Posted on January 16th, 2017 by Rachel
Article by Simone Ellin. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
Part I: A Story of Migration
The story of Baltimore Jewry is first and foremost a story of migration. It begins with the transatlantic crossing of Jews from Europe to America in several waves from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries—but it doesn’t end there. Once settled in Baltimore, and as they became assimilated and financially secure, most Jews moved from downtown immigrant enclaves first to northwest city neighborhoods and later to the northwest suburbs.
A streetscape in Upper Park Heights. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
In one neighborhood, the familiar migration pattern has been interrupted. The Jews’ movement out of the Upper Park Heights section of Baltimore City and into the suburbs has been forestalled partly thanks to the work of Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., better known as CHAI. The community development and housing arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, CHAI promotes homeownership for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, develops housing, and carries out other activities that support community stability and neighborhood improvement. While the agency has built senior housing facilities in Baltimore County, CHAI’s primary focus is Upper Park Heights, a neighborhood that is home to large numbers of Orthodox Jews and African Americans.
When The Associated founded CHAI in 1969, its acronym stood for Comprehensive Housing for the Aging, Inc., and its primary objective was to provide housing for the elderly. The organization was created after The Associated’s 1967 demographic study of the Jewish community exposed a need for more comprehensive services for an increasingly aged population. CHAI’s first project was the establishment of Concord House, The Associated’s first residential facility for seniors. Fourteen years would pass before CHAI would morph into the organization it is today.
In 1983 CHAI took on a new mission and a new name: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. The transition came about when community leaders recognized the need to address larger issues of neighborhood change and racial succession in the Northwest area, where major communal institutions were centered. Social worker and community planner Ken Gelula was a new staff member in The Associated’s Planning Department when he began working with a lay committee to generate ideas for neighborhood stabilization in the area. After meeting with representatives of various communal organizations and city agencies, the lay group concluded that The Associated would need to put resources into a comprehensive effort to stabilize the neighborhood. Since CHAI already existed as a corporate entity focused on housing issues, Associated officials decided to ask CHAI to assume responsibility for a neighborhood stabilization program, in addition to continuing its services to seniors. Gelula was named Executive Director of the revamped organization, a post he holds to this day.
Former CHAI executive director Ken Gelula (right) meets with stakeholders. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
CHAI’s task was to prevent history from repeating itself. “In 1970,” Gelula explains, “the southern part of Park Heights, between Northern Parkway and Belvedere Avenue, was 50 percent white and 50 percent African American. The area to the north, from Northern Parkway to Glen Avenue, was 90 percent Jewish. By 1980, the area south of Northern Parkway had become 90 percent African American and in Upper Park Heights the percentage of Jews had shrunk to 60 percent.” Jewish communal leaders had experienced this trend before. They were concerned that within a few years there would be virtually no Jews remaining in Park Heights.
Rabbi Elchonan Oberstein, a member of the Park Heights Orthodox community, recalls what he perceived as a drastic change in the neighborhood between the late 1960s and late 1970s. “I was married to a girl who grew up on Glen Avenue in 1969. After we were married we lived on Devonshire off Park Heights Avenue for a short while. We moved away for some years, and came back to the neighborhood in 1977. When we returned we found that the neighborhood had changed so rapidly. There were much fewer Jews, and there was a real fear that Upper Park Heights would become like Lower Park Heights, Forest Park, and other Baltimore city neighborhoods that once had thriving Jewish communities. We ended up living at 5905 Park Heights Avenue. It was a duplex we bought for $27,000. People thought we were taking a big chance by buying there,” says Rabbi Oberstein.
Continue to Part II: Coming Together
Posted on January 12th, 2017 by Rachel
Enjoy our jaunty shot of the exhibit title!
Last week, thanks to tickets through the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, Rachel and Joanna visited the Baltimore Museum of Art’s exhibit “Matisse/Diebenkorn,” which brings together the work of these two artists, Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn, for the first time. As always when museum professionals visit other museums’ exhibits, we had Thoughts.
