April 20, 2017 in Baltimore

Posted on April 20th, 2017 by

Sixty-seven years ago today, a baby boy with a full head of dark hair was born in San Diego.

Four years ago today, I was mourning the death of that baby who became a man who became my father.  It was his 63rd birthday. He’d been gone for 2 weeks.

Two years ago today, it was my first day at a new job at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Also two years ago today, the city and the nation discovered that a man had died the day before while in the back of a police transport vehicle.

Regular readers of the JMM blog may remember my writing about my dad in the early days of my employment here, and also my reflections on the days and months since the death of Freddie Gray.

It’s fascinating how today reverberates in so many ways for me. I’m also struck by how my time at JMM has coincided with the changes in the city and in me.

On my dad’s birthday, I find myself thinking about these two pillars of who I am, at this moment (Jewish Museum of Maryland employee and activist in the City of Baltimore) neither of which my dad knew about. Even though he’s been gone four years now, I still sometimes grab my phone to call him to tell him about something that happened. My dad was among the fairest men I ever knew. He believed in the fundamental good of human kind. He believed in the power of kindness. He was also a fan of stuff. He had many collections from figures of the Buddha to measuring tapes to unusual clocks.

A smiling buddha

This Buddha figurine lives in Tracie’s office

On my work-iversary, I find myself thinking about how my dad would’ve loved the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and how the Museum has altered the way I think about and remember my dad. I’ve become more keenly aware of the power of objects and artifacts to carry meaning. I keep a small Buddha figurine in my office. It is very like one that my dad had when I was a child. A chubby Hotei sits in his robes and cleans his right ear with a bit of reed. One eye closed in effort, he reminds me that even after Enlightenment, we all have bodies. I don’t know if that’s what it meant to my dad. It doesn’t really matter, because I can still hear his chuckle in my mind’s ear, when I look at it.

A selection of figurines from the JMM's 2000 "Tchotchkes" exhibit.

A selection of figurines from the JMM’s 2000 “Tchotchkes” exhibit.

The little fellow would be deemed worthless by many. In fact, it still bears a price tag–$5.00—on the base. But he is absolutely priceless to me. He reminds me of another time and place, and with his presence, he keeps my dad around for me. That’s what our collection is all about. That’s part of what I love about JMM. We are not a “Great Men of History” Museum. We’re collectors and preservers of the everyday objects and stories, the $5 figurines and all the millions they carry.

My dad would approve.

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

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Together We Remember

Posted on April 20th, 2017 by

The Occasional Symphony opened the program with a short performance in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

The Occasional Symphony opened the program with a short performance in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

This past Sunday, the JMM was privileged to host a community gathering in the Lloyd Street Synagogue dedicated to honoring and commemorating the victims of genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.  #TogetherWeRemember is a global initiative that sponsors the readings of the names of victims as a means towards compiling the first comprehensive digital memorial to the victims of genocide. Founded by David Estrin while he was still a student at Duke University in 2013 as a way of honoring his grandparents, each of whom survived the Holocaust, the JMM was honored to participate in this event.

David Estrin and Senator Ben Cardin begin the reading of names.

David Estrin and Senator Ben Cardin begin the reading of names.

Over the course of two hours, community members took turns reading names of victims of such atrocities as the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the Argentinian Dirty War, and the conflicts in Darfur, South Sudan and Syrian. What a powerful way to make connections between our current exhibit on display, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity to other historical and contemporary events and served as a reminder that sadly the Holocaust was not the first, nor the last instance of genocide.



We are grateful to David Estrin and to the many participants and attendees at Sunday’s program – including Senator Ben Cardin and Delegates Shelly Hettleman and Dana Stein – for helping us to remember the lives of those lost.

Participants left meaningful notes

Participants left meaningful notes

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

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Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 6

Posted on April 19th, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part VI: The Full-Scale Delicatessen Restaurant

Miss parts 1 – 5? Start here.

Sussman and Lev delicatessen, c.1930. Gift of Martin Lev, JMM 1991.140.2

Sussman and Lev delicatessen, c.1930. Gift of Martin Lev, JMM 1991.140.2

From the 1920s onward, deli restaurants thrived in Jewish neighborhoods in East Baltimore, around North Avenue, and outward to the northwestern suburbs, Several delis appeared in commercial districts, notably the Globus near the west-side garment district, Mandell’s on Baltimore Street downtown, and Awrach and Perl near the big Howard Street department stores. By general agreement, Sussman and Lev, Awrach and Pearl, Ballow’s, Nates and Leon’s, and Attman’s are considered the outstanding names in a throng of memorable institutions, each of which rang a slightly different variation on the theme of sliced meats, smoked fish, hot dogs, sandwiches, and pickles.

