Once Upon a Time…07.29.2016

Posted on April 25th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org


2000057018Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  July 29, 2016


PastPerfect Accession #:  2000.057.017


Status: Unidentified! Campers and counselors at Bais Yaakov camp, circa 1955.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 7

Posted on April 24th, 2017 by

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

Part VII: Sandwich Innovation

Miss parts 1 – 6? Start here.

Nates and Leon's advertising card for the #3 sandwich.

Nates and Leon’s advertising card for the #3 sandwich.

The variety of combination sandwiches offered by Sussman and Lev, not untypical of delicatessen fare of the 1920s, represented the innovations of a generation of immigrant sandwich-makers. As H.L. Mencken put it, “the Jewish mind was too restless and enterprising to be content with the old repertoire. It reached out for the novel, the dramatic, the unprecedented as it does in all the arts…It boldly struck out in the highest fields of fancy, and presently the lowly sandwich had been completely transformed and exalted.”[1] Besides raw materials from the Eastern European larder, delicatessens drew upon a vast variety of new American foodstuffs, with little regard for kashrut. By experimentation and evolution a host of new sandwiches entered American cuisine through the delicatessen. Many of these innovations came from New York, with its vibrant Jewish culture, and spread rapidly to other cities, including Baltimore. Others were invented here, two of the most notable by Nathan Ballow.

Nathan Ballow’s two claims to fame were the Easterwood Special – a half loaf of rye bread filled with bologna and a little mustard, named after the nearby park where the neighborhood boys played ball – and the hotdog and bologna combination. During the Depression many families made dinner out of the Easterwood Special, which sold for ten cents. Many remembered Ballow giving an Easterwood Special to beggars, always with the reminder that the recipient owed ten cents for it, to ease the shame of accepting charity.

Nathan Ballow’s hotdog and bologna combination entered the world of the Baltimore delicatessen by the mid-1930s. Joe Mandell, Ballow’s son-in-law, remembered how it happened: in the morning the countermen would cut off a few slices of bologna to make it look fresh, and once someone threw some of the slices on the griddle with some hotdogs and tried the combination.[2] It was an enormous success, copied by every delicatessen in the city and remembered by most of their patrons. It remains a deli staple to this day.

China plate from Ballow’s Delicatessen. JMM 1987.131.5

China plate from Ballow’s Delicatessen. JMM 1987.131.5

Nathan Ballow was an immigrant from Kiev who had worked as a cutter and tailor in East Baltimore for a few years after arriving in American around 1919. Known as a real “go-getter,” he opened a storke (little grocery) around 1925 at 2115 West North Avenue, in an area to which Eastern European Jewish families were beginning to move in considerable numbers. By the late 1920s his grocery had become a restaurant where neighborhood people enjoyed delicatessen without going downtown. It had become one of the focal points of the community.

Ballow’s attracted an almost exclusively Jewish clientele, advertising only on a Sunday afternoon radio program called Der Yidishe Radio Shtunde. The “noise, shouting, and tumult was wonderful to behold,” with at least half the people speaking Yiddish, remembered Ballow’s nephew years later.[3] It was a “creative Jewish atmosphere.”

Contributing to the ambiance were the smells of barrels of schmaltz herring, spices from the vats of meats cooking in the basement, and hotdogs and bologna on the grill. Herring was such a big seller that Ballow erected a huge sign reading “Headquarters for Good Luck Herring.” The busiest day was Saturday, despite the objections of several synagogues nearby. Nathan and his wife Sophie belonged to Har Zion, the largest Orthodox synagogue uptown, and kept kosher themselves. At some point during the 1930s, however, a mashgiach (kosher official) detected a problem with the kashrut of the food served, and following an embarrassing announcement in shul (synagogue), Ballow had to admit his place was not strictly kosher, but “kosher-style.”[4]

”Mandell’s Delicatessen”; c. 1950s. JMM 1998.16.13

”Mandell’s Delicatessen”; c. 1950s. JMM 1998.16.13

In 1956, with the Jewish community moving further northwest, Ballow went into partnership with his son-in-law Joe Mandell, far uptown in a shopping center at Reisterstown Road and Rogers Avenue. Mandell, son of an immigrant from Kovno, had left Polytechnic High School around 1928 at age seventeen to make sandwiches at Boris Katz’s well-known deli on East Baltimore Street.[5] When Katz sold his deli to Mandell, he teamed up with Morris Scherlis to buy out Nathan Davis’s smokehouse, and Scherlis and Katz supplied Baltimore delicatessens with most of their smoked fish for several decades. In 1940 Mandell opened a deli in the downtown business district, open 24 hours a day, which he described as a modern restaurant, delicatessen, and fountain.[6] His step-mother, Jenny Wohlberg, did all the cooking, and her roast brisket, soups, and kokletten (small meat loaves) attracted “crowds greater than we had hoped, greater than our initial facilities could satisfy.”[7]

Continue to Part VIII: The “Madhouse” Lunch Trade


[1] Baltimore Evening Sun, November 4, 1929.

