A “Children’s Playground” and “Centre for Adults:” The Story of Baltimore’s Jewish Educational Alliance, 1909-1952

Posted on December 5th, 2016 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

“Most of our activity when we were growing up was at the JEA. . . . We learned how to speak, we had declamation contests, we played basketball. Even I, who was like a little butterball, whenever they’d let me in the game I’d play. But I was on the team.” — Paul Wartzman, Jewish Museum of Maryland oral history

JEA children at City Springs Park, JMM 1992.231.302

JEA children at City Springs Park, JMM 1992.231.302

Part I: Settlement Houses

The Jewish Education Alliance is usually depicted through the eyes of childhood. Its programs influenced thousands of Jewish boys and girls in East Baltimore during the first half of the twentieth century, boys and girls who later remembered it as the place that shaped their lives, taught them skills, and gave them a way to be active without getting into serious trouble.

Few people remember the JEA as part of a nationwide settlement house movement that advocated new ways to bring social services and change to urban areas, especially to immigrant neighborhoods. The JEA offered space for clubs, entertainment, and athletics for children and teens, but it was built for more than engaging the kids of the neighborhood. It was founded as a settlement house meant to serve and uplift the immigrant Jewish community of East Baltimore.

Settlement houses first appeared in the United States in 1886, modeled after similar organizations in England. They were planned as social service and community centers in poor, often heavily immigrant areas, staffed by trained, well-educated men and women. The staff, mostly from middle class backgrounds, lived at the settlement house. Supporters believed that living in the community allowed workers to understand the true needs of the poor and create effective ways to deal with those needs by forming close relationships with the residents. Young settlement workers differed from the older generation of charity workers who often focused on the destitute rather than the working poor and who entered poor communities with preexisting ideas of the meanings of and reasons for poverty, usually focusing on individual weaknesses. This new generation wanted to launch investigations to find the deeper and broader social or economic problems that led to poverty.[1]

Working Girls Home of the Daughters in Israel. From Isador Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Working Girls Home of the Daughters in Israel. From Isador Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Settlement house workers, however, did have their own preconceived ideas. Many of them were influenced by the Progressive movement which swept the nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Progressive reformers were diverse individuals, but a few generalizations can be made about them: they saw the basic problems around them as linked to industrialization and the growth of a multi-ethnic society, they often formed coalitions to make their reforms work within the existing political system, and they believed that with the proper environment anyone could change for the better.[2] For settlement workers, as for most reformers, a proper environment included basic education, cultural development, improved health and cleanliness, and the Americanization of immigrants.

Many Progressive reformers and settlement house workers were influenced by Protestant Christianity. But since most of the neighborhoods they targeted were religiously and ethnically diverse (and often more Catholic and Jewish than Protestant), settlement movement leaders such as Jane Addams of Hull House strove to maintain secular institutions in order to serve the entire local population. However, a number of settlement houses reached out to specific ethnic or religious communities. Jewish settlement houses appeared in cities throughout the country, set up by the Jewish community (often by American Jews of German descent), for the Jewish community (predominantly East European immigrants). They embraced many of the same goals as other settlements and offered many of the same programs. But to varying degrees, they also incorporated Jewish culture and religion into their activities.[3] The JEA of Baltimore was one of these houses.

By 1909 the United States had close to 400 settlement houses, with a total of twelve in Baltimore.[4] Two of those twelve, the Daughters in Israel and the Maccabean House, served the Jewish community of East Baltimore. Women founded the Daughters in Israel in 1890 to aid immigrant girls. Along with a range of programs, they opened the Working Girls’ Home where young women with jobs, but without parents or guardians, could live. A group of men incorporated the Maccabean House in 1900 “for the purpose of maintaining a reading room and library and other educational and benevolent . . . undertakings in the city of Baltimore; [and] carrying on educational, benevolent and philanthropic work among the poor.”  The Maccabean House focused on, but did not limit its activities to, the young men of East Baltimore.[5]

Maccabean House, 1204 East Baltimore Street

Maccabean House, 1204 East Baltimore Street

The two institutions had overlapping programs as well as gaps in their service to the community, so in 1909 they merged to form a new institution: the Jewish Educational Alliance.[6] Departing from the gender-segregated structure of nineteenth century charities, eight men and eight women joined together on the founding board of directors (see Caroline Friedman’s article in this issue on women’s role in charities). But the board did not depart from convention in another respect. Its members were all American-born children of German descent, drawn from long-established and well-off Jewish families: William Levy, Aaron Benesch, David Federleicht, Simon H. Stein, Walter Sondheim, Dr. Jose Hirsh, Henry S. Frank, Lewis Putzel, Laura Greif, Laura Guttmacher, Bertha Dalsheimer, Miriam Bernstein, Minnie Wiesenfeld, Lillie Strauss, Mollie Wiesenfeld and Mrs. S.B. Sonneborn.[7]

Their backgrounds contrasted with the newly-arrived East European Jews who populated the East Baltimore neighborhood where the new settlement house was located. But the mediators between the board and the neighborhood – the settlement workers who lived and worked at the JEA – were a mix of German and Russian, some children of immigrants, and others immigrants themselves.[8]

Continue to Part II: A Jewish Spirit


[1] Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement: 1890-1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 18.

