Performing Community Part 1

Posted on March 26th, 2018 by

Article by Avi Y. Decter, former JMM executive director, with Erin L. Titter, former JMM archivist. Originally published in Generations – 2003: Entertaining Maryland. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Sam Allen (left) and Chaim Ani (right) perform in a Yeshivat Rambam Purim spiel, March 22, 2000. JMM 2011.40.467

Part I: Performing Community

On June 1, 2003, 400 community leaders gathered at the Woodholme Country Club for a farewell dinner to honor retiring Associated President Darrell Friedman. The event opened with a musical salute – a medley of songs delivered by The Associated Players, a group of community performers who had provided entertainments for Jewish organizations for thirty years. Accompanied by laughter, cheers, and applause, the Players celebrated Darrell Friedman’s sixteen years at the helm of The Associated. To the tune of “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows,” the Associated Players declaimed:

We hopped aboard and too a lesson from the pro.

You taught us everything.

Going’s now our fav’rite thing.

You are the reason that we glow.

 

You gave us dignity and pride.

You raised much money on the side.

No matter the task, big or small,

You as our president stood ten feet tall.

And they concluded their performance with a heartfelt rendering of “New York, New York,” telling Mr. Friedman that “Giving your all with love and care/You’re off to help Jews everywhere.”

This Associated Players’ performance is only one recent example in a long tradition of Jewish community performance. Back in 1922, for example, Baltimore Jews crowded Ford’s Theater to take in “The Passing Years,” a dramatized history of Jewish philanthropy from the 1850s to the 1920s written by Louis H. Levin, the executive secretary of the Associated Jewish Charities. The three-act play celebrated the then-new Associated – and the tradition of caring philanthropy within the Baltimore Jewish community.[1]

Performances by The Associated Players – and many other Jewish groups – resonate in varied ways. They express traditional Jewish values such as caring for others, reinforcing a sense of group cohesion and communal purpose. While reflecting a particular moment and circumstance, these performances also promote a course of action for the future, encouraging those assembled to adhere to Jewish ideals and to persist in their identity, philanthropy, and community commitments. In these ways, The Associated Players’ recent appearance is a paradigm of how diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural groups have engaged in “performing community” throughout the last century and more.[2]

The Alliance Club “Pirates Ball, 1928.” JMM 1992.231.299

Community performances are commonplace, varied, and ephemeral, both within the Jewish community and among other groups. They take place in local schools, congregations, clubs, and agencies, and they appear in many forms – pageants and cantatas, dramas and spiels, musicals, revues, and shows. Some shows emphasize popular entertainment, others focus on moral education, and still others promote cohesion or commitment to a cause. Some are painfully amateurish, others sparkle with professional polish. But whatever their artistic merits and entertainment value, they transmit ideas and identities to and from the community.[3]

Despite their importance, community performances are rarely the subject of serious or sustained attention, except, of course, among the families of those directly engaged in a production. Yet these performances do have meanings: they are heightened moments in the cultural conversations that help to define distinctive communities, episodes in an extended discourse about what it means to be distinctive and American.

Continue to Part II: A Long History

 

[1] Harry Greenstein, “I Remember…A Jewish Play That Packed Ford’s,” Baltimore Sun, November 18, 1956.

[2] David Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century. (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1990).

[3] Rosemarie K. Bank, Theatre Culture in America, 1825-1860. (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1997), pp. 4-16, 19-22, and passim. See also David Krasner, A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927. (Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2002), p. 1-11 and Tejumola Olaniyan, Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama. (Oxford University Press: New York, 1995), p. 4 and 139.

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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 6

Posted on October 16th, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part VI: The View from a New Millenium

Missed parts 1-5? Start here.

