A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.
Our library volunteers recently completed a wonderful new resource for anyone researching—or simply curious about—Maryland Jewish history. It’s a listing of all the biographical files in our research collection, with summaries of each person’s significance or accomplishments. All 1,923 of them, from Judge Howard Aaron to Rabbi Meyer Zywicka.
It’s interesting just to browse through the list. You get a real sense of the diversity of Maryland Jewry: in addition to the rabbis, business people, doctors, and lawyers you’d expect to see, you’ll also find a crab house owner, an internationally famous harmonica player, a bomber pilot, and Gertrude Stein (who lived in Baltimore for awhile), just for a start. And even within the expected categories, there are some unusual and fascinating profiles. Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn spent part of his childhood in Baltimore’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum, was “wounded, disfigured and blinded” in combat during World War I, and wrote autobiographical novels. Hyman S. Rubinstein is described as a neurologist, violinist, and psychiatrist who invented his own shorthand system. Makes you want to read his file, doesn’t it?
Keyword searches on particular topics should prove valuable for research projects. We’re currently working on a traveling exhibition on the suburbanization of Baltimore Jewry and we need to find out about the role played by Jewish real estate developers. I just did a keyword search of the terms builder, developer, contractor, construction, and real estate—it turned up fifty-four individuals. So now we need to go look at those fifty-four files. . . . The summaries on the list just hint at the material that might be found in the files themselves, which range from thick folders on some people, to perhaps a single article on others.
For students working on history papers, keyword searches will enable them to find particular individuals or gather info on broad topics. Just to see, I did a couple other searches. There are forty-four artists. There are sixteen poets, from Baltimorean Karl Shapiro, one of the most important American poets of the last century, to Hyman Pressman, longtimeMarylandcomptroller “known for his bad poetry.”
Not everyone on the list is Jewish. The only entry for “Q” is Allen Quille, whose profile notes that he was an African American parking lot millionaire who supported Zionist causes and was honored by theBaltimorebranch of the Zionist Organization of America around 1980. Thomas Kennedy is there, of course (look him up), and many other gentiles who had some kind of impact on Jewish life in Maryland.
Anyone doing research should keep in mind that this document is a guidepost, not an end in itself. With a database this large, there are bound to be inconsistencies, incomplete categorization, typos. It’s up to the researcher to be as creative as possible when thinking up keywords to use to search the document, and to follow up by looking in the actual files to get a more complete picture of the person being profiled.
Download the file here: JMM Biographical Vertical Files
Volunteers Harvey Karch and Vera Kestenberg did a fantastic job pulling this project together, spending hours reading the files and typing summaries into an Excel file. Thanks also to Bernie Raynor and Allan Blumberg, who added their talents to the project as well. Ira Askin, who has been keeping track of our vertical files for years, was also involved. It’s great to have volunteers who can carry out an important initiative like this—which will be helpful for anyone researching Maryland Jewish history, for years to come.