of the reasons Joyce Sanders moved into the area. Sanders and her husband, James, have lived on Glen Avenue since 1978.

"I like this area because it's away from the inner city, yet it is not in the county," Sanders said.

"Also, there are many different groups who live here," she said, "like Jewish people, black people and Russians, who all have different qualities to offer to the community."

Upper Park Heights

ZIP code: 21215, 21209