[2] Daniel T. Rodgers, “In Search of Progressivism,” Reviews in American History 10, No. 4 (December 1982).

[3] Mina Carson, Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1990), 53-64.; Gerald Sorin, A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880-1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Finding Aid, Jewish Educational Alliance Records, 1915-2008, JMS 002, Savannah Jewish Archives at georgiahistory.com/containers/99.

[4] Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, eds., Handbook of Settlements (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1911), 95-104.

[5] “Daughters In Israel: A New Society for Doing Good – its purpose,” Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1890, p. 6; Articles of Incorporation for The Maccabeans of Baltimore City, March 19, 1900, MS170, Folder 210, Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM).

[6] After the merger, the Maccabean House ceased to exist. The Daughters in Israel continued to operate the Working Girls’ Home.

[7] October 21, 1909, JEA meeting minutes, MS 170, Folder 212, JMM; U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore City Manuscript Census, 1910, 1920.

[8] U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore City Manuscript Census, 1910, 1920.




Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Museum Matters: To Your Health!

Posted on December 2nd, 2016 by

As we are down to the last 45 days of Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, we are frenetically pursuing programs that add new dimensions to the topic – from surgery lessons for kids to medicinal schnapps for younger adults to end-of-life care for those of us who… well, maybe I should just leave it there.

Even our December 25 Mitzvah Day program is infused with a health care theme.  In the morning, help us make packets of chicken soup mix and decorated chicken soup bowls to soothe the souls and warm the hearts of our neighbors.  In the afternoon, join us for some holiday binge watching of the classic series “Northern Exposure” – we’ll be following the journey of a young Jewish doctor headed north (rather than a jolly old fellow headed south).  It might feel like Alaska outside, but we’ll have hot cocoa and popcorn inside.

On the Monday through Thursday following Mitzvah Day (Dec. 26 to 29), we’ll be featuring a “Best of 2016” Family Activity Week – we’ll be reprising some of our favorite hands-on activities from Beyond Chicken Soup as well as our fall arts programs.  So if the kids are out of school, swing by and join in the fun.

Upcoming programs
All programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland unless otherwise noted. Please contact Trillion Attwood at tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org / 443-8735177with any questions or for more information.

Downtown Dollar Day: Healthcare Heroes

Sunday, December 4, beginning at 10:00am
Museum Admission: $1

Join us for a hands-on day of exploration at the Jewish Museum of Maryland! Receive valuable training in how to perform medical tasks such as keyhole surgery, applying a plaster cast and other scientific experiments. Then meet professional animator Eliezer Medina who will lead a workshop on how to draw and ink some of your favorite cartoon characters while sharing stories about the Jewish roots of some of the most beloved superheroes.

Cordials, Schnapps, and L’chaims:
Let thy beverage be thy medicine
Thursday, December 8, 6:30pm
Facilitated by Casey Yurow, Pearlstone Center
Included with Admission – Buy Tickets Now

Join Pearlstone Center’s Program Director, Casey Yurow, for a multi-sensory and mind-altering evening exploring the relationship between Jews, plants, and therapeutic beverages. Participants will taste a variety of cordials made from the seven species of Israel – dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, wheat, and barley – while learning about historical uses of fruit, herb, and spice infused beverages in Jewish tradition and beyond. The evening will include opportunities for hands-on beverage blending so folks can take something home with them.

This program is designed for participants aged 21 and over. Dietary laws will be observed.

Places are limited so please book your space in advance here! 

Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing
Sunday, December 11, 1:00pm
Speaker: Mike Silver, author of Stars in the Ring
Included with Admission – Buy Tickets Now!

More Jewish athletes have competed as boxers than all other professional sports combined. From 1901 to 1939, 29 Jewish boxers were recognized as world champions and nearly 200 others were ranked among the top contenders in their respective weight divisions. Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing chronicles an era when boxers named “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom, Ruby Goldstein (“The Jewel of the Ghetto”), Leach Cross (“The Fighting Dentist”), Joe Bernstein (“The Pride of the Bowery”) and hundreds of other fabulous Jewish boxers literally fought their way out of poverty to become instant heroes to a generation of immigrants struggling to break out of poverty and enter the American mainstream. Author and historian Mike Silver will share this vibrant social history.

Debating our Fate: End-of-Life Care in Maryland
Sunday, December 18, 1:00pm
Included with Admission – Buy Tickets Now

This important topic is one that is too often only discussed at the most challenging of times. Our panel of experts will discuss end-of-life care, including Jewish teachings and the contemporary legal landscape.