But here we are, 25 years later, and clearly, the clubs have survived. Not all of them, to be sure. At the height of country club popularity in the 1950s, several new Jewish clubs started up in the Baltimore area. Boonie View, Summit, and Chestnut Ridge didn’t really compete with Woodholme and Suburban; rather, they offered a less expensive alternative with “less formality and restrictions,” especially with regard to children. Around the same time, a long-established in-town club, the Mercantile, bought property in the suburbs and turned itself into a country club (sans golf, though). Of the four, only Chestnut Ridge survives today.[1]

It wasn’t cultural values spawned in the 1960s that did these clubs in. In fact, status-consciousness and materialism made a big comeback in the Reagan era. Rather, country clubs have confronted other challenges in recent decades. They face much more competition from an explosion in entertainment and recreation options, from high-end public golf courses, health clubs, and home swimming pools to restaurants, cable television, summer camps, and increasingly diverse vacation opportunities. Meanwhile, even well-to-do families have experienced a financial crunch, with many sending their children to private schools and all confronting skyrocketing college fees. Amidst all these expenses, country clubs have become more of a luxury that ever, one that many people find it possible to forego.[2]

To meet these new challenges, Suburban and Woodholme, as always, have had to adapt. Woodholme “is no longer a social hub,” Paul Goldberg points out, no longer the main gathering place for its members’ social lives. Its general manager, Mitchell Platt, concurs. “There are a lot more things pulling people away from clubs…That’s the challenge to maintaining a club today.” According to Platt, country clubs have to constantly improve, to offer their members services as a level that convinces them it’s still worthwhile to belong Woodholme’s clubhouse underwent a complete renovation in 1993, built a new Olympic-sized pool two years ago, and has begun to emphasize services that previously were not central to its operation. For example, it now aggressively markets itself as a premier place for private parties. But its continued commitment to golf remains “the driving force” in membership recruitment and retention, says Platt (in a nifty, if unintentional, pun).[3]

At Suburban, adaptation has taken a different form. If, as one Suburban member acknowledges, Woodholme now has “a younger, more aggressive membership,” another member asserts that the Suburban Club provides “a home away from home” for a membership that tends to be older and a bit less active. Its excellent dining facilities, convenient location, and quiet atmosphere compare favorably to crowded and noisy restaurants, and many members spend much time there; as one person noted, “We eat there two or three times a week.” Also, Suburban has made accommodations for new members who arrive from other clubs. It received a large contingent from the recently closed Bonnie View – and also attracted new members from a somewhat surprising place a few years ago: Woodholme, where disagreements over land sales and tee-time policies caused some members to resign.[4]

Woodholme members joining Suburban? Apparently it really is a new millennium. Actually, the German-East European split that had marked Baltimore Jewry for decades began to break down, as did so many other social norms, in the post-World War II era. Some say that the Suburban Club began to relent as early as the 1930s, when the Depression forced it to “lower” its membership standards. But most date the change a bit later. Bertha Friedberg believes that attitudes began to change “after Hitler,” when “every Jew felt their Jewish identity more strongly,” and the community “felt more united.” As the “product of a mixed marriage” (her father was Lithuanian and her mother German), she is in a position to know. “I’ve had a foot in both communities,” she observes, and she has been a member of both country clubs. The change didn’t take place overnight: Friedberg as well as other Suburban and Woodholme members describe a gradual thaw that accelerated in the 1960s and 1970, when many Jews of Eastern European descent began to join Suburban. (Notably, this was another period when country clubs needed to take action to keep membership figures up.) Today, the distinction between the “Germans” and the “Russians” “Doesn’t exist anymore,” says Morton Offit, son of a Woodholme founder. “Everything changes.” While some other Suburban members retain a lingering nostalgia for the days when German Jewry reigned over the social scene, they are a decided minority.[5]

Today, members at both clubs are less likely to have roots in the community than in previous eras, making the old divisions even more irrelevant. Nevertheless, a strong sense of family tradition continues to pervade these two venerable Baltimore Jewish institutions. Julius Westheimer notes that his family has belonged to the Suburban Club for more than 100 years, giving him an association with the club since birth – both his and Suburban’s. That’s not a legacy to be taken lightly. Morton Offit echoes his sentiments from the other side of Pikesville. “I guess I’ve been a member of Woodholme all my life…Every time I go out to the club, I wave at my father’s picture,” which hangs on the wall alongside other Woodholme founders.