[2] Interview with Joe Mandell (December 1992).

[3] Interview with Danny Ballow (October 1992).

[4] Interview with Shirley Ballow Rutkowitz (August 1992).

[5] Located at 1430 East Baltimore Street, it had been owned since about 1919 by Katz, a 1909 immigrant from Piesk, Poland.

[6] Baltimore Jewish Times, January 19, 1940, p. 9.

[7] Advertisement, January 19, unknown periodical. Jewish Museum of Maryland Vertical Files.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: Learning By Doing

Posted on April 21st, 2017 by

Want to listen to a pumping heart? Save the day at Ft. McHenry by removing ammunition from a stockade? Turn a pickle into a light bulb?

If you’ve visited JMM in the last few years, you might have done all of the above.  The opportunities to “learn by doing” continue this summer with our next exhibit, Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland now under development.

As you might expect, this exhibit features wedding gowns, accessories, invitations, and even ketubahs that are more than 150 years old.  But in making this experience accessible to people of all ages and all learning styles it will also contain “interactive” experiences.  Despite the 21st century jargon in the name, interactives in museums date back more than a century.

In 1911, Jewish businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald took his 8 year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  There he saw something new in the museum world – instead of halls exclusively devoted to objects in cases, some of the exhibits had cranks and levers and pulleys.  These devices invited visitors not just to observe the scientific world but to understand it through participation. Rosenwald was so impressed with the impact of this new style of museum experience that he became determined to bring it back to America, to his hometown of Chicago – and so began the story of the Museum of Science and Industry, the nation’s largest science museum.

Over the course of the 20th century, interactives migrated from science museums to children’s museums and by the 1980s to natural history and history museums as well.  These exhibit units are sometimes characterized as “activities for kids,” but it is the experience of museum professionals that interactives receive as much of a workout from adults as children, if only vicariously (i.e. “Johnny, try pulling the crank first and then flipping the lever”).

In approaching the interactives for Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland, we began, as always, with educational objectives…how do we transform the topic into a vehicle for inspiring in-depth exploration and critical reasoning?  What concepts and activities would fit our exhibit themes, while attracting visitors both young and old?  We came up with a mix of puzzles, tactile experiences, and audio rewards to engage the brain as well as the senses.

The meeple family tree

An important part of interactive planning is beta testing. Over the winter, we tested two of our activities, one on the public and one on the JMM staff.
Our seating chart puzzle, designed by our in-house game maven, involves a set of adorable but in-law challenged meeples [wondering what meeples are? (and no, the singular of “meeples” is not “merson”)].  Our meeple families: the color-coded Pinkerts and Greensteins, Silvermans and Goldbergs needs to be strategically seated to achieve a set of goals for the bride and groom.  In this way we hoped to transform a common problem into a 3-D logic puzzle – both entertaining and thought provoking.

A seating challenge!

We set a simple prototype in the JMM lobby and invited visitors to give it a try.  This gave us insight into what visitors found confusing – such as the fact that unlabeled meeples are indistinguishable (so who could say if cousin Steve was sitting where he should be?) We experimented with affixing tiny labels to the meeples, simplifying the game’s rules and clarifying how to reset the game board for the next player.  All of these small adjustments will contribute to successful interactive – a tool that promotes learning (and fun).

Curator Karen takes a crack at matching photos

Joanna’s match-the-photo puzzle was tested out on the staff in a slightly less formal manner (but with scorekeeping, which always adds to the fun). In this activity, players are asked to match the wedding and anniversary photos of several Maryland couples from various eras.  Our collections include some great images, thanks to generations of Marylanders celebrating the milestone anniversaries of parents and grandparents.  Eleven of our staff and volunteers gave the game a try; there were mixed results, score-wise (and yes, one person did successfully match all eight couples), but everyone found themselves engrossed in the challenge.

Marketing and Development Manager Rachel had a tough time as the inaugural tester

These trial games were invaluable.  In the case of the photos, Joanna learned that the original version – a scattering of sixteen photos from eight couples, with no indication as to which images were wedding and which were anniversary – was much too difficult for anyone who hadn’t been staring at the pictures for three days like she had.  A few tweaks to the set-up improved things considerably. Our goal is to make interactives challenging – but not frustrating, often a difficult “sweet spot” to find.Interactives are just one component in turning a space into an experience.  A strong interactive complements, but does not replace, memorable images or artifacts – but the right tools can transport the visitor from “watcher” to “doer” and give them a sense of personal ownership of an exhibit.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert (with assistance from Collections Manager Joanna Church). To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

« Previous PageNext Page »