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JMM Insights: The Oldest Synagogues

Posted on September 18th, 2020 by

You may have already heard, but we’re celebrating a pretty big anniversary this year.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue is turning 175 years old! On October 1st we’re going to celebrate in (virtual) style with a fantastic evening of stories and memories about this one-of-a-kind landmark and we hope you’ll join us, along with host Sheilah Kast and historian Jonathan Sarna.

As a lead up to this exciting celebration, this week and next week’s JMM Insights are focusing on historic synagogues from around the world – and some fun trivia about our own Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Images courtesy of the Jewish Women’s Archive (1)  and the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, (2), (3).

If I ask you about the oldest standing synagogues in the US, you can probably name the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island (built in 1763), K.K. Beth Elohim in South Carolina (built in 1840), and, of course, the Lloyd Street Synagogue (built in 1845). But do you know which US synagogue has the longest history of continuous use by a Jewish congregation?

Images courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress.

Congregation Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasadim (more commonly called the St. Thomas Synagogue) was built in 1833 in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has been in continuous use as a synagogue for 187 years! The St. Thomas Synagogue is also one of only five synagogues in the world with a sand-covered floor. You might enjoy this brief history of the synagogue and its congregation.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know that the Lloyd Street Synagogue was the only one of these four oldest standing synagogues in the US to not be founded by a Sephardic congregation?

Explore a list of the oldest synagogues in the United States here.

But what about outside the US? While archaeologists haven’t been able to find any actual synagogue building remains in Egypt, they have found quite a few stones carved with synagogue dedications, dating as early as the 3rd century, BCE! On the island of Delos, Greece is the Delos Synagogue, believed to have been built between 150 and 128 BCE – though the archaeological evidence that this building was indeed a synagogue is contested. (For those interested in some of the scholarly research, check out this 2007 article from the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society.)

Image: Excavation photo of the Dura-Europos Torah shrine, courtesy of Yale University.

The Dura-Europos synagogue, located in what is now Syria, however, leaves no doubt of its status as a Jewish house of worship. The original building came into use as a Jewish meeting place between 165 and 200 CE but was enlarged and decorated during a renovation that ended in 245 CE. The Dura-Eurpos synagogue archaeological discovery is unique due to its preservation – the structure was uncovered nearly intact, with an estimate 60% of its detailed wall paintings still present. Yale University Art Gallery has a fascinating digital exhibit on the excavation of Dura-Europos. You can also see a reproduction video of the wall paintings here.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know that the Lloyd Street Synagogue is one of seventeen recorded archaeological sites in our neighborhood? Others include the Thomas Morgan Pottery; Clagett’s Brewey; and the Friends’ Meeting House. Especially into local archaeology? Check out the full text of the 2008-2009 archaeology report for the Lloyd Street Synagogue here.

In Western Europe, there are two buildings that represent the oldest, still-standing purpose-built synagogues – the Old (Alte) Synagogue of Erfurt, Germany (built c. 1100 CE) and the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, Spain (built 1190 CE).

Image of the Old Synagogue courtesy of Michael Sander via Wikimedia Commons.

The Old Synagogue is considered one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved prayer rooms from the Middle Ages in Central Europe. Like the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Erfurt Old Synagogue is also known for its mikveh, the remains of which were discovered during renovation work in spring 2007. Get a peek at the Old Synagogue’s permanent exhibit about its history and collections here. Prefer to watch? Check out this video interview from Heritage Times with Erfurt’s UNESCO commissioner Dr. Maria Sturzebecher, More than Golden Treasure: heritage layers of Erfurt Synagogue Museum.

A little #LSSTrivia: Did you know, the earliest documented “keeper of the mikveh,” was Mrs. Jacaby in 1852, who may have been the seamstress Caroline Jacobs, who is noted as living on Watson Street, south of Lloyd Street in 1849.

Image of the exterior of the Toledo Synagogue courtesy of Richard Mortel via Wikimedia Commons.