 Julius Braun, Harry Schaeneman, Lenny Wertheimer, Suburban Club, 1911. JMM 1997.113.5

Julius Braun, Harry Schaeneman, Lenny Wertheimer, Suburban Club, 1911. JMM 1997.113.5

And what of the future? Again, many people see an uncertain outlook for country clubs. “It’s a dynamic situation,” says Sewell Sugar, who thinks that country clubs may be “on their way out.” As he points out, “My kids won’t go out there.” Their interests run more to travel, hiking, and other sorts of recreational activities that country clubs can’t fulfill. Suburban member E. B. Hirsh agrees.  Her grandchildren “don’t think that club life is the way to go” – they keep busy with school, summer camps, and family vacations. Arthur Gutman sees Suburban’s aging membership as “a bad sign.” Says Bertha Friedberg, “Many young people choose not to belong to clubs anymore.” Given all the economic demands on their families, “It’s too expensive.” Plus, she observes, with both parents usually working, lifestyles have changed drastically, leaving the clubs behind.

But the Suburban Club has been around for over a century, and Woodholme for almost 80 years. It’s hard to imagine them disappearing. Most likely, they will adapt – something they are surprisingly good at. True, they won’t be “your grandfather’s country club,” but quite possibly, they will find ways to continue playing a role in Baltimore’s Jewish recreational and social scene.

~The End~

Notes:

[1] Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know,” 34; Mercantile Club vertical file, JMM; “Mercantile Country Club Sells Land To Pay Debts,” Jewish Times, October 23, 1987; Lisa Rosato, “Reisterstown Golf Site Dropped,” Owings Mills Times, September 24, 2003. Quote is from Karen Stuhler, “Northwest Baltimore, Ranchleigh & The Bonnie View Country Club: A Historical and Architectural Review” (unpublished paper, Maryland Room vertical files, Enoch Pratt Free Library), 6.

[2] Various interviews.

[3] Glodberg, Platt interviews; “About Our Blub.”

[4] Various interviews; rosato, “Reisterstwon Gold Site Dropped;” David Conn, “A Bad Slice: Attrition, and Possibly Land Purchases, Leaves Woodholme Poorer by About 40 Families,” Jewish Times (from JMM vertical files).

[5] Bertha Friedberg, phone interview with author, December 2004; Offit interview; other interviews.

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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 5

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part V: Controversies and Changing Times

Missed parts 1-4? Start here.

Before Glick, wives of Woodholme members didn’t play much gold, observes Sewell Sugar. Perhaps that’s because club policies toward women, as at most other clubs around the country, weren’t exactly equitable. Women became “much more a part of the club in the fifties” and continued to make gains in ensuing decades. They “had to push a little bit,” says Sugar, because most of the older people were not prone to change.” One who pushed was Lyn P. Meyerhoff, a woman who enjoyed “thumbing her nose at convention,” according to her daughter Lee. Once, Meyerhoff “did nine holes of the Woodholme Country Club golf course backward, because women were always bumped by the men for tee-off times, and she was furious at the ‘old fart’ inequity of the practice.” She also dove off the high-dive at the Woodholme pool when she was five months pregnant, “at a time when women covered their bellies behind voluminous tent dresses.” This was in the 1950s, when, it appears, the extended Meyerhoff family considerably livened things up at the club.[1]

Suburban Club swimming pool, July 1927. Photograph by the Baltimore News. JMM 1985.35.3

Suburban Club swimming pool, July 1927. Photograph by the Baltimore News. JMM 1985.35.3

Lyn Meyerhoff heralded a changing attitude among at least some wives of club members, who slowly began to assert themselves. Their emergence led to what members of both country clubs see as the biggest single change to take place over the years: the clubs’ policies toward children. Originally, the clubs catered strictly to adults, primarily men. Members from multi-generational Suburban Club families recall that the club was “not a child-friendly place” when they were young. Children were allowed on the grounds only during very limited hours and there were no special facilities for them. As society grew more child-centered, so did the country clubs. At Suburban, change stated with the inclusion of a Youth Room in the new clubhouse, built in 1960, and the installation of a “kiddie pool” in 1961. Hours for children slowly began to expand, and now, as Julius Westheimer notes, “it’s a family affair.” Ditto at Woodholme, which is “really a family club right now,” says Sewell Sugar.[2]

