Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1990s

Posted on March 2nd, 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 1990s: Rabbi Mark Loeb

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1993: Rabbi Mark Loeb (1944-2009) is named national chairman of Mazon: A Jewish Response To Hunger. The organization’s dual purpose—not only to feed the hungry, but also to address the systemic causes of hunger and poverty—perfectly suits Loeb, a humanitarian deeply concerned with social justice.

Memorial program for Rabbi Mark Loeb. Photo by Silber Photography, courtesy of Beth El Congregation.

Memorial program for Rabbi Mark Loeb. Photo by Silber Photography, courtesy of Beth El Congregation.

The popular rabbi more than doubled the membership of Baltimore’s Beth El congregation during his twenty-eight-year tenure. But Loeb was not afraid to speak from the pulpit on controversial topics. As he told the Jewish Times in 1996, “My congregants know me, respect me, and know that I respect them, even when we disagree.” He was one of the nation’s first Conservative rabbis to perform a commitment ceremony for a same sex-couple, long-time congregation members. The event occurred “after an extensive discussion within the congregation,” he told the Baltimore Sun. His progressive views did not stop him from speaking out about social change that he objected to: in 1993, he urged female congregants to wear less revealing clothing to services. “A synagogue is not really a place to be fashionable. Rather, it is a place to feel the power of holiness,” he wrote in the Beth El newsletter.

Rabbi Mark Loeb and Rabbi Michael Henesen conduct a B'rith at Baltimore Hebrew University, September 1990. JMM 2009.40.3895

Rabbi Mark Loeb and Rabbi Michael Henesen conduct a B’rith at Baltimore Hebrew University, September 1990. JMM 2009.40.3895

Loeb co-founded the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. He served on gubernatorial commissions on discrimination, adolescent pregnancy, and capital punishment. When he passed away in 2009, one year after his retirement, testimonials poured in from his congregation and from around the nation. As Rabbi Arnold Rachlis summed up, “He was devoted to his congregants, MAZON, interfaith dialogue and a large, pluralistic, inclusive world.”

~The End~

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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

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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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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1970s

Posted on February 27th, 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 1970s: Harry Greenstein

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1971: Harry Greenstein (1895-1971) dies, marking the end of an era in Baltimore’s Jewish communal history. Head of the Associated for almost four decades, Greenstein was a major player in international welfare work who always returned home to Baltimore after his relief missions.

Harry Greenstein (right) and William Bein (left) JDC Director for Poland, standing on rubble of Warsaw Ghetto, Poland, 1949. JMM 1971.20.214

Harry Greenstein (right) and William Bein (left) JDC Director for Poland, standing on rubble of Warsaw Ghetto, Poland, 1949. JMM 1971.20.214

After helping organize the YMHA and serving as president, Greenstein became executive director of the Associated in 1928 and served until 1965. During his tenure, the organization changed dramatically to meet the needs of the Jewish community. Services relocated from downtown to northwest Baltimore, agencies consolidated, and present-day institutions such as Levindale, the JCC, and Sinai Hospital took shape.

Greenstein’s local achievements were all the more remarkable considering that he was frequently “loaned out” by the Associated to state, federal, and international agencies, where his impact was substantial. Appointed Maryland’s first relief administrator in 1933, he set up the state’s public welfare structure. In 1939, with European Jewry in crisis, he prepared a report for American Jewish leaders which FDR termed a “model of constructive absorption of immigrants” and led to the creation of the National Refugee Service. For the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, he helped design and administer plans for helping Europe recover from World War II. Appointed advisor on Jewish affairs to the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany and Austria in 1949, he was instrumental in liquidating the displaced persons camps and resettling Holocaust survivors.

 Harry Greenstein (right) and General Lucius D.Clay (left) as General Clay welcomes his newly appointed Advisor on Jewish Affairs, in his Frankfurt, Germany headquarters, February 15, 1949. JMM 1985.174.4

Harry Greenstein (right) and General Lucius D.Clay (left) as General Clay welcomes his newly appointed Advisor on Jewish Affairs, in his Frankfurt, Germany headquarters, February 15, 1949. JMM 1985.174.4

The title of Greenstein’s biography, “Justice, Not Charity,” exemplified his approach to welfare work. Communal leader Paul Cordish captured his impact when he called Greenstein “the personification of the collective conscience of our community.”

Continue to The 1980s: Ruth Wolf Rehfeld

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