The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, originally know as the Ibn Shushan Synagogue, was built in Toldeo, Spain in 1180. Designed by Islamic architects, built in a Christian kingdom, and meant for Jewish use, this synagogue is considered a “symbol of cooperation” of three cultures living in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. Like the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the building passed from use as a Jewish synagogue to a Catholic Church, but under much more contentious circumstances. Today, the Jewish communities of Spain have requested the Church return the building to the care of the Jewish people. The relatively plain exterior depicted above belies the uniquely beautiful interior shown below.

Image of the interior of the Toledo Synagogue courtesy of Roy Lindman via Wikimedia Commons.

1836 illustration of the Old-New Synagogue courtesy of Everything Czech. See more images of the Old-New Synagogue through the years here.

The oldest currently active synagogue in the world is located in Prague. Built in the 1270s, the “Old-New Synagogue” has another claim to fame – it is said to contain stones from the Temple of Solomon. But this isn’t the only legend surrounding the building – it is also cited as the resting place of the Golem of Prague.

A little #LSSTrivia: A popular Lloyd Street Synagogue myth from the past was the belief that LSS was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this story, and it is unlikely that the synagogue’s rabbi of the time (Bernard Illoway) would have allowed the LSS to be a part of the Underground Railroad.

Marvin will be hosting a recreation of Illoway’s arguments for and Rabbi Einhorn’s against, the continuation of slavery in America on Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 1pm – you can register to join us for the live stream event now.

We hope you enjoyed this part one look at some of the oldest synagogues in the world, in honor of the Lloyd Street Synagogue’s 175th – next week we’ll share more highlights of historic buildings from around the globe. In the meantime, don’t forget to register for The Many Lives of Lloyd Street: A Synagogue Celebrates 175 Years.

It just won’t be a party without you there!

Pick up some LSS swag at our online shop, like this See America mug!
All purchases help support the Museum.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: 3…2…1…Blast Off!

Posted on September 11th, 2020 by

The Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off from pad 39A at 8:56 am on May 16, 2011. This was the final flight for Endeavour. Courtesy of NASA.

Can you feel the excitement? We’re practically buzzing with it as we count down the hours until we open Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit! (72 hours from the launch of this newsletter, to be precise.) Coronavirus may have delayed us, but this exhibit was just too cool not to share and our team wasn’t going to let something like a pandemic stop us from creating a unique, engaging, and safe experience.

As a special thank-you to our members, we shared early access to reserving tickets to come and see the exhibit in person. As of today, however, we’ve opened up tickets to everyone. Entry is limited, to keep everyone safe, so we highly recommend you purchase your tickets asap to get the dates and times that work best for you.

For this edition of JMM Insights, we wanted to highlight some truly excellent Jews in Space experiences we think you’ll enjoy, plus some bonus gallery sneak peeks!

Just a few “peeks” into the gallery while the team is hard at work installing the exhibit.

Even with important safety precautions, we know that an in-person visit isn’t for everyone right now – which is why we’re offering special Jews in Space virtual tours, presented live with a JMM staff member. There are two different ways to experience this unique digital exploration:

1. Schedule an exclusive virtual tour for you and a group. Fill out this form and a staff member will contact you to schedule!

2. Register for one of our pre-scheduled virtual tours – we’ll be offering virtual tours once a month as part of our public programming.

>Register for a virtual tour on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 at 3:00pm HERE.

>Register for a virtual tour on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 3:00pm HERE.


Did you know that Jews in Space has a companion website?

Here you’ll find opportunities to explore more deeply some things from the exhibit itself, like the extensive timeline of Jews and space and the expanding map of Maryland’s space connections, as well as a handy list of our upcoming space-related public programs (plus links to previously recorded programs) and info on our available virtual education space offerings.

We’ve also included activities to deepen your engagement with Jews in Space beyond a museum (or virtual) visit. From our family-centered Wondernauts badge program to our Upstanders Bookworm project, we hope you’ll dive in and try out some hands-on fun.

Enjoy a “close encounter” with some of the exhibits objects and details!

Creating Klingon:

A Conversation with its Jewish Inventor
Members-Only Special Event

Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 7:00pm EST

Speaker: Marc Okrand

Registration for this Live Stream Event Opening Soon.

