Posted on February 23rd, 2018 by

Here’s a little Friday Flashback from the Archives that Lorie brought to my attention!

March 7, 1923

Devotees Of The Dance Who Have Passed 100 Mark

Invited To Event At Hebrew Home For Aged:

Youths 80 And Over To Make Debut.

Every active disciple of Terpsichore who is 100 years old or more is cordially invited to attend the centenarians’ Ball to be given at the Hebrew Home for Aged March 1, the beginning of Passover. The list of eligibles is limited strictly to devotees of the waltz, quadrille, polka, tango, turkey trot, pigeon-wing cutting or other popular expressions of the poetry of motion, who have reached their tenth decade.

Rush of Eager Applicants

Already Dr. and Mrs. Sigmund Friedler, joint superintendents of the Home, at 2102 East Baltimore street, have organized themselves into a floor committee and received the eager applications of the following eligible, who are inmates of the institution:

Mrs. Chaye Norowitz, 110 years old, born in Poland, “and,” smiled Dr. Friedler, “still going strong.” (“A lot of young people would like to have her appetite,” parenthetically interjected Mrs. Friedler, handing a cup of broth to Mrs. Norowitz.)

Mrs. Rosa Kessan, 100 years old, “who asked my husband on her birthday just a few days ago,” confided Mrs. Friedler,  “to write a letter to God, thanking Him for her continued good health.”

Abraham Cauff, 101 years old, a former Talmudist, who daily reads the Old Testament without glasses – never wore ‘em at all, in point of fact, as he so informs a questioner – and proudly lifts a head that would enrapture a painter of patriarchs.

Isaac Goldman, 101 years old, blind, but as merry as a youth, singing and dancing with the best and most agile of them, with a special preference for Indian dances.

Abraham Cohen, 101 years old; paralyzed to be sure, but insistent upon being present at the Centenarians’ Ball, calling off the figures and in other ways taking a far from passive part.

Mr. and Mrs. Chaye Ezersky, respectively 107 and 105 years old, of 800 North Carey street, have applied for admittance to the home; “and they surely will be here in time for…”

“…the ball,” assured Dr. Friedler, warmly.

“Youngsters” Not Neglected.

This, undoubtedly the most extraordinary ball ever held in Baltimore, will be given in the especially decorated main assembly room of the Home and will open with a “Centenarian Waltz” of such dreamy, yet inspiring measures that the waltzers are expected to perform some amazing feats in Terpsichorean grace and sustained agility.

Of course, there are some younger people in the Home who will not be neglected and for whim dancing will be provided at the conclusion of the ball proper. There are at least a dozen “youths” within their adolescent nineties, to say mothering of Joseph Levi, “a bright kid of 80,” according to the good-humored teasing of the older “boys;” and almost as [???] maidens and matrons who also have reached no further than the 80th milestone in the journey [???]. For these will be given a sort of “Debutante dance.”

You’d be surprised to know how mentally clear our centenarians are.” Proudly declared Dr. Friedler. “Take Mrs. Norowitz, our oldest inmate, for instance. She was married at the age of 14 years and has great-great-great-great grandchildren. Mrs. Norowitz says she has never taken medicine when ill, not even when she had double pneumonia, with a temperature of 104, several years ago. She has an amazing appetite; arises at 6 A.M. every day for tea and cakes, and has a full quart of coffee, two scrambled eggs and lots of bread.

One Of First Jews Here.

“Then, there is Abraham Cauff, the Talmudist, who says that when he came to Baltimore there were less than 15 Jews in the city. He thinks there will be found in the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen some books which belonged to Moses, abandoned when he fled from Pharaoh’s palace and which will readily disprove the assertions made by some scientists that Moses never led the Children of Israel from Egypt through the Red Sea in which the pursuing Egyptian forces were drowned. He has read much about the discoveries in Tut-Ankh-Amen’s tomb and pronounces the repudiation of Moses’ flight from Egypt all rot.

“Mrs. Rosa Kessan, 100 years old, things the girls of today will be short-lived, because of their general subscription to pills, paints, powder and sweets.”

The building and ground for the Hebrew Home for Aged Incurables, pictured here, were donated by Jacob Epstein in the memory of his parents, Isaac and Jenny Epstein in 1919. JMM Vertical Files.

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The Dancing Schools of Baltimore’s Jewish Society Part 3

Posted on February 19th, 2018 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Gil Sandler. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Sidebar: Learning to Dance
Missed the beginning? Start here.

In his eighties, Baltimore’s Lester Levy reminisced about his life and times. The following excerpts describe his first efforts at dancing school.

I doubt if any of you ever went to a mixed dancing school. [My sister] Selma and I did, where the general form of instruction was grounded in so-called “ball-room dancing.” Our first class was on the second floor of a building in the vicinity of Maryland Avenue and Biddle Street. It was known as Heptasoph’s Hall and run by a Mr. Ball.

The class – the average age of whom was seven or eight – met once a week in the afternoons. I remember one detail and Selma reminds me of another: (1) the clumsiest child at school was a fat little boy named Reuben Oppenheimer [who married Selma in 1922]; and (2) I was elected to dance a “sailor’s hornpipe” before the pupils and their parents…

It was during the winter [of 1911-12] that we became part of Mr. Tuttle’s dancing class. Among other things, we had a dancing class to which some two- or three-dozen boys and girls belonged, and we would go out with different girls or boys each week to the class. There was no such thing as keeping steady company. At fifteen, I was beginning to feel that I was growing up…boys were more important to me than girls, for that was my shyest period, and even at dancing school I hardly wanted to hold a girl’s hand.”

