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.

1832

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.

 

1840s

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.

1870

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.

1888

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.

1889

“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.

 

1890

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.

1892

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.

1894

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.

 

1896

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.

 

1897

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.

 

1899

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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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

Click here to start from the beginning.

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

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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