Volunteer Spotlight on Erika Rief!

Posted on March 6th, 2017 by

Erika Rief has been a volunteer docent at the JMM for two months. She is currently in graduate school at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and MICS pursing an MBA/MA in design Leadership. Erika was an education and programming intern for two months during college. She recently moved back to Baltimore and lives close by so she decided to become a docent again. Prior to that, she attended Beth Tfiloh for 18 years.



She has deep connections to Jewish Baltimore, and specifically B’nai Israel Synagogue. Her great great uncle Simon Reif was the president of B’nai Israel in the congregation’s early days for 25 years. In addition, B’nai Israel was the shul that her great grandfather attended when he first came to America. She now attends Bnai Israel regularly, and is active in building the young adult community. She believes it is really special to be able to be a docent who has a connection to both the past and present of a part of the tour. Apart from going to school and being involved in B’nai Israel, she has also recently started boxing.

Erika has had a couple of memorial experiences while at the JMM. When she was an intern, she searched in the archives for mention of her family. She fould some of the founding documents of B’nai Israel in the original Yiddish with the names of her family families. She was also excited to learn about Zelda, who visited the museum with her assisted living facility. It turned out that Zelda’s father opened a pharmacy on Lombard Street. However, he died when Zelda was very young so she didn’t know a lot of information about him. Erika later dug into some family history records and then went to the assisted living to share what she found with her.  Erika will never forget Zelda’s bubbly personality and the happiness on her face during their conversations about her father.

Making friends on tour

Making friends on tour

Erika has quickly re-learned the tour script and has already taken a few groups out on her own. We are very grateful that she has been able to carve out time for us in her busy schedule.

If you know of anyone else who would like to volunteer with Erika as a docent (or in any other area of the Museum), please contact Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org.

GrahamPost by Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey. Every month we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443-973-5162! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

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Teach, and be taught.

Posted on February 16th, 2012 by

A blog post by intern Erika Rief.

As an Education and Programming Intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I initially assumed that I would impart on others my knowledge about Baltimore Jewish history either on tours, group visits, or through the children’s activity packs I am creating. Especially with my background in genealogy, I hoped to use my experience to inform others about their past. Now, reflecting on the past six weeks, I realize how much I’ve learned by teaching others.

Zelda and Erika

Every week Ilene Dackman-Alon, the museum’s director of education, visits Tudor Heights, an assisted living on Park Heights Avenue. There, she tells a personal story to elicit stories of the past from the residents. Through storytelling, Ilene is able to gather information about Jewish Baltimore from the best sources while giving the elderly people a chance to express themselves by recalling the past.

One day, Ilene asked me to look up whatever I could find about Joseph Goldsmith. Joseph’s daughter, Zelda, lives at Tudor Heights. She unfortunately never knew her father because he died shortly after she was born. All I knew about Joseph before starting my search was that he had a pharmacy on the corner of Lloyd and Lombard Street, which is on the block next to the museum. Zelda had given the museum a photograph of him and a receipt from the pharmacy. Ilene gave me the name of Zelda’s mother, Bessie (nee Mallow) Goldsmith and Zelda’s parents, Louis and Fannie Mallow. Skeptical of what I could find without birth dates, I got to work.

Photograph of pharmacist Joseph Goldsmith, c. 1919, taken inside his pharmacy on Lloyd Street, 1996.42.1.

Two hours later, I had uncovered the 1910 Federal Census of Louis and Fannie Mallow along with the 1910 Federal Census of Joseph’s parents and siblings. Therefore, I now had birth years for all of Zelda’s grandparents and the years of immigration for her parents and grandparents. In the 1920 Federal Census, I found Joseph and Bessie’s entry which was recorded around the same time that Joseph passed away. By 1930, Bessie had remarried and bore one child with her second husband. The three of them plus Zelda and Joyce, the two daughters from Joseph, were now living with her parents, the Mallows.

Federal censuses provide interesting tidbits of information, like addresses, occupations, how many children a women had given birth to compared with how many were living, place of birth, and place of parents’ birth. However, my luck in finding Joseph’s naturalization papers was what enabled me to really get to know him. In 1917, at 51 years old, Joseph’s statue reached a towering 4 feet 10 inches. He had black hair, brown eyes, weighed 143 pounds, and under distinctive marks ‘hunch back’ is noted. He was born in Warden Russia on January 17, 1886. On February 21, 1905, he arrived at the port of Philadelphia from Liverpool, England. In addition to the naturalization papers, I found Joseph and Louis’s World War I draft cards which further confirms Joseph’s hunch back condition and the details I had found in the censuses about Louis.

Page from Joseph Goldsmith's handwritten prescription book, used in his pharmacy, c. 1885.

When Ilene first asked me to look up information about the pharmacist on corner of Lloyd and Lombard, I don’t think she expected the abundance of information I ended up revealing. After spending hours acquainting myself with Zelda’s family, I was anxious to meet this 92-year-old woman with such a fascinating family history. Yesterday, Ilene accompanied me to Tutor Heights. However, due to Zelda’s health, we were not sure if she would be there. Sure enough, as soon as we walked in, there was Zelda, sitting in a circle with the other residents learning about Tu B’shevat.

We wheeled her into the dining room. After Ilene explained to her why I was there, I began taking her through each document I had found. With the details from Joseph’s naturalization papers, I was able to paint a visual of the father Zelda never knew. However, she remembered a lot more than I had expected and was able to confirm some questionable details. For instance, the 1910 Census said that her grandfather, Louis Mallow, was from Scotland and that his second child was born in Scotland but the first child was born in Maryland. I assumed that all mentions of Scotland were incorrect. Zelda confirmed Scotland as her grandfather’s birthplace and explained that the family had returned to Scotland because of a dying relative. While visiting, Louis’s wife gave birth to their second child. Zelda explained that Louis went back and forth to Scotland often. This explained a ship manifest I had found with Louis Mallow’s name from 1913 with a home address listed on Lombard Street.