Lester clearly got over his shyness. After securing a spot on Eleanor’s dance card, they went on to a happy and long marriage. JMM 2002.79.352


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The Dancing Schools of Baltimore’s Jewish Society Part 1

Posted on February 5th, 2018 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Gil Sandler. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

 Part I: Learning the Foxtrot

“Boys and girls, we will now learn the foxtrot. Put your left foot out … take your right foot and put it alongside your left …”

It is Saturday afternoon in 1942; we are on the second floor of 6 West Eager Street, north side, just west of Charles Street. The site is now a parking lot – directly across from what today is the Hippo Club. About 20 well-scrubbed and well-dressed young people are standing in a circle gathered around the speaker, and listening in rapt attention; a record is playing Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” The speaker, who is in fact the instructor, is Aileen Straus, and together with her partner Bea Goodhart, they are teaching social dancing to the children of the families who make up Baltimore’s Jewish patrician class and those that aspire to belong to it. In this pre-fifties era, some mastery of social dancing is thought to be a requirement for those young people who expect to take their place in the Jewish social circle prescribed for them by their parents.

Bennard Perlman, at age 13 in 1942, is one of the boys in the circle, and he is trying his very best to follow Ms. Straus’s instructions – without too much success. “I had to think a lot about what I was doing,” he recalls. “Here I was, an accelerated honor student in School #49, and I am having trouble learning how to put one foot in front of the other in time to ‘Moonlight Serenade.’ I attended dance class from the time I was 12 until I was 14 – when I was a freshman at City College. We first learned the fox trot, then the waltz, and so help me, jitterbugging. As we progressed, we moved from Saturday afternoon to Friday night, then, for those of us who had hung in, Saturday night – the big night!”

“In order to get all of the guys and all of the girls involved – so that nobody would be a wallflower – our teachers created the ‘shoe dance.” Each of the girls was asked to take off one shoe and place it in the center of the floor. The guys were then asked to pick up one of the shoes and then go find its mate – on one of the girls. When you found your shoe’s mate, you found your next dance!”

“In my class were, among others, Jill ROten Myers, Liz Kohn Moser, Ellen Levi Zamoiski, Jane White Markle, Dona Coplin, Midge Kaufman, David Blum and Margie Blum Jaffe, Eugene Schreiber, Bobby Rappaport, Disney Offit, Richard Millhaiser, and Babs Grinsfelder.”

Walter Sondheim’s may be the oldest memory of Baltimore’s Jewish dancing classes. “It was called ‘Mr. Tuttle’s,” he recalls. “And in the years I went there, from about 1918 to 1920, it was located on the south side of North Avenue, just east of Charles Street, on the second floor. All of the kids in the class were from Park School. What I remember most is that we were taught the proper way to bow to the girls, on being introduced. I seem to remember a rhythm – one, two, three, four, slide…something like that. I think we all were sent to dancing school because our parents in that social circle thought it was the right thing to do. Given their aspirations for us, I guess it was.”

“Dancing school” for the teen children of Jewish Baltimore’s patrician class, and those aspiring to becoming members of it, traces its origins to Baltimore’s German Jewish community of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when that population unapologetically embraced the structure of the across-town Protestant society. Barred from joining it, they simply imitated.

Detail from an 1866 color lithograoh depicting “The Masquerade Ball of the Harmony Circle.” Gift of Mrs. Albert N. Bacharach, JMM 1990.44.1.

Detail from an 1866 color lithograoh depicting “The Masquerade Ball of the Harmony Circle.” Gift of Mrs. Albert N. Bacharach, JMM 1990.44.1.

The first dancing school for the children of Baltimore’s wealthy German Jews was founded in 1860. In October of that year, the school held its first dance for the children and their parents in Old Oak Hall on East Baltimore, and a tradition was born. Beginning with this first ball, the group adopted the name “Harmony Circle.” The ball, which became an annual event and the highlight of Jewish society’s social season, was an attempt to borrow from the cachet of the “Harmonie Club” in New York, which, beginning in the 1850s and at least for another century, was the most prestigious of the Herman Jewish New York social clubs.

Baltimore’s Harmony Circle would become not only a showcase for the dancing school students, but also for its debutante ball, where the daughters of the member families would “come out” and be introduced to the sons of the members. The founding officers of Baltimore’s Harmony Circle were Louis Hecht, Charles Brownold, Nathan Hirshberg, Charles G. Hutzler, and Bernard Behrens.

A grand dame of the patrician Jewish world, Mrs. Stanford (Marie) Rothschild, writing in a 1969 memoir, explained why she thought the German Jews of that time started their own dancing school and debutante balls: “When the old Baltimore German Jewish families had gained status, they thought it time to have formal status socially. Not being eligible for the Protestants’ Junior Assembly, they decided to have a similar set for what they thought were important Jewish families.” Although the Jewish debutante “coming out” parties were abandoned in the late 1930s as the German Jewish community refocused its attentions on the developing tragedy of German Jewry, the descendants of that founding generation stayed together, holding on to their inherited status as the “in crowd,” and perpetuating the customs and the ethos by which they wished to be defined.

These descendants of the founders became, loosely, a country within a country; its neighborhoods were Mr. Washington, Upper Park Heights, Eutaw Place, and Lake Drive; the doyennes ruled from the Esplanade and Emersonian apartments; its clubs, the Suburban and the Phoenix; its school, the Park School; its summer camps included Tapawingo and Trippe Lake for girls, Wigwam and Kennebec for boys; its fraternity, Pi Tau PI; its sorority, Sigma Omega Pi. The 13-year-old children, raised within the insular society and now being gently shepherded into the dancing schools, were well-choreographed to move gracefully along a velvet continuum – from cradle to a marriage to “one of us.”

Continue to Part II: Not Always Genteel

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