The delicatessen restaurant got a strong boost with the arrival of supermarkets. These clean, spacious stores with wide selections and low prices forced small groceries of all kinds to adapt or go out of business. For many of those specializing in delicatessen, the best alternative was to expand upon their incipient function as a restaurant, or convert fully to restaurant service, while maintaining the old atmosphere. Other social trends were pushing them in the same direction: Jewish families were prospering and could better afford to eat out; they were spreading out around the city; and, as younger Jews had less direct knowledge of European tradition, they were less likely to prepare Jewish specialties at home, but still wanted to participate in these traditions, at least on special occasions.[1]

Interior of Sussman and Lev, c.1930. Gift of Martin Lev, JMM 1991.140.3

Interior of Sussman and Lev, c.1930. Gift of Martin Lev, JMM 1991.140.3

Sussman and Lev’s was probably the first full-scale delicatessen restaurant in Baltimore, and one of the longest-lived and best-known. In 1915, Jacob Hyman Sussman became the proprietor of the New York Import Company, which specialized in smoked fish. He lived above his store at 905 East Baltimore Street. Sussman was 23 years old, unmarried and just naturalized, an immigrant tailor from Svisloch, a village in the Russian province of Minsk.[2] New York Import had first appeared in the City Directory two years earlier, under the ownership of Abraham Gelfand, who resurfaced briefly in 1918 as a partner in the company with Jacob Sussman.[3]

Sussman’s company thrived. In 1922 it was offering “imported and domestic herring, smoked fish, canned goods and delicatessen” at 917 East Fayette Street; Jacob H. and Isador Sussman and Nathan Leo were the proprietors. Both Sussman families lived uptown at 2217 Bryant Avenue.[4] In 1926 Jacob Sussman was secretary-treasurer for Nathan Davis and Company, a competing fish seller; Morris Scherlis was its vice-president. In the same year, however, Sussman went into partnership with Carl Lev, an immigrant from Poland or Russia – via Chile – who had had a delicatessen in New York.[5] They were importers, wholesalers, and retailers of “appetizing delicatessen and all kinds of herring, smoked fish, and imported candies” at 923 East Baltimore Street. The “New York Import Company…has been recently taken over by SUSSMAN and LEV,” read the letter they sent “to our many customers who have been dealing with these last fifteen years.”[6]

Letter indicating that Sussman & Lev are taking over the New York Import Company, February 3, 1926. JMM 1991.140.1

Letter indicating that Sussman & Lev are taking over the New York Import Company, February 3, 1926. JMM 1991.140.1

Photographs of 923 East Baltimore Street around this time reveal the operation of the business. One shows the interior, with two parallel counters, each with scales and slicers, piled high with meats and breads. The walls are lined with canned goods in neat rows; two dozen salamis hang from a shelf. Cans of Lord Calvert and Hotel Belvedere coffee compete with boxes of crackers and barrels of pickles for floor space, and a marble-topped table and four bentwood side chairs squeeze into the back. The menu is a framed sign offering appetizing salads, sandwiches, pickles, fish, delicatessen, and soft drinks.

In another photograph the countermen stand at the end of the central aisle, while customers are seated at the table, one in a derby hat. Wrapped candies and dried fruit, a slab of halvah, and pieces of whitefish and salmon lie on the counters in the foreground. Photographs at the Maryland Historical Society of exterior views show a huge vertical lighted sign reading DELICATESSEN and windows full of nuts, packaged products, and smoked fish. Signs in English, Yiddish, and Russian announce “all kinds of sandwiches/luncheonette, wholesale and retail appetizing/delicatessen.”[7]

In 1935 the restaurant expanded, adding an art-deco style bar, a ceramic tile floor, and a section of tables in booths.[8] A Viennese baker from New York was brought in to prepare “delicious rolls, pie, cakes and pastries.”[9] 1939 brought air-conditioning and a catering hall upstairs, which could be rented for bar mitzvah luncheons and other small receptions. A menu from this era shows that the restaurant served an enormous variety of dishes. Sandwiches ranged from lox and cream cheese on a bagel to a “Broadway Special” combination of tongue, spiced beef, corned beef, salami, sweet gherkin and lettuce. One could dine on “cold schov with hard egg,” broiled veal steak with fresh mushrooms, and pie, washed down with beer, almond smash soda, or buttermilk. Sussman and Lev’s remained a favorite of Jews who worked in East Baltimore long after the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup had changed. It went out of business around 1951.

Continue to Part VII: Sandwich Innovation


[1] See Jack Kugelmass, “Green Bagels: An Essay on Food, Nostalgia, and the Carnivalesque,” YIVO Annual, 1990, for a fascinating exploration of delicatessen traditions carried to their extremes by younger generations.

[2] Interview with Harold Sussman (July 1991).

[3] Baltimore City Directories. In 1930 Abraham Gelfand was treasurer of the Pickle Products Company.

[4] Baltimore City Directories, 1913, 1922.

[5] Interview with Martin Lev (July 1991).

[6] Gift of Martin Lev, 1991.140.1

[7] Photos by Hughs Company, Baltimore City Life Museums Collection.

[8] Interview with Harold Sussman (July 1991).

[9] Baltimore Jewish Times, January 2, 1940.

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