Chronology: Maryland and Israel Part 1, 1830 to 1900

Posted on August 23rd, 2017 by

Compiled by Avi Y. Decter and Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

The term “Zionism” was coined only in 1890, but for 2,000 years Jews throughout the world have yearned for a return to their ancient home in the Land of Israel. Prayers and rituals refer to Israel’s winds, dew, and rain, the fertility of its soil, and the beauty of its produce. The longing for return and redemption has helped to sustain the Jewish people. In the modern era, longing was transformed into an international movement to rebuild a Jewish homeland in Israel as a refuge and as a center for Jewish renewal.

In this movement, Maryland has played an important role. This timeline, based on research conducted by Barry Kessler for the Museum’s Bridges to Zion exhibition in 1998, calls out some of the many events and people who have participated in the Zionist project from the early nineteenth century to the present day.


Letter from Mendes Cohen to his mother, March 19, 1832. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Letter from Mendes Cohen to his mother Judith, from Jerusalem, March 19, 1832. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Baltimorean Mendes I. Cohen is one of the first American citizens to visit Palestine as part of his six-year tour of Europe and the Middle East. His descriptions of life there, depicted in letters to his mothers and brothers, offer a rare glimpse of Palestine’s Jewish community through the eyes of an American Jew.



Jehiel Cohen (in 1847) and Aaron Selig (in 1849) visit Baltimore, appealing for Maryland Jews to aid the poor, the infirm, the elderly, and the scholars of Israel. Messengers and letters from orphanages, academies, and other institutions serving the Jews of Palestine represent a tradition of charity that dates back to ancient times, founded on the belief that Jews in the Land of Israel contribute to the spiritual salvation of the Jewish people by their study of holy texts and their presence in the holy cities.


Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), a prominent English philanthropist and Jewish communal leader, donates a Torah to Congregation Shearith Israel in recognition of the Congregation’s support for the Jewish residents of Palestine. In 1879, Montefiore gives a second Torah to Congregation Chizuk Amuno.


Young, intellectual Russian Jewish immigrants form the Isaac Bar Levinsohn Hebrew Literary Society to foster cultural activity among Baltimore’s East European Jewish immigrants. With the support of Rabbi Benjamin Szold and his daughter Henrietta (1860-1945), the Society promotes a variety of cultural and educational activities and serves as an early forum for the discussion of Zionist ideas. The following year, under the leadership of its president, Solomon Baroway, the Society opens the Russian Night School in East Baltimore, one of the nation’s first night schools for immigrants. Henrietta Szold serves as superintendent.


“The very learned, although very young” Rabbi Simon Isaac Halevi Finkelstein founds a branch of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion), Baltimore’s first Zionist organization. In its first year, the organization raises $234.58, of which $48.76 is sent to Palestine, the rest being used for Zionist propaganda in Baltimore. By 1899, a branch emerges in Hagerstown, as well.



Cyrus Adler at Oxford, 1898.  Courtesy of the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler Collection.

Cyrus Adler at Oxford, 1898. Courtesy of the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler Collection.

Cyrus Adler, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Semitics Department, visits Palestine. On his return, he delivers a lecture, illustrated by stereopticon views, that enables Baltimore Jews to “see” the Holy Land, bringing Palestine close to home.

Also, Zev (Wolf) Schur publishes his Hebrew-language periodical, Ha-Pisgah, in which he espouses a strongly Zionist view as an antidote to Reform and assimilation. Schur continues to publish in Baltimore into 1892 and thereafter in Chicago.


Shavei Zion [Returnees to Zion], an organization that promotes emigration to Palestine, holds a public meeting on 26 May, which is attended by more than 1,000 people. However, calls to return to Zion are undercut by the hardships of pioneer life in Palestine and the opportunities of America.


Hevrat Zion (Zion Association) is founded at the Russian Night School with the ideal of rebuilding Palestine. The Association accepts members without regard to their “individual religious and social views.” The Association publishes Dr. Aaron Friedenwald’s lecture on “Lovers of Zion.” The next year, the Association brings to America the famous orator Zvi Hirsh Masliansky (1856-1943), who electrifies audiences with Zionist rhetoric.



Black and white carte-de-visite of Henrietta Szold when she became editor of the Jewish Publication Society, Nov. 1893.

Black and white carte-de-visite of Henrietta Szold when she became editor of the Jewish Publication Society, Nov. 1893.

Henrietta Szold publishes “A Century of Jewish Thought,” advocating the revival of the Hebrew language and a return to the Land of Israel as remedies for a divided and de-natured Judaism.



Rabbi Dr. Schepsel Schaffer, (1862-1933), made from ”The Jews of Baltimore”, by Isidor Blum. JMM 1999.121.1

Rabbi Dr. Schepsel Schaffer, (1862-1933), made from ”The Jews of Baltimore”, by Isidor Blum. JMM 1999.121.1

Shearith Israel’s Rabbi Schepsel Schaffer (1862-1933) is one of two official American delegates to attend the first World Zionist Congress in Basel, where he represents Baltimore’s Zion Association. The other American delegate is Adam Rosenberg of New York City, who was born in Baltimore. By 1910, Rabbi Schaffer presides over the five-member Council of Baltimore Zion Associations.


