Performing Community Part 2

Posted on March 29th, 2018 by

Article by Avi Y. Decter, former JMM executive director, with Erin L. Titter, former JMM archivist. Originally published in Generations – 2003: Entertaining Maryland. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Part II: A Long History

Missed the beginning? Start here.

Community performances have a long history in Baltimore, both within the Jewish community and beyond. Documentation of these performances is, however, relatively thin. In the Jewish contact, we know of programs, events, and presentations dating back to at least the late 19th century, but photographic evidence discovered so far carries the story only from the 1910s to the present.

“Biblical Pageant” – Sculptor Ephraim Keyser seated center, wearing a fez. JMM 1995.77.3

One of the earliest photos we have depicts a “Biblical Pageant” at the Maryland Institute around 1913, presumably a program organized by sculptor Ephraim Keyser, then a faculty member at the Institute. But the precise occasion, content, and audience remain obscure.

Members of the Clinton Club, including Shackman Katz, Bertram Oppenheim, Harold Miller, and Emil Rosenthal, c. 1921. JMM 1988.79.19

Jewish social clubs, such as the Clinton Club, organized by middle-class young men and women of German Jewish descent, are known to have produced a variety of entertainments including a burlesque on The   Merchant of Venice. Lester Levy reports in an unpublished memoir that during the 1920s the Junior Assembly, an offshoot of the venerable Harmony Club, created a playlet on Mah Jongg, which at the time was enjoying a craze throughout the country. In this show, Reuben Oppenheimer wrote the lyrics to a number titled “The Only Possible Place”: “You go out to dine and you’re feeling fine/ your tux’s a perfect fit. You meet a friend and you gallantly bend/ and you feel a terrible split/ A rip, rip, rip, a devastating rip/ You’re in an awful case. As you grab for a char, you can feel the cold air/ In the only possible place!” This kind of self-spoofing, like nicknames, simultaneously amuses and reinforces group identity.[1]

Hanukkah play featuring students at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 1972. JMM 1992.108.53

Inadvertent entertainment is a frequent by-product of a common form of community performance – the school play, which parents and grandparents typically attend with mixed feelings of anticipation and dread. School plays, like other community performances, run the gamut. Some are staged by students, others by teachers, parents, and other amateur volunteers, and still others by professional performers. Plays in Hebrew and those on traditional Jewish themes like the Purim story are usually direct (and often didactic) in delivering their moral messages about the virtues of being Jewish and leading a committed Jewish life. For many years, The Associated Players presented a puppet show for children about “the squirrel who would not share.” The theme of philanthropic giving was pronounced and obvious.[2]

HIAS Purim party at Baltimore Hebrew University, 1992, with Rosalie Hollner as Queen Esther. JMM 1995.114.121

Children performing in a Hebrew play at the Jewish Community Center, 305 W. Monument Street, n.d, JMM 1995.98.40

Other kinds of performance assert the importance and persistence of Jewish identity within pluralist, polyglot America. In the Bicentennial year 1976, for instance, the Jewish community was invited to present the essentials of “Jewish American” life at a festival staged at the Inner Harbor. The vehicle chosen for dramatizing the vitality of Maryland Jewish life was “Café Tel Aviv,” where performances of Israeli song and dance celebrated a primary theme of Jewish history and tradition – Zion as the Jewish homeland. In an earlier generation, performances in Yiddish by groups like the Yiddish Folk Theater served a similar function, maintaining continuity with Jewish culture in Europe.

Israeli folksingers at Café Tel Aviv, Jewish American Festival, Baltimore, 1976. JMM 1992.205.56

Within the Jewish community, particular organizations promote the interests of sub-groups, communities within the community, as it were. Congregations, for instance, promote their special position and group solidarity through various kinds of performance. Chizuk Amuno Congregation, long a leading Conservative synagogue in Baltimore, has sponsored numerous performances over the years. Beginning in 1931, the Chizuk Amuno Brotherhood presented an annual play at the Maryland Theatre. Most productions were community theater at its purest, with scripts by local amateurs. The 1933 production, in contract, featured a Broadway hit from 1930 (Mendel, Inc.), written by David Freedman, a writer for noted comedian Eddie Cantor.

