There we were, a crowd of about 50, gathered at the corner of Lombard and Lloyd, to pay our respects to the late owner and operator of Attman’s Deli, the one and only Seymour Attman. Led by then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, we saluted Attman, who passed away in 2002, with the unveiling of a street sign proclaiming the new honorary name of the thoroughfare, “Seymour Attman Way.”
I remember there was a bit of a surrealistic element to the occasion. At one point during O’Malley’s remarks from a makeshift podium, the mayor suddenly stopped, looked over our heads and shouted like a brazen teenager, “Hey, Mfume, what’s up?!” We all turned around to see former Congressman Kweisi Mfume in a car at a stoplight, smiling and waving. He happened to be driving by, and O’Malley gave him an impromptu shout-out.
After the ceremony, Gilbert Sandler gave me a nudge and said, “Hey, Michael Olesker, Rikki Spector and I are going over to Attman’s Kibitz Room for a sandwich and some schmoozing. You in?”
I almost felt as if someone asked me to dine with Baltimore Jewry’s version of Mount Rushmore. Sandler, the great chronicler of Jewish Baltimore, along with longtime City Councilwoman Spector and Charm City’s finest scribe, Olesker — of course I’m in!
In hushed silence, I sat there listening to my three comrades, well-known and highly regarded by thousands of Baltimoreans, recall the old days when the city really was the city. Classic stories of great characters like Attman, Schaefer, Jack Pollack, Blaze, Mr. Diz, Eli Hanover, Abe Sherman — it never seemed to end. I listened with rapt amazement as the trio of raconteurs held court over corned beef on rye, feeling like a kid in a candy store.
Diners glanced over and whispered to each other, having recognized my mates from myriad streams of local media. For that bright, shining moment, we were the Algonquin Round Table of Jewish Baltimore.
When thinking of Gil, who we lost in late December at age 95, I remember those tender, poignant moments. Gil transmitted a love of the city, of Yiddishkeit, of the craft of writing and of fellowship that I’ll never forget. He was always after me and other writers to push the envelope and get to the nitty-gritty of what was going on in the community, but never abandoning that sense of humanity so essential to storytelling. Gil was the ultimate Baltimore storyteller.
Since Gil’s passing, my mind has been flooded with memories of him. I don’t have enough room in this space to share them all, but I will tell you one of my most treasured professional moments came after I wrote a lengthy profile on Morris Martick, the longtime, quirky proprietor of Martick’s Restaurant Francais, who passed away in 2011.
After my Martick story was published, Gil — without my knowledge or consent — sent my publisher a handwritten note, telling him my profile was the best thing ever printed in that publication’s 90 years of operating. That was certainly an epic overstatement, but I greatly appreciated Gil’s thoughtful gesture and spirit of collegial generosity. And I still have that note.
That was Gilbert Sandler, a mentsch through and through, whose friendship I’ll always cherish. On his birthday this month — which I can never forget since we shared the same date of birth (albeit not the same year!) — I’ll be thinking of and missing him. May Gilbert Sandler’s memory always be a blessing to this community, of which he gave so much of himself.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief