Second Cousins, Card Parties, and Chickens in the Back Yard: Family Life and Jewish Community in Rural Maryland Part 3

Posted on January 15th, 2018 by

generations-2002-385x500Article written by Deborah R. Weiner, former JMM research historian and family history coordinator. Originally published in Generations  – Winter 2002: Jewish Family History. Information on how to purchase your own copy here. Many thanks to JMM collections manager Joanna Church for re-typing this article.

Part III: Social Visiting
Miss the beginning? Start here.

Through the years, economic imperatives and kinship ties combined with pressing communal needs to ensure that community and family life remained deeply intertwined. Not all extended families were close; geographic distance, the pressures of assimilation, the all-consuming drive for economic success, and family feuds were some of the forces that could cause small-town Jews to become isolated from one another. But a strong desire to maintain Jewish practice, identity, and community encouraged them to rely on each other in ways that gave a particular cast to Jewish family life, as immediate and extended families responded to the challenge of being Jewish in a very non-Jewish environment.

Social visiting among small-town Jews invariably involved extended family. In this 1907 photo, the extended Cohen family enjoys a sunny day on the upper Shore. Courtesy of Janice Rudo, L2002.27.1

Social visiting among small-town Jews invariably involved extended family. In this 1907 photo, the extended Cohen family enjoys a sunny day on the upper Shore. Courtesy of Janice Rudo, L2002.27.1

Lacking synagogues in the first half of the century, Jews on the Eastern Shore and in St. Mary’s County held communal activities in their homes, from gathering a minyan for services to holding weddings and bar mitzvahs. Life cycle events combined a homey, family-based feeling with the solemnity required to mark a community milestone. The 1913 St. Mary’s County wedding of Max Weiner and Sadie Schochet was held at the home of the bride’s cousins, Max and Lena Millison. Local Jewish families joined with gentile friends as well as a rabbi and relatives imported from Baltimore to witness a ceremony that “began in the parlor and was concluded under a canopy erected for the occasion under the porch,” reported a local newspaper. After the “strictly” Orthodox ceremony, “an elaborate and handsomely prepared supper … was served in true Hebrew fashion, which was enjoyed immensely by the 100 or more guests.” The preparations leading up to such home-centered extravaganza can only be imagined. Recalling his mid-1910s “five-day bar mitzvah” at his family’s home in Havre de Grace, Sidney Schreter marveled that “my mother did all the cooking. She must have cooked for weeks before!”[1]

Historian Eric Goldstein notes that an “elaborate pattern of ‘social visiting’” among interrelated small-town Jews constituted “perhaps [their] single most important social activity,” allowing them to “escape, at least temporarily, from the rigors of living in isolation from Jewish society.”  More formal communal events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs also took on a symbolic significance beyond their usual meaning. Goldstein suggests that small-town Jews “used elaborate wedding celebrations to underscore their ability to nurture Jewish family and social life.” Such major events demonstrated that “the community could stage a full-blown Jewish celebration, that it need not send its members to Baltimore to get married, and that Jewish continuity was possible in a small-town context.”[2]

Many of Maryland’s small-town Jewish congregations eventually built synagogues that became the focal point of communal activity. In 1920s and 1930s Cumberland, Elaine Jandorf recalled, “it was the center of their life, that little synagogue. And everybody was related, they were all friends, they played cards together …” For Miller and Heilig descendants on the lower Shore, major life cycle events occurred several times a year when Barry Spinak was a youngster. “It was a big family and we all went to everything,” he commented.[3]

Life cycle events marked not only important occasions in one's family life, but important milestones in communal survival. The bar mitzvah invitation of Hessel Kotzin, Annapolis, 1921. JMM 2001.113.21.

Life cycle events marked not only important occasions in one’s family life, but important milestones in communal survival. The bar mitzvah invitation of Hessel Kotzin, Annapolis, 1921. JMM 2001.113.21.

The bar mitzvah of Howard Feldstein, Cumberland, 1949. Courtesy of Howard and Ana Feldstein, L2002.83.1.

The bar mitzvah of Howard Feldstein, Cumberland, 1949. Courtesy of Howard and Ana Feldstein, L2002.83.1.