Despite the emergence of women and children, policies at Woodholme and other clubs have remained biased in favor of men in many areas. A Baltimore Sun article written during the 2003 controversy over the all-male policy at Augusta National (home of the Master’s golf tournament) revealed that Woodholme’s latest female golf standout, ten-time amateur women’s city champion and two-time state champion Andrea Kraus, was barred from teeing off until 11:30am on weekends and holidays, even though her husband Ken, “who often shoots in the triple digits,” could do so. “Country club golf certainly can be the last bastion of male chauvinism,” Kraus was quoted as saying.[3]

Rosalyn Shecter playing golf at Woodholme Country Club, c. 1968. JMM 1974.21.15

Rosalyn Shecter playing golf at Woodholme Country Club, c. 1968. JMM 1974.21.15

But things could be worse, unlike some clubs, both Woodholme and Suburban admit women to membership. (At Suburban, they had a sort of “junior” membership from the very beginning, while Woodholme admitted women to membership in later years.) After two decades of board wrangling, Suburban gave full voting rights to female members I n1988, and in 1990, “objections to sexism” caused the club to integrate its card rooms. Suburban now officially has “gender neutral” policies. Perhaps not totally out of choice, though: country clubs that benefit from a special tax break for preserving open space are legally required to be non-discriminatory. Suburban takes the tax break; Woodholme chooses not to.[4]

Of course, country clubs are famous for being bastions not only of male privilege, but also of white privilege. Suburban and Woodholme seem little different from the norm in that regard. Both have membership policies that do not officially discriminate with regard to race, religion, or gender. But the clubs have very few African American or non-Jewish members. A fascinating view of black-Jewish relations can be glimpsed in the memoir of Dewayne Wickham, an African American journalist who worked in Woodholme’s largely black caddy force in his teens during the early 1960s. Woodholme members were “not intentionally mean-spirited or racist,” but could be “condescending and patronizing in the way [of] many white liberals,” Wickham observes. Yet the club provided an anchor in his life, which had been marked by tragedy, and his affection for it shines through. He describes the generosity of many club members and the positive response of club officials to the caddies’ efforts to improve their working conditions. In his portrayal of fumbling attempts at communication across the racial divide made by caddies and members, and the shared love of golf that served as perhaps the most genuine link between the two, he captures the complexities of life in an unequal society just beginning to feel the effects of the civil rights movement.[5]

If societal change began to infiltrate the sheltered country club world of the 1950s, it started knocking loudly at the door during the turbulent years to come. Clubs fell out of favor as a result of “the new social consciousness which came out of the 1960s and which turned many people off to such status symbols as Cadillacs and country clubs.” This was the assessment of reporter Tom Nugent, whose 1977 Jewish Times exposé of Baltimore’s Jewish country clubs attempted to assess the fallout of the previous decade. To attract flagging interest, clubs had to alter their policies. “The relaxation of once-stringent dress codes; the drastic reduction of initiation fees…the liberalizing and streamlining of procedures for admission…all these things are evidence” of the transformation taking place, Nugent asserted. Worse, he noted, were “occasional incidents of shocking behavior in the club house,” including at least one instance of co-ed showering. He quoted an (anonymous) member of an (unnamed) club: “I know it must irritate the hell out of [older members] to see what’s happened in their club. They used to walk in and everything was very refined, and everything was very tastefully done – and it’s turned into Tackyville! The whole atmosphere is just completely different.”[6]

Nugent concluded, back in 1977, that country clubs faced an “uncertain future.” His informants had different views on whether or not they would even survive. “It’s all changing. It’s a way of life, really, that’s ending,” one member told him.[7]

Continue to Part VI: The View from a New Millenium

Notes:

[1] Sugar interview; Lee Meyerhoff Hendler, e-mail correspondence supplied to author, March 17, 2005.

[2] E. B. Hirsh, phone interview with author, December 2004; Morton Offit, phone interview with author, December 2004; Westheimer, Sugar, other interviews; The Suburban Club, 46.

[3] Don Markus, “Golf’s Private Policy Meets Public Debate,” Baltimore Sun, April 7, 2003, 1D.

[4] The Suburban Club, 45, 69; Woodholme Club Vertical File, JMM.

[5] Dewayne Wickham, Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 219.

[6] Tom Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know About Country Clubs, And More,” Jewish Times, October 7, 1977, 31.

[7] Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know,” 31, 34.

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