The Old Country, America & The Snyders
06/21/99
Staff Writer
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Alex and Anna Nashbaum were typical Jews of their generation. They came to the United States from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Sometime before World War I. Freda Snyder, their daughter, does not know the details. “My parents would not open up about their past,” she says. “They wanted to make a new life in America.” Snyder knows this about her parents: they were Orthodox. Alex, a tailor, “was a shul-goer — all the time.” Anna, a homemaker, made a kosher home. The Nashbaums lived in East Baltimore, the Jewish “hub of Baltimore,” settling near Alex’s sister, who had immigrated earlier. Alex always carried a Yiddish paper, usually the Forverts, under his arm “We spoke a lot of Yiddish,” Snyder says. The area attracted a stream of meshulachim, itinerant collectors for various institutions and charities. “Rabbis would always come by,” she says — “all the time. We had pushkas” — tzedakah boxes — “all over the wall.” On Thursdays, young Freda would accompany her mother to Lombard Street, buying the fish and meat and challahs and sweets at the stores that lined the busy street. On Fridays, she would cut the toilet paper, so her parents and four siblings would not have to do that forbidden act on Shabbat. On Shabbat they would walk to shul, then visit their friends and mishpoche. For Passover, she would help her mother clean the house from chometz and put the kosher l’Pesach dishes on the shelves. Anna would check for a hechsher, a rabbinical certification, on any food she bought. “We were kosher. We never ate out,” Snyder says. “That was life. That’s all we knew.” “We were content,” she says. “I thought it was great.”   The newcomers brought with them their own communal traditions, still vigorous in Eastern Europe. …They brought their own semi-sacred language, Yiddish. …This massive immigration ... offset the growing dominance of Reform Judaism on the American scene. From “Judaism in America: From Curiosity to Third Faith” by Joseph L. Blau The Annapolis house of William and Freda Snyder, their home of 49 years, is a mini Jewish art gallery. The walls are lined with works of Chagall, pictures of praying chasidim, photographs of the Western Wall — and plaques of appreciation from Congregation Kneseth Israel, the couple’s synagogue. Their home is about two miles from Kneseth Israel. The Snyders moved into their house after leaving Maryland’s rural St. Mary’s County, where William had worked in his family’s general merchandise store and opened a tavern next door. “We wanted to get away from the country,” to a city with a synagogue and Jewish population, he says. The couple sent their children to Kneseth Israel’s religious school. William opened an appliance store in downtown Annapolis, which was open seven days a week. “I had to be open” on Shabbat to stay in business, he says. His Orthodox immigrant parents’ store in St. Mary’s County also was a seven-days-a-week operation — all the customers were gentiles. With no Jews, no shul around, he had no formal Jewish education; he became bar mitzvah in a Baltimore synagogue. The family went there one weekday morning. “We said a few words. That was my bar mitzvah.” Now, he, 77, and Freda, 72, go to nearby Baltimore every three weeks, loading up on kosher food. Their home is kosher, with separate sets of meat and dairy dishes, and more for Passover. In Annapolis, where there are no kosher restaurants or groceries, they eat out — pizza, fish, salads. “You have to eat,” William says. When they moved there in 1950, no homes were available near Kneseth Israel. The couple agreed they wanted to attend services every Saturday morning; and the synagogue was too far away to walk. “The first time” they drove to synagogue on Shabbat, “that was a weird feeling,” Freda says. “I just said, ‘This is life. You have to do it — as long as you get to shul.’” After services, they might drive to friends’ homes — no shopping, no movies on Shabbat. “Times have changed,” she says. “Not everyone can live near a shul.” “We wanted to go to shul,” Freda says. “I still consider myself Orthodox. I’m sure God will forgive us.”   Second-generation American Jews observe fewer religious rituals and are a bit less likely to belong to a synagogue than members of the first generation. From “American Modernity & Jewish Identity” by Steven M. Cohen Doreen Hollander made Murray Snyder an offer when they became engaged 30 years ago. Though she was not raised in a religious home, she would keep theirs kosher, if he wanted. He didn’t. “He didn’t care,” Doreen Snyder says. “There was no argument or discussion,” Murray says. “It wasn’t that important.” The Snyders, who met in Miami, have spent their entire married life in Annapolis. Murray’s collection of women’s portraits shares space on the walls with Shabbat-candlelighting pictures and Doreen’s l’Chaim needlepoint. Murray, son of William and Freda, still belongs to his parents’ Orthodox synagogue, but calls himself “just traditional.” “I just lost a lot of interest” in stricter observance, he says. “I don’t know why.” Once a board member of Kneseth Israel, Murray, 52, goes to services “once in a while if they need me for a minyan.” A wholesale beer distributor, he works long hours; he and Doreen, 50, don’t have a traditional Shabbat dinner, “except when Andrea” — their observant daughter — “is home.” For Andrea’s sake, they stock one cupboard with kosher food and utensils. “We’re not kosher. I’ll eat at all the places,” he says, adding, “I don’t eat ham or pork.” “I would probably feel much more comfortable in a Conservative synagogue,” Murray says. He would prefer