Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1980s

Posted on March 1st, 2017 by

Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

The Baltimore Jewish community has produced many leaders who have worked to make the world a better place. The range of issues they have addressed is impressive: from women’s suffrage to civil rights, labor relations to helping the elderly, refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more.

This chronology traces the careers of ten Baltimoreans who stood up for social change, with each person’s entry revolving around a turning point—one for each decade of the twentieth century. This is by no means a “Ten Best” list. The people included here are remarkable for what they accomplished, but others, equally remarkable, could have been chosen as well. These profiles should be seen as representative of a larger group of Baltimore Jews who have made major contributions to their communities and to the broader society in myriad ways.

The 1980s: Ruth Wolf Rehfeld

Click here to start from the beginning.

1989: Ruth Wolf Rehfeld (1927-2003) becomes the executive director of BLEWS, the Black-Jewish Forum of Baltimore. Her new job is the logical extension of a long career as an activist.

Ruth Wolf Rehfeld, c. 2000. Courtesy of Carla Wolf Rosenthal.

Ruth Wolf Rehfeld, c. 2000. Courtesy of Carla Wolf Rosenthal.

Arriving in Baltimore as a refugee from Nazism in 1939, Rehfeld graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Goucher College in 1951. She joined the staff of Americans for Democratic Action in the 1950s and served as education director of the Citizens’ Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) in the 1960s. As a community organizer and then executive director of the Northwest Baltimore Corporation in the 1970s, she immersed herself in neighborhood issues, becoming an expert on the zoning code. She also gained experience bringing together blacks and Jews—the dominant population groups in northwest Baltimore—to work on neighborhood revitalization.  She went on to work at the Associated before heading up BLEWS. After her stint as director, she became an active board member of the organization, whose mission is to strengthen the relationship between Baltimore’s African American and Jewish communities.

Rehfeld participates in a radio program with police and community members, during her stint as education director at the Citizen's Planning and Housing Association in the 1960s. Courtesy of Carla Wolf Rosenthal.

Rehfeld participates in a radio program with police and community members, during her stint as education director at the Citizen’s Planning and Housing Association in the 1960s. Courtesy of Carla Wolf Rosenthal.

A longtime resident of Mount Vernon, Rehfeld was “one of the downtown neighborhood’s strongest advocates,” according to the Baltimore Sun. A fellow resident called her “the backbone of the Mount Vernon community.” After her death, CPHA director Al Barry offered an apt appraisal of her career: “She was a formidable community activist who saw neighborhood revitalization as the backbone of the city.”

Continue to The 1990s: Rabbi Mark Loeb

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Once Upon a Time…11.04.2011

Posted on June 12th, 2012 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. Click here to see the most recent photo on their website. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contactJobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  November 4, 2011

PastPerfect Accession #:  2010.016.003

Status:  Identified! State Senator Joan Carter Conway at a BLEWS event.

Special Thanks To:  Judy Baylin

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MS 189 The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore (BLEWS) Archive

Posted on March 31st, 2011 by

Over the past few years the Jewish Museum of Maryland has been lucky enough to receive several donations from local institutions.  While many of these organizations are still very active (like the Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore) they either don't have the space to continue to keep their old files, or they realize that they don't need to have daily access to records from twenty, thirty, or even fifty years ago.  When the files come into the JMM they become part of the historic collections — preserved for future generations.  The following collection came in a little over a year ago.  With the help of Jobi Zink (collections manager extraordinaire) and one of our fall interns, I drove over to Coppin State University with a stack of boxes to bring some of their older files here to the JMM.

Filing cabinets at the BLEWS office Files before they entered the JMM archives

BLEWS files in the JMM archive

One of the most exciting things for me about this collection is the fact that the JMM and BLEWS worked together before the archives even came to us.

A group of students participating in the BLEWS archival exploration at the JMM. November 2006

The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore (BLEWS) Archive

1981-2002 (Bulk 1981-1992)

 MS 189

Jewish Museum of Maryland



The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore (BLEWS) Collection was donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 2010 as accession 2010.16 by Bernie Berkowitz. The collection was processed by Jennifer Vess with Bernie Raynor and Allan Blumberg in 2010.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.  Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual procedures.