Alas, no photographs allowed in the exhibition.
I’m not an art historian by any means, but I did take a few classes in college – just enough knowledge to make me dangerous. For one thing, I thought I knew Diebenkorn’s work, but the first gallery showing his early abstract work confused me; thus my very first Thought was, ‘Oops, I was picturing someone else.’ Pro-tip: look at the exhibit website before visiting, instead of just thinking you know what’s going on. The BMA’s helpful list of things to know includes “[Diebenkorn] moved between abstraction and figuration,” which would been useful if I’d read it ahead of time. Thankfully for my ego, the third gallery included works that were more familiar.
I used to have a print of this painting hanging in my kitchen. I know art exhibits should not always be about familiarity and recognition, but it is still a pleasant feeling. Cityscape #1 (1963) via SFMOMA.
Having no background in art history, I tend to find the labels at art exhibitions a little too concise, containing little more than title, date, artist, and who owns the piece now. I was thrilled to find that BMA Senior Curator of European Paintings & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf, who curated the Baltimore-occurrence of this show chose to use meaty labels, often including contextual details about the techniques used, the artists’ lives during the period of the piece’s creation, and particularly helpful explanations of how one piece could have been inspired by another.
A perfect example – Joanna and I loved the label for Matisse’s Reclining nude with arm behind head (1937) which included a reference to a “stumping” and was immediately followed by an explanation of the technique and what it does for the piece!
I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of books from Diebenkorn’s own library, all focused on Matisse’s work. Not only did this help strengthen the exhibit’s argument – that Matisse was a heavy influence on Diebenkorn – but it also showed a willingness to break out of the traditional “art, and art only” style of exhibition and include supporting artifacts and documents, a willingness which I think many art museums have recently embraced.
I agree with Joanna! Including material beyond the artworks themselves really rounds out the experience for me. I would urge all art curators to go even further if possible – I love when there are multiple photos of the artist at work, images of the artist’s workspaces, even cases with their tools.
The BMA offered audio guides, which (at least when we were there) nearly every guest accepted. I am not personally a fan, though I know many people very much enjoy them, and they can be a useful tool for conveying additional information without overloading the walls with text. But one reason I don’t like them is that they discourage conversation. This type of exhibit, with labels asking visitors to actively look at each image and compare them to others in the gallery, seems particularly well-suited to dialogue… but everyone is just listening to their headsets. Rachel and I did not have headsets so we felt free to discuss (quietly, don’t worry), and I think that enhanced our experience. I did see at least one other pair of women braving the isolation of the headphones to talk about what they saw, which made me happy – especially because one of the women said to the other, as if continuing an earlier “Hmm, I’m not so into these” conversation, “Well, I would take a Diebenkorn if someone gave it to me.” Me too!
I will say that having everyone else in the gallery wearing headphones made me much more comfortable voicing all my thoughts and opinions to Joanna! I’m often worried about disturbing other visitors or making anyone feel judged (we don’t have to like the same art, after all), so on a (very) personal level the popularity of the audio tour worked out great for me. But I also know I would have enjoyed the experience much less without the ability to turn to Joanna and discuss.
If you’re hoping to see the exhibit yourself, make plans to go soon – the show closes on January 29th!
Posted on January 11th, 2017 by Rachel
Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
Part IV: On Strike
Missed parts 1 – 3? Start from the Beginning
The following account of her early years in the labor movement is taken from an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer, June 4, 1976.
In the early thirties . . . things got so bad down here, and you couldn’t get a job. And Sonneborn’s closed, and, of course, I got blacklisted because I was a chairlady. I couldn’t get a job no place. I worked at Sonneborn’s ‘til 1931.One shop I later helped to organize, and I could have gotten the job, but what? A couple of women worked there that worked with me and they say, “Oh my God, there goes Sarah, our chairlady!” And I knew I wasn’t going to get the job!