Murray Slatkin and Selma Berkow are shown in an episode of the “Eutaw Place Scandals,” a musical revue written by Fred Katzner, which will be presented at the Maryland Theatre by members of Chizuk Amuno congregation, March 1935. JMM 1984.12.5

In 1971, on the occasion of the congregation’s 101st annual meeting, “The Chizuk Amuno Theatre” presented The Building Bug, a farce in one act. In this spoof of the congregation’s long history of dedicating a new synagogue every generation (1876, 1895, 1922, and 1958), Chizuk Amuno celebrated its own vitality and growth. One of several musical numbers went like this:

Contractor, contractor,

Build us a Shule

A Chapel that’s cool

A hip swimming pool

We want Beth Tfiloh and Beth El to drool

So build us a perfect shule![3] 

On another occasion, Chizuk Amuno feted its long-time cantor, Adolph (Abba) Weisgal. A cast of middle-aged men who had studied for their Bar Mitzvah ceremonies with the cantor performed in a musical revue, replete with canes and lapel buttons announcing them as “Adolph’s Boys.” Entertainments such as these mobilized the congregation while boosting morale.

Continue to Part III: Popular Entertainment

 

[1] JMM MS 77 Lester Levy Family Papers, Lester Levy’s Memoirs, n.d., Box 6, Folder 213.

[2] Telephone interview with Carole Sibel, August 13, 2002.

[3] Lyrics for The Building Bug were based on the book by Stanley I. Minch and written by Ronald Israel, Stanley I. Minch, Jerry Cohen, and Gwen Cohen. Courtesy of the Chizuk Amuno Congregational Archives and Congregational Archivist Jan Schein.

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A Day in the Life of a JMM Docent

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by

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.

Harvey leads a tour outside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

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.

Describing the matzoh oven in Lloyd Street Synagogue.

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 Kram, nee 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 father (Rabbi Israel Miller),  had grown up here before going to live in New York.  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.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1962, shortly after the Jewish Historical Society acquired it from the Shomrei Mishmeres Congregation. IA 1.0005

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?

We even have a picture of Tobias Miller signing the deed of the LSS over to the Jewish Historical Society. IA 1.0944

Ms. Miller and I parted ways, but this is one tour that I will remember for a long, long time.

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MS 26 Chizuk Amuno Congregation Collections

Posted on September 20th, 2012 by

The JMM is very lucky to have collections of various sizes related to all four of the Jewish congregations that used the two historic synagogues that make up our museum – Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Shomrei Mishmeres, Chizuk Amuno, and B’nai Israel.  This finding aid for Chizuk Amuno will be the first of the four that I post.  Chizuk Amuno has its own museum, The Goldsmith Museum of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.  You can visit their website to learn more about the museum and read the curator's blog.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation Collection

1876-1969

MS 26

Now B'nai Israel, this building on Lloyd Street was the first synagogue constructed by Chizuk Amuno congregation in 1876. 1987.137.24

ACCESS AND PROVENANCE

The Chizuk Amuno Congregation Collection is comprised of two accessions.  Chizuk Amuno congregation donated materials as accession 1985.064.  The rest of the materials were found in the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 2004 and assigned the accession number 2004.068.  The collection was processed by Erin Titter in 2004.

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.

HISTORICAL NOTE

Congregation Chizuk Amuno was founded in 1871, when a group of congregants broke away from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation due to a dispute over rituals of orthodoxy.  Originally focused on Orthodoxy, the congregation eventually became influential in the Conservative movement and helping to establish the Jewish Theological Seminary and the United Synagogue of America.