Page from Joseph Goldsmith's handwritten prescription book, used in his pharmacy, c. 1885.

Besides the information I provided to her, there were many details that no matter how hard or long I had searched, I would never have discovered. Zelda’s anecdotes added a whole other dimension to my work. While researching, I found it interesting that Joseph was 14 years older than Bessie and only 10 years younger than her father. What I didn’t know was that Zelda’s grandparents disapproved of the age difference but thought the world of Joseph. Also, every time Bessie prepared food for Joseph, he would tell her how wonderful she was. Zelda talked and talked and I inhaled every word. As I sat there, I understood what an incredible opportunity this exchange had been. A precious piece of Baltimore Jewish history that would otherwise have been forgotten will now live on. Thrilled to pieces about all that I had given her, Zelda doesn’t realize all that she has taught me.

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A Hundred Years Later

Posted on January 30th, 2012 by

A blog post by Intern Erika Rief.

It is no coincidence that I chose to intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland during my winter break. Over the past six months, I have been on an incredible journey discovering parts of my family history. My internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is extremely fitting considering how large of a role Baltimore plays in my family’s history. As one of the Education and Programming interns, I have been given the opportunity to lead tours of the two historic synagogues on either side of the museum, the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel. Telling the story of the Jews who lived on the surrounding streets and worshipped in these synagogues is extremely personal to me. Unbeknownst to me when I began my internship, it is in fact part of my own family’s history.

Erika's first day at the JMM.

Simon Rief, my great-great grandfather’s brother (my great-great grand uncle), played a very large role in my search for answers about my family’s past. He was the first Rief to come to the United States. Arriving in America in 1880, he was already established by the turn of the century. Therefore, he was the sponsor for my great-great grandmother and great-grandfather who immigrated to the United States in 1904. Before I started conducting family history, I was aware of my great-grandfather’s uncle, Simon Rief. However, besides his name, I didn’t know much more about him. I knew even less about his descendants’ whereabouts.

My first major accomplishment of the family research indirectly involved Simon Rief. While failing to find my great-grandfather’s naturalization papers, I discovered that my great-grandfather, Nathan Rief, changed his name after he arrived in the United States. My whole family knew my great-grandfather as Nathan Rief. Aware that Nathan had come to this country, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find a ship manifest or naturalization papers with his name. Between a vague memory that my great aunt Beatrice recalled and inspecting Nathan’s Hebrew name, I realized that his name was originally Simon Nathanial Rief. He switched it to Nathan Simon Rief to avoid confusion with his uncle, Simon Rief, whom he was obviously very close with. Knowing Nathan’s original name, I was able to locate his naturalization papers, which provided many more details about his origins and journey to the United States.

Moving on in my search, I started tracking Simon Rief’s family using the U.S. Census records. Since he was the first Rief in the United States, I thought studying him might provide me with more insight. I spent many hours tracking Simon Rife in the 1900 Census, Simon Reif in the 1910 Census, and Simon Rief in the 1920 Census.

Then, through a very big coincidence which needs a blog post to explain in itself, I discovered that one of Simon Rief’s descendants happened to go to high school with me. Even though Rob Rosenberg lived in Harrisburg, we both attended Beth Tfiloh for four years together and never knew we were related. He also happened to be engaged and getting married right around the corner from Emory, in Atlanta Georgia, where I go to school. I had already planned on attending the wedding. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a friend from high school getting married; it was mishpacha! Our great-great grandfathers, Simon Rief and Moshe Rief were brothers.

Rob’s aunt, Janet Abromowitz, who lives in Baltimore informed me that Simon Rief was instrumental in founding the Hebrew Free Loan Society. She also told me he was president of B’nai Israel Congregation. However, back in October when I spoke to her, that didn’t really mean anything to me. As I began my internship here, and started to learn more about B’nai Israel, I became more curious as to my family’s connection with the synagogue.

From the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s online archives search, I knew that there was a printing block and glass slide with a picture of him. So, last week I ventured downstairs and with the help of one of my fellow interns, Ginevra, I located the printing block and slide. I had never seen a picture of Simon Rief before and had no idea what to expect. Looking at Simon Rief’s picture, I saw a reflection of my grandfather who passed away this past June. I couldn’t have been more excited with my newly found treasure. However, I wondered what the printing block had been used for. To try and figure it out, I started digging through the B’nai Israel archives. As I opened the first folder, I found a pamphlet from the celebration of B’nai Israel’s Diamond Jubilee in 1948. Inside the pamphlet was a page with all of the faces from the printing blocks. In the upper right corner was the picture from the printing block. Underneath was labeled ‘Simon Rief, president.’ It must have been a copy of an old newsletter that they used for the Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Assuming that I had found all that there was to find, I skimmed through the rest of the folder. But, I stopped for a moment when I came across the translation of the original by-laws and names of the members of the congregation. Perhaps Simon’s name would be listed. The names were listed alphabetically by Hebrew first name. As I began scanning the names, my jaw dropped. I saw ‘Yishayahu Nachum ben Moshe Michal HaLevi Reif,’ also known as Simon Nathanial Rief, also known as Nathan Simon Rief, my great-grandfather. Sure enough, I found Nathan’s brother, along with Simon Rief and his wife. Afterwards, I found the original book and found all of their names, handwritten in Hebrew over 100 years ago. It never crossed my mind that my great-grandfather might have attended the same shul as his uncle. Here I am, over 100 years later, giving tours of what is most likely the first synagogue that my great-grandfather ever attended in the United States.

…just another typical day at the Jewish Museum of Maryland!




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