I got a job to sell shoes. I worked there six months, then I got a job at Leibow Brothers. That was my last job. Things got so bad in our industry, it was terrible, They were making coats for a dollar and a quarter. So they came in from the [Amalgamated] national office . . . and said, “We’re going to call [a strike].” we had this big meeting and at the fourth Regiment Armory and every tailor from all the alleys and all turned out, and all was there. And they decided to call the general strike. But not including Schoeneman’s and not including Cohen and Goldman’s shop. But everybody else was on strike. We were all on strike.
Pressers Union Local 363, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Fannie Feinberg is in the front row, 7th from right, c. 1930. JMM 1990.75.1
That was 1932, September 13th. That was the first day we were striking. Well, on this strike, while we were on strike, we knew a lot of people from this Cohen and Goldman place . . . [Jacob] Potofsky at that time said, “Let’s go in front of Cohen and Goldman’s.” So we took the mass picketing. We got to Cohen and Goldman’s and got on the window sills and when they saw us, we saw those people begin to drop and get dressed to come out. And they locked the doors. They wouldn’t let them out. Somebody called the fire department to open up the doors, see. And we took out a lot of the vest department but all those Yankees, they didn’t come out, they stayed inside. We picketed there.
So we got Cohen and Goldman’s picketing; that’s when myself and six other people, we got locked up and they wouldn’t let us out. We were locked up in jail. They said that you can only walk four, and we were eight. Therefore, they wouldn’t let us out on bail. We were in the Northeastern police station. Mr. Edelman was already our lawyer, so they took us out the following day. They had that law you could not picket only four and we had mass picketing. The inspectors named us. So one day we had four or five hundred girls arrested. They didn’t have any room for us at the station house. We went to the recreation room of the policemen, with a little matron down there and . . . it was mostly all girls and they brought us doughnuts, coffee. So they got a big lawyer, Curan his name was, and he said, “No, we’re not, we can’t put bail for them, too many people. Let them stay here!” They had a patrol car and everything else . . . it was very exciting.
My shop wasn’t on strike, but they asked me to come out for twelve dollars a week to help ‘em go to organizing, go and visit people and all. So, I did; it was a lot of excitement. There was other times that I was paid. I was doing work, but I wasn’t on the staff–it was a special job for the strike. And we went back on the picket line. We had sixteen people on the picket line. If they’re going to lock us up they’re going to have to make some kind of test case on this mass picketing. So we did, and they kept on saying, “Sarah, take the girls home.” The police did that. Inspector Lurch said, “I’m telling you again, leave only four people, because I’ll be compelled to lock you up.” So, he locked us up. Well, before that every time we got on the picket line with a big bunch of people, they would lock us up. I was locked up thirteen times in one day!
Sarah Barron at a testimonial dinner given in her honor at the Pikesville Armory, April 1967. JMM 1993.58.4d
I just got in there, I didn’t even have to tell them my name. The judge decided at that time—that was toward the end of the strike—that as long as we have peaceful picketing, walk two-by-two, we have a right to picket. See, he made a decision and not only did it help our union, it helped all the other unions in the city. So we were really the test case at that time. Since then they allowed mass picketing. And we were really the ones who had something to do with mass picketing. That was in 1932.
It was 800 girls on strike. Now I went back to Leibow’s, to my job. The strikers, you know, we were only paid three dollars a week strike benefit; they had no money. We had a shoemaker who gave us cut-rate, half-price to fix the shoes. The women cooked; we had soup kitchens and all. So I went back to Leibow’s. And Blumberg called me in. He said, “Sarah, we’re getting so many organized,”—that was in 1934 already—“I think you ought to go on the staff.” He says, “Because we’ll give you Cohen and Goldman’s; they’ve got nothing but women and very few men and some other shops and then you’ll work with some organizers; we will begin the organizing campaign.”