By JMM Volunteer Harvey Karch
One of the best parts of being a docent at a museum, especially, I think, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, is that one never knows what is going to happen on a tour. The unexpected is almost to be expected every tour. It certainly was the case on Tuesday, January 15, during the one o’clock tour.
No one was in the Museum for the eleven o’clock tour, and that was not a surprise given the cold and damp weather. As one o’clock came and went, I wasn’t shocked that there was no one for the tour either. However, at about 1:10 a woman entered the museum asking whether she was too later for the one o’clock tour. Since no one else was there, I gladly stepped up to the counter and told her that I would be happy to show her the sights of the Museum.
As is my habit, after introducing myself, I asked the where she was from and what had brought her to the Museum today. She told me that her name is Deb, Deb Miller, and she has lived in Boston since arriving to attend graduate school there some forty years ago. However, she added that she had grown up in New York City, but that her roots run deep in Baltimore. Her grandparents had lived in Baltimore, and her mother had grown up here before going to live in New York after her marriage. She also explained that her family members were among the founders of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. As we walked toward Lloyd Street Synagogue, she went on to say that her grandfather had attended Shomrei Mishemeres, and I told her that mine had also. I explained that one of my family’s stories is that my grandfather had come from Volnya and had come to Baltimore because there was a group from his home area living in the city. Ms. Miller suggested that perhaps our grandfathers had known each other, and perhaps had even prayed together. We both chuckled and went on with the tour.
Once inside of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it was obvious from the look on her face that being in this synagogue was a particularly emotional experience for Ms. Miller. She asked me a lot of questions about Shomrei Mishemeres and the building itself as she looked around, taking in everything about the place. It was at the point where I started telling her about why there are no regularly held services anymore in the building that it suddenly occurred to me that this was no ordinary visitor, and I asked her if she was related to Tobias Miller, one of the last members of Shomrei Mishmeres and part of the group who sold the building to the Jewish Historical Society. She told me that he was her grandfather, and I had the pleasure of telling her that the man I had always heard referred to as “Tuffsy” Miller was the reason that my grandfather had come to Baltimore from Volnya, since Miller was one of my grandfather’s best friends from the old country. We both realized at that point that not only had our grandfathers prayed together, but had been very good friends as well as “landsmen”. Ms. Miller later asked what my grandfather’s name was, and thought that it sounded familiar. We both wondered what our grandfathers would have thought of two of their grandchildren meeting so many years after their deaths (1961 and 1970) at the Lloyd Street Synagogue?
Ms. Miller and I parted ways, but this is one tour that I will remember for a long, long time.