The congregation built their first synagogue in 1876 on the corner of Lloyd and Lombard Streets.  Chizuk Amuno’s first rabbi was Rev. Henry W. Schneeberger, the first American-born ordained rabbi, who remained with the congregation for forty years.  In 1886 the women of the congregation founded the Ladies’ Chizuk Amuno Auxiliary Association of Baltimore City to help advance the welfare of the congregation.  That same year Rev. Schneeberger and Aaron Friedenwald were invited toNew Yorkto help establish the Jewish Theological Seminary.  In 1895 the congregation moved to a new building at Mosher and McCulloh Streets after selling theirLloyd Streetbuilding to B’Nai Israel Congregation.

Following Rev. Schneeberger’s death, Chizuk Amuno hired Rabbi Adolph Coblenz in 1920 and he served the congregation until 1948.  The congregation moved once again in 1922, this time to Eutaw place and shortly after that the Ladies’ Auxiliary changed its name to the Chizuk Amuno Sisterhood.  Over the next several years various other groups emerged including: a Junior Congregation, a Young People’s League, and the Chizuk Amuno Brotherhood.

In the late 1920’s the congregation began to introduce new reforms to the procedures of worship, including more prayers in English, and introducing a confirmation service for girls.  The congregation also debated the issue of mixed seating during Rabbi Coblenz’s tenure, finally voting in favor of family pews in 1947.  The decision upset many of the congregants and drew condemnation from the Va’ad Harabonim (Council of Orthodox Rabbis).  In 1948 the board of Chizuk Amuno unanimously decided to change the congregation’s designation from Orthodox to Conservative.

The second (McCulloh and Mosher streets) and third (Eutaw Place and Chauncy Street) locations of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. 1987.137.63 and 1987.137.66

Chizuk Amuno hired Rabbi Israel Goldman in 1948 (in response to Rabbi Coblenz’s ailing health) and he continued as their spiritual leader until 1976.  Rabbi Goldman established the congregation’s first Adult Jewish Institute, Layman’s Weekend Retreat and Interfaith Services.  He also introduced a Bat Mitzvah service in the early 1950s, which allowed girls a more active role in the synagogue, a practice that had been introduced by the Reconstructionist movement in the 1920s, but had not been widely accepted by the Conservative movement.  In 1971 Rabbi Goldman proposed two items to the board regarding the involvement of women in service – to allow women to sit on the bimah on Friday night, and to allow women to be called to the Torah on Simchat Torah morning.  The board passed both proposals.

In 1958 Chizuk Amuno organized a branch of the United Synagogue Youth (USY), and throughout the 1960s and 1970s the congregation remained active in social issues such as civil rights, raising bond money forIsrael, discussions about feminism, and other social actions.

Hymen Saye, Dr. Leonard Wallenstein, and Harold Hammer laying the cornerstone at Chizuk Amuno, 1957. Courtesy of Hymen Saye. 1991.7.2

Due to financial difficulties, the Chizuk Amuno Congregation sold the building atEutaw Placein 1975.  Following Rabbi Goldman’s retirement in 1976, Chizuk Amuno hired Rabbi Maurice Corson.  The next year, the members of the congregation approved a measure that would allow women full ritual equality in services.  And in 1979, when Rabbi Corson’s contract was up, the congregation hired Rabbi Eliot Marrus for a period of ten months, upon which time the congregation hired Rabbi Joel Zaiman.  Rabbi Zaiman established a Solomon Schechter Day School in Baltimore, today called Krieger Schecter Day School (KSDS).

The Ritual Committee continued to petition for other changes to services. In 1992, the congregation adopted the triennial cycle of reading the Torah, and in 1995 introduced an alternative minyan completely run by laymen – both adults and children.  In 2004, after Rabbi Zaiman’s retirement, the congregation hired Rabbi Ronald Shulman.

Sweatshirt given by Sandee Lever to kids that attended camp. c. 1980s. Courtesy of Barry and Sandee Lever. 2002.111.1

SCOPE AND CONTENT
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 The Chizuk Amuno Congregation Collection consists of constitutions for the congregation and Ladies Auxiliary, pew documents, legal documents, correspondence and meeting minutes.  Meeting minutes from 1959 through 1969 make up the bulk of the collection.  The collection is organized chronologically with undated materials at the front.

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