to sit with Doreen during services — Kneseth Israel has separate seating — but remains in an Orthodox congregation “because of my father. I sit next to him on the holidays.” Murray says he is more traditional than his siblings. “Some will go one day of Rosh HaShanah. Some won’t go [at all.] I still go two days.” Murray and Doreen host Yom Tov meals for 30 to 40 friends and relatives. “My parents always had Rosh HaShanah” in their house, “but we decided to host it two years ago. It was too much for them,” Murray says. “My mother had all the family at her house, and I do the same thing,” says Doreen, a registered nurse whose late father Sam was a longtime religious school teacher and principal. The couple have two daughters in their 20s. What would they think if one intermarried? “I’d love for both of them to marry in the religion,” Murray says. “I would not go to a wedding in a church. “At this point,” he says, “if the guy is good to her…” He leaves the sentence unfinished. “It just makes life easier” to marry within the faith, Doreen says. “I would be upset if my grandchildren weren’t raised Jewish. “I want a Jewish grandchild,” she says. “I want a name for their grandparents.”   Third-generation Jews were raised by acculturated, native-American parents; they have had comparatively fewer Jewish schoolmates, childhood friends and neighbors. …They displayed far fewer overt signs of ethnicity than did their parents. “American Modernity & Jewish Identity” by Steven M. Cohen Michelle Snyder goes to Kneseth Israel, her family’s longtime synagogue, regularly — but she doesn’t go there religiously. “I play bingo every week” at the shul, says the oldest daughter of Murray and Doreen Snyder. “I support the synagogue.” A third-grade teacher in an Annapolis public school, Michelle, 26, says she shares little of her parents’ or grandparents’ interest in Judaism. “I’m not religious,” she says. Her Jewish education ended after her bat mitzvah. “I know I’m Jewish. I believe in God — I just believe on a very low level.” She finds Shabbat services boring. “I can’t sit there all Saturday.” And her diet is not kosher. “I go to McDonald’s.” “I’m a holiday type of person,” she declares. “I do Chanukah candles. I do Chanukah with my kids” in school — “we make potato latkes. I keep Passover. Passover, we had matzah [in school]. We don’t go into the religious parts of it; we go into the fun parts.” In Annapolis, which has a Jewish population of less than 1,000, the opportunities to socialize in Jewish circles are limited. “None of my friends are Jewish,” Michelle says. “I’ve never dated a Jewish boy.” Would she consider intermarriage? “Deep down, I’d like to marry someone Jewish.” Quickly, she adds, “It’s not the priority in my life. I’m not going to not go out with someone because he’s not Jewish.” “It’s the ’90s,” Michelle says. “It’s a lot different than it was a long time ago.” How would she raise her children? Jewish, preferably, she says. “I don’t think I could have a home with no religion. I could have both religions — as long as you’re happy.” What about a Christmas tree in her home? “If we have a menorah, I guess that’s OK.”   By the fourth generation of American Jews, there were two primary choices. Some would gravitate toward mainstream American life, where Jewish heritage is something in the background. Some would move towards greater activity in Jewish life. ... In some families you had both — it’s very classic. Samuel C. Heilman, professor of Jewish studies, Queens College. For Andrea Snyder, it started in high school. She joined her synagogue’s chapter of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union’s youth group, and “started going back.” “I had fun,” she says. “It wasn’t for any religious reason.” She attended Orthodox summer camps and Orthodox summer programs in Israel. “It just sounded right,” she says. Today at 23, the younger daughter of Murray and Doreen Snyder is a shomer Shabbos, kosher-keeping baalot teshuvah, or returnee to traditional observance. A graduate of Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, she has left Annapolis, which has a small Orthodox community, for New York City. She lives on the Upper West Side and works at the National Jewish Outreach Program, as regional programming coordinator. “It was a slow metamorphosis,” she says of her religious return. “Part of the reason I turned out the way I did was because I was welcomed into the [Orthodox] community” — she would spend Shabbat with Orthodox families in Baltimore. First she stopped eating milk and meat products together; her mother set up a separate cabinet for Andrea’s kosher goods. She started walking to shul on Shabbat, about three miles. “The first time I did it, my mother followed me in her car.” Her parents, she says, “are very accommodating.” As she got older, she went to Israel for longer learning programs. Her parents’ request before one trip: “Come back and still be our daughter.” Andrea complied. “I try to be as koveddik [respectful] as possible,” she says. She visits her family often, goes with her sister to baseball games. “I’m definitely more yeshivish than modern,” Andrea says of her Orthodox orientation. “I’ve maintained a level of normalcy,” she adds. She watches television and movies, selectively, and plans to “keep working for a while” after she marries and has children. “Thanks to the values transmitted to me by my parents, I have been able to strengthen my commitment to Judaism and my sense of belonging to a community,” Andrea says. “I have bridged the generation gap, and guaranteed that the practices of my great-grandparents will be carried on for generations to come.”

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