The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore (generally referred to as BLEWS) was founded in 1978.  The organization was created to promote understanding and cooperation between Baltimore’s Black and Jewish Community.  BLEWS encourages both communities to work together to address issues of racism and religious discrimination and to promote social and economic justice.  BLEWS has been involved in issues at a local and a global level.  BLEWS has sponsored lectures, events, trips abroad, educational programs and collaborative projects.  Their purpose as stated in their own words is: “Through educational programs, peer dialogue and collaborative projects, we seek to build mutual trust, to advance shared interests, to appreciate each other's uniqueness and perspectives, to enjoy our cultural diversity along with our common humanity, and to develop leadership that can effectively prevent crisis or deal with crises when necessary.”

Between 1978 and 1988 the Baltimore Jewish Council provided the staff and space for BLEWS.  The BLEWS presidents during that time were: Allen Schwait, Kenneth Montague, Stuart Rome, John Ferron, Rabbi Donald Berlin, Dr. Calvin Burnett, and Rabbi Murray Saltzman. The organization was incorporated in 1988 and in 1989 the first director was hired and the office moved to Coppin State College (now Coppin State University.)  BLEWS continues to function today.

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“Correspondence – History-Budget-Planning-Campus Outreach, 1989-1990”


The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore (BLEWS) Archive consists of the administrative files of the organization for approximately its first twenty years.  The administrative files consist of awards, correspondence, speeches, financial materials, announcements, lists and rosters, invitations, meeting minutes, etc.  The original filing system was erratic (mostly by chronology but not consistently so and partially by topic) and seems to have reflected the varied organization styles of multiple individuals.  The files have been reorganized into thirteen series:  Series I. Awards, 1985-1991; Series II. Committees, 1981-1994; Series III. Correspondence, 1986-1998; Series IV. Financial, 1987-1998; Series V. Meetings, 1985-2002; Series VI. Membership 1985-1991; Series VII. Publicity, 1990s; Series VIII. Operation Understanding, 1989-1993; Series IX. Other Organizations, 1989-1993; Series X. Outreach, 1989-1993; Series XI. Special Events, 1990-1992; Series XII. General; Series XIII. Photographs.  The multiple organization styles also affected the materials within folders.  Some information can be found in multiple series, for example information on committees sometimes appears in folders labeled membership.

Series I. Awards, 1985-1991 contains files related to the Stuart Rome Memorial Award presented by BLEWS to individuals in the community and the Shroder Award presented to BLEWS by the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Series II. Committees, 1981-1994 includes the files of various BLEWS committees: Executive, Issues, Membership, Nominating, Program and Search.  The Files are organized alphabetically by committee.

Series III. Correspondence, 1986-1998 contains files of general correspondence and memos, and the correspondence of Sol Goldstein (former director of BLEWS) arranged chronologically.

Series IV. Financial, 1987-1998 includes bills, accounts, summaries, statements, fundraising documents, foundation and grant files, and information on major donors.  The files are organized alphabetically.

Series V. Meetings, 1985-2002 contains materials related to the annual and general meetings of BLEWS including meeting announcements and agendas, reports, speakers notes, programs, attendee lists, invitations, etc.  The files are separated into annual and general meetings and further organized chronologically.

Series VI. Membership 1985-1991 includes member lists, press releases, meeting announcements, membership applications, and some correspondence.

Series VII. Publicity, 1990s contains press releases, press accounts, press statements, letters to the editor, etc.

Series VIII. Operation Understanding, 1989-1993 is an organization that started in Philadelphia in 1985 and expanded to other cities with the purpose of creating African American and Jewish leaders knowledgeable about each other’s history and culture.  The BLEWS files pertaining to Operation Understanding include mostly financial records as well as materials related to the Dinner and Dialogue program that was part of the project in Baltimore.

Series IX. Other Organizations, 1989-1993 contains files compiled by BLEWS staff related to other organizations, probably ones with which they worked.  The files are organized alphabetically by the name of the organization.

Series X. Outreach, 1989-1993 contains files related to the BLEWS campus outreach programs.  The files are arranged chronologically.

Series XI. Special Events, 1990-1992 includes clippings, correspondence, announcements, invitations etc., related to special events put on by BLEWS in particular their gala cruise on the Baltimore Harbor.  The files are organized chronologically.

Series XII. General are miscellaneous files in alphabetical order – files include topics related to speeches, activities, universities, etc.


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