Not yet a member?

Sign up online at the JMM website or contact JMM Membership Coordinator Sue Foard at / 443-873-5162.

You already belong, why not make it official!

Thursday, November 12, 2020 at 7:00pm EST

Presented by the Stoop Storytelling Series

Register for this Live Stream Event Now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 7:00 pm EST

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Blumberg

Register for this Live Stream Event Now

The Maryland presentation of this exhibit is made possible in part by the generous support of a gift in memory of Patrick J. Kelly Jr., a Baltimore Science Fiction Society Founder; The Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds; PNC Greater Maryland; Larry Boltansky.

Additional funding from: Greif Family Fund; Kutler Family Philanthropic Fund; The Kaplan-Kronsberg Family Charitable Fund; A gift in memory of Jim Guy; Emelie Schwab & Family in Memory of James Schwab; Harriet Stulman; Philip Tulkoff; Julian H. Krolik and Elaine F. Weiss Philanthropic Fund; Annette and Michael Saxon Fund.  

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 7:00 pm EST

Hosted Live by WYPR’s Sheilah Kast

Register for this Special Live Stream Event Here

This special online event will feature memories, stories, and statements from a host of characters with a connection to Maryland’s oldest synagogue. From its inception to its near eradication to its rebirth as a site of learning, by turns contentious, mundane, or spiritual, the stories of the Lloyd Street Synagogue will fascinate and inspire you. Be a part of the celebration honoring this one-of-a-kind landmark.



Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Once In A Blue Moon

Posted on September 4th, 2020 by

Museum Matters: September 2020

Blue moon you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own

Written by Richard Rodgers & Moss Hart (1934)
#1 Doo Wop Hit for the Marcels (1961)

Ever wonder “what is a ‘blue moon’” and “why is it so rare?”. Well, a blue moon is a phenomenon caused by the disparity between the cycles of the moon and the annual cycle of the sun, resulting in some years having thirteen full moons rather than twelve. There is ample debate online as to why this event is called “blue” but it is pretty clear it has nothing to do with the color of the moon or the mood of moon watchers (with apologies to Moss Hart). In modern parlance, a blue moon is the second full moon in a month having two full moons. This is pretty rare in the Gregorian calendar but absolutely impossible in the Hebrew calendar (thank you, Adar II).

So why do I wax on about phases of the moon? It’s because the next thirty days feature not one, but two stellar events (or to keep with the metaphor, two “full moons”). Our first celestial object is Jews in Space, our first major exhibit opening since we closed in March for COVID 19 (yes, I am talking about a physical exhibit in the Museum!).

If you’ve gone a little stir-crazy staring at the four walls of your room, JMM is pleased to offer a safe opportunity to peer into the wonders of the universe. We are still operating with limited hours, a requirement for advance reservations, and a host of distancing and cleaning protocols.. Reservations to see the exhibit in person are available to JMM members right now. Reservations for the general public begin on September 10th.

Our second big event in the next thirty days is the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Hosted live by WYPR’s Sheila Kast, the ceremony will feature commentary by Dr. Jonathan Sarna, a Lloyd Street Synagogue history quiz, door prizes and more! You can watch the stars come out on October 1 without ever leaving home, as this event will be fully digital.

When is the next blue moon?  From an astronomical perspective, you’ll have to wait until Halloween (and if you miss that one, it’s another three years until it happens again). But from JMM’s perspective, the blue moons begin this September (bomp-baba-bomp-ba-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp… vedanga-dang-dang-vadinga-dong-ding).



Jews in Space: Curator’s Talk with Melanie Meyers

Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 7:00pm EST
Register for this Live Stream Event Here

Museums as Agents of Change with the Capital Jewish Museum

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at  7:00pm EST
Register for this Live Stream Program Here

The Many Lives of Lloyd Street: A Synagogue Celebrates 175 Years

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 7:00pm EST
Register for this Live Stream Event Here


Remember – JMM Members get a 10% discount at Esther’s Place every day!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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