Dr. Aaron Friedenwald (1836-1902), an eminent Baltimore ophthalmologist, travels to Palestine with his wife, Bertha. After his return, he speaks in New York and Philadelphia on the regeneration of the land and of the Jewish spirit, predicting that the “center for Jewish thought” in Palestine would “radiate an influence” that would overturn generations of degradation and prejudice.



The Federation of American Zionists holds its second national meeting in Baltimore. When the Federation was established in 1897, immediately after the first World Zionist Congress, Baltimore’s Zion Association and Ezrat Hovevei Zion were charter members. Among the 19 local delegates are Louis Levin, Solomon Baroway, Israel Fine, and Aaron Friedenwald.


Continue to Part II: Maryland and Israel, 1900 to 1950

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MedChi Releases Digital Versions of Pre-1900 Maryland Medical Journals

Posted on March 23rd, 2017 by

One of the great outcomes of our Beyond Chicken Soup exhibition was making friends and creating partnerships with institutions outside of the usual orbit of the JMM. Our friends at MedChi (the 218-year old Maryland State Medical Society headquartered in Baltimore) wrote to express support after our campus suffered some anti-Semitic graffiti over the weekend. We are grateful for their message.

Volume 1 of the Maryland Medical Journal

Volume 1 of the Maryland Medical Journal

And, by the way, they added the exciting news that their nineteenth-century volumes (65 of them, totaling some 40,000 pages!) of the Maryland Medical Journal have been digitized! Now anyone can explore these volumes at using simple (and advanced) keyword searches.

The Maryland Medical Journal debuted as a weekly publication in May, 1877. While sometimes technical, these pages can be entertaining for the non-medical browser. Descriptions of 19th century procedures, medical mysteries, For example, look for instructions on readying cobweb poultices for use: wash them, dry them in the sun, etc. They are a trove, not only for medical historians and other scholars, but also for genealogists. Have a physician ancestor in the family? Find out about their scientific interests, and also their activities in their professional society.

Check it out!

Check it out!

I checked out the name Friedenwald, of course. Dr. Harry and Dr. Aaron Friedenwald are found regularly among the volumes. In 1877, Aaron Friedenwald was elected one of the Society’s examiners for the Western Shore area of Maryland. Dr. Abram B. Arnold—Jewish doctor in Baltimore since 1849—was elected president of the Society, and also contributed a paper on Bright’s Disease (disease of the kidneys). Dr. S.W. Seldner, newly appointed consulting physician to Baltimore’s Hebrew Hospital, also contributed a paper, this time on a patient’s unusual (unfortunately fatal) case of progressive paralysis.

Take a look yourself, and let us know what you learn about your great-great grandfather the doctor (or the patient—they are sometimes named!) 19th century medical practice in Maryland.

karenA blog post by Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts from Karen click HERE. This post has also been published on the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America website.

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An Introduction to an Internship

Posted on June 25th, 2014 by

World War II electronics. Credit: National Electronics Museum.

World War II electronics. Credit: National Electronics Museum.

On June 2, 20214, I began my internship at the Jewish Museum of Baltimore with two days of orientation. On Friday of that week, we were invited to the annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon at the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, Maryland.  That visit brought back memories of my father who loved those spools of copper wire, radio/television tubes, radios and televisions. He wound spools of copper wire seemingly for fun. He would have loved that museum. Even I loved that museum. How electronics helped win the world wars.

Dr. Friedenwald’s  lecture

Dr. Friedenwald’s lecture, 1896

On Monday June 8, I began work on the Dr. Aaron Friedenwald lecture from 1896, handling those fragile noted with white gloves then typing what I read also in my white collections handling gloves digitizing the lecture. The lecture may be part of the 2015 Exhibit  “Jews, Health, and Healing.

The lecture includes stone age medicine. The medicine man could repair compound fractures using sticks, twine, and mud for a cast.  He was able to relieve pressure of the brain, by drilling holes into the skull of the patient, sometimes more than once. The books of Genesis and Exodus sited what the Jews did and did not know about medicine on leaving Egypt. There were even women mentioned in the work both as midwives and actual physicians. There was a cavalcade of learned men who were both Rabbis and physicians who translated medical works on the side.

Flag House

Star-Spangled Banner House. Credit: Laureen Miles Brunelli.

On Friday June 13, Marvin Pinkert walked the Interns and a volunteer over to the Flag House as a (one-day early) celebration of Flag Day and to see another small museum.  General Flowers asked Mary Pickersgill to create a flag to fly over Fort McHenry. The flag was to be red, white, and blue. The measurements were to be 32 feet by 72 feet. The stripes were to be 2 feet wide and the stars 2 feet across. The flag was to be made of the lightest weight wool bunting purchased from ex-mother England.

The Flag House contained original household items: andirons, candle sticks, a desk,  chairs, a painting of General Benjamen Flowers, Mary Pickersgill and Rebecca Young’s young and handsome relative over the mantle of the fireplace.  Mary and Rebecca as well as Mary’s daughters and an indentured servant all sewed the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore There were perfume bottles, handmade quilts, and many other period pieces of the late 18th century at the time of the War of 1812.

Barbara IsraelA blog post by Summer Exhibitions Intern Barbara Israelson. To read more posts by and about interns, click here.

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