Mitzvah Day
Sunday, December 25, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Bring your family and give back to our community with thousands of other volunteers across Baltimore. This year we take inspiration for our current exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. Help us to make Soup Kits and decorate soup bowls that will help feed our community (to be donated to Living Classrooms). Activities are suitable for all ages.

Northern Exposure – The Best of Season 1
Sunday, December 25, starting at 12:00pm
Included with Admission – Buy Tickets Now!

Join us for a relaxing afternoon as we visit Cicely, Alaska. Inspired by Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America and its examination of the role of Jewish doctors in popular culture, we will be screening episodes from Season One of Northern Exposure. This cult TV show follows the life of recently graduated New York City physician, Dr. Joel Fleischman, who is sent to practice in Alaska in return for the state’s paying for his medical education.

Throughout the screening we will be serving popcorn and hot chocolate.

Esther’s Place: the Shop at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

Chanukkah and Christmas coincide this year! Are you ready for your December holiday (or dilemma)? Esther’s place has a wide assortment of Chanukkah menorahs and dreidels available, from the whimsical to the sublime. We’ve also got beautiful or funny gifts for children and adults. Stop in and browse our selection of everything from a dentist play-dough set or Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher to designer jewelry or folk music CDs to medical-themed housewares or Did Jew Know. Take care of your holiday shopping and support the JMM at the same time!

Also of Interest

The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit bnaiisraelcongregation.org.  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit biyabaltimore.org or check out BIYA on Facebook.

Ongoing at the JMM


Exhibits currently on display include Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America (through January 16, 2017), Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore, and The Synagogue Speaks!

Hours and Tour Times

Combination tours of the 1845 Lloyd Street Synagogue and the 1876 Synagogue Building now home to B’nai Israel are offered: Sunday through Thursday at 11:00am, 1:00pm and 2:00pm.

Click Here for complete hours and tour times

Please note that the JMM is open on Sunday, December 25 from 10am-5pm and on Sunday, January 1, from 10am-5pm.


Make it official! Become a Member of the JMM.
Learn More about membership.
Already ready? Join Here.

Get Involved

The JMM is always looking for volunteers! Click Here to learn more.
Click Here for complete hours and tour times


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Fostering Empathy and Understanding at the JMM

Posted on November 30th, 2016 by

In this time of divisive politics and hateful language, I would like to highlight a few of the educational programs at the JMM in the past few month that I believe encourage dialogue and foster empathy and understanding. I would also like to share a few thoughts about how the Museum community as a whole can respond to our recent election.

I have always found the JMM to be a very welcoming and inclusive place that also aims to encourage dialogue on contemporary issues. In our mission, we strive to be a site of discourse and discovery, where individuals and groups are encouraged to draw connections to “events and trends in American History, to contemporary life, and to our hopes and aspirations for the future.” JMM Mission and Vision

Vanguard students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Vanguard students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Through our education programs, we strive to teach students about Jewish culture and traditions as well as work to find connections with their own stories and heritages.  Last month, a class of English as a Second Language students, including several refugees from Syria, visited from Vanguard Collegiate Middle School. We also had middle school students from Baltimore International Academy visit earlier this month.  I have been lucky enough to facilitate education programs in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit for several of these schools. I have found it very rewarding sharing the stories of Baltimore’s Jewish immigrants to a younger generation of immigrants.

Lessons of the Shoah

Lessons of the Shoah

Earlier this month, about 275 students and 25 teachers participated in Lessons of the Shoah, a high school interfaith program, this year held at John Carroll High School. The theme of this year’s program was No Asylum: the Plight of the Refugees. One of the goals of this program is to use the Holocaust as a starting point to promote tolerance, understanding and respect among students of diverse backgrounds. From all accounts, it sounded like a powerful program which included film screenings, musical selections, hearing from a Holocaust survivor and discussions about current refugee issues.

ICJS Teacher Workshop

ICJS Teacher Workshop

I also attended a teachers workshop a few weeks ago called Jewish and Muslim Refugees: Connecting the Past to the Present where we watched the film “Lives Lost: Lives Found” about Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1945, took part in a gallery walk activity to raise awareness of Islamophobia and heard from an Iraqi Muslim refugee currently living in Baltimore.

Teachers work in groups at the ICJS workshop, hosted at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Teachers work in groups at the ICJS workshop, hosted at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

While I am very proud of the work we do at the JMM, I was also glad to read that other Museums have recently reaffirmed their their roles as safe and open spaces. Laura Lott, the President of the American Alliance of Museums, also offered insightful comments in response to the election. She wrote that “Our institutions are uniquely positioned to listen, learn, and educate; to give historical context; and to foster empathy and inclusion by sharing the stories and perspectives of all people.” To sum up, museums are more important than ever now and I believe they can play a role in helping the nation heal and move forward by serving as safe spaces to have difficult conversations. Museums can model a kinder, emphatic and tolerant society. If you would like to promote the work Museums do everyday, I would encourage you to participate in Museum Advocacy Day on Feb. 27-28 in Washington D.C.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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