Continue to Part IV: A Do-It-Yourself Attitude

[1] St. Mary’s Enterprise, 29 November 1913; Sidney Schreter, interview with Gertrude Nitzberg, Baltimore, 18 March 1977 (JMM OH 0051).

[2] Eric L. Goldstein, “Beyond Lombard Street: Jewish Life in Maryland’s Small Towns,” in We Call This Place Home (Baltimore: Jewish Museum of  Maryland, 2002), 41, 48.

[3] Elaine Jandorf, interview with Jacqueline Donowitz, Baltimore, 15 November 2000 (OH 0392); Spinak 2001 interview.

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Discovery and Recovery:By The Numbers

Posted on January 12th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes to us from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker.


For this month’s Performance Counts, it seemed like a good time to take a closer look at our current exhibit, Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.

Performance Counts is all about looking at numbers and data, so I’ll start with the most important number for you to remember about this exhibit: 3. That’s the number of days (including today) you have left to see this important exhibition while it’s at JMM. Monday will be the last day the public will be able to tour the exhibit while it’s here, since National Archives staff will be joining us on Tuesday, to start the de-installation.

Here are some other important numbers and metrics of interest regarding this exhibition:

Exhibition Content

Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage details the dramatic recovery of historic materials relating to the Jewish community in Iraq from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, and the National Archives’ ongoing work in support of U.S. Government efforts to preserve these materials–over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents.

In both English and Arabic, the 2,000 square foot exhibit features 23 recovered items and one “behind the scenes” video of the fascinating yet painstaking preservation process. This exhibit was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, with generous support from the U.S. Department of State.

Exhibition Metrics

Since it’s been with us, more than 3,200 visitors have come to JMM to see it. This includes more than 500 students from 18 distinct school visits, including public, independent and religious schools.

While the exhibit has been in our gallery, we’ve been open to the public 62 days (with 2 left after today), and have hosted 10 public programs related to the exhibit (with one more to come this Sunday), and two that didn’t directly relate to the exhibit, but whose participants still had a chance to see it!

While the exhibit has been in our gallery, we’ve been open to the public 62 days (with 2 left after today), and have hosted 10 public programs related to the exhibit (with one more to come this Sunday), and two that didn’t directly relate to the exhibit, but whose participants still had a chance to see it!

Exhibition Logistics

JMM is the eighth venue for this important exhibit, and its installation was made possible here through the generous support of eight donors, including 2 individuals and 6 foundations or philanthropic funds.

The Herbert Bearman Foundation (Lead Sponsor)

Alfred Moses

The David B. Liebman Philanthropic Fund

The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education

Middendorf Foundation

John J. Leidy Foundation

Lois and Philip Macht Family Philanthropic Fund

Lowell Glazer

If you miss it here, your next option is to grab a flight to Atlanta ($163) and see it at the Breman Museum ($12)*.  So save some money and take advantage of these last two days.

~Tracie

*If you’re a JMM premium member, you get FREE reciprocal admission to the Breman Museum – and 11 more Jewish museums around the country! Consider upgrading your membership today.

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Volunteer Spotlight on: Ted Cornblatt!

Posted on January 11th, 2018 by

Post by Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis. Periodically we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443-873-5162! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

Ted Cornblatt is one of JMM’s newest volunteers and a semi-retired attorney who specializes in litigation, primary workman’s comp.  When he cut back on his work schedule, he was looking for something meaningful to do.  Since he loves history, and especially Jewish history, volunteering at the Jewish Museum of Maryland was a natural fit.

Ted Cornblatt

Fortunately for us, Ted has been a docent for our historic synagogues since September 2017.  He feels great about his volunteer experience at JMM, finding it exciting to see the way people love going through the synagogues and the “wow” aspect.  And he enjoys meeting people from such diverse regions such as Argentina and Singapore to Gaithersburg, Columbia, and Baltimore.  The times when he is waiting for a tour to start, Ted says it is nice to sit in the museum library and look through the books that peak his curiosity.

Ted is married and proud of his 8 grandchildren, ranging in age from 6 months to 28 years old.  We are so glad that Ted has joined the JMM volunteer family!

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