A blog post by Collections Manager Jobi Zink
Long before Harry Potter’s name blew out of the Goblet of Fire on a burning piece of parchment (but roughly the same time that the Chamber of Secrets was open for the first time), the Rogers Avenue Synagogue had its own Goblet of Fire.
The “Rogers Avenue Synagogue” was formed in 1950 when two existing congregations– Ohr Knesseth Israel and Anshe Sphard Congregations — merged. In 1951 they broke ground for their new building in the Upper Park Heights neighborhood on, you guessed it, Rogers Avenue. In 1958 they expanded the building, nearly doubling its capacity. By 1975 the congregation was ready to pay off their mortgage in entirety. (In pure coincidence, Archivist Jennifer Vess will be talking about the Rogers Avenue Synagogue manuscript collection in her next post, so you can find out more about the congregation history from her.)
Although highly uncommon in the early 21st century mortgage burning parties were popular events for synagogues, churches* and even families just a few decades ago. I’m sure a few of our readers can remember when Archie Bunker burned the mortgage on All in the Family.
Approximately 2:00 into the clip below for the famous line “don’t set fire to the house:”
The mortgage burning at Rogers Avenue Synagogue was talked about with the same amount of excitement as the Tri-Wizard tournament!
Paying off the mortgage is no small feat. It shows the dedication and commitment of the Congregation members, as well as their fiscal responsibility. It was a moment of great celebration and pride for the congregation, as this tremendous financial burden was lifted!.
At the Rogers Avenue Synagogue, the day’s program combined the mortgage burning with the re-dedication of the building. Cantors Herbert Grossman and Irving Grossman entered the sanctuary singing Matovu, and Rabbi Joshua Shapiro offered the Invocation. Congregational highlights were presented and individuals were recognized. Rabbi Shapiro gave a prelude to the Mortgage Burning and the actual mortgage burning was done by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Trepolsky, Mr. Morris Cohen, Mrs. Ruby Eberlin and Mrs. Stuart Weinberg.
Last December the mortgage burning bowl used by the Rogers Avenue Synagogue was donated to the JMM. The collections staff was positively giddy! We already had the documents from the mortgage burning, we had photos from the event, and now we have the actual object that was used. It even has residue of the ash still in its bowl. This is a true piece of Maryland Jewish History!
Now what I want to know is: how was this bowl chosen? It’s gold in color, but not overly shiny and ornate. There are no overt Jewish symbols on the footed compote bowl; it has a petal design.
The shape, however, is perfect for the purposes of burning the mortgage. The sides are tall enough to protect the person holding it, but short enough for congregation members sitting in the back to see the flames!
And it still measures up to our expectations!
Many church doors are painted red. According to some lore, this indicated that the church has paid off its mortgage, but I could find no concrete proof of this. Anglican (Episcopal) churches boast red doors for theological reasons. This goes back to the Middle Ages, when the north, south and east doors were painted red, symbolizing the Blood of Christ, to indicate that churches were designated Sanctuary, where anyone was safe from danger. Some other mainline Protestant churches, such as Lutheran churches, have red doors as Wittenberg Cathedral, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, had red doors, and by tradition, this marks such churches as Reformed churches. Another school of thought holds that church doors are painted red to indicate the mortgage has been paid off!