WHAT IS THE USE OF JEWISH HISTORY?

Posted on December 4th, 2013 by

People sometimes ask me, “What is the use of Jewish history?” And “why do you study and write about that so much?” Author and historian, Lucy Davidowitz, wrote a book on this subject.

2007.054.027  Book cover, The Hoffburger Journey in America: 1882-2005, compiled primarily by Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt.

2007.054.027 Book cover, The Hoffburger Journey in America: 1882-2005, compiled primarily by Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt.

Others take their concern and doubt to an annoying level, saying, “History is not important.” Perhaps not, for them, compared with the latest Hollywood gossip, the score of Sunday’s  football game or newest technological toy. Their view is short sighted, to say the least.

For me, researching and writing about Jewish history is akin to raising a memorial to departed relatives, ancestors and – yes – to strangers.  Some may be famous community or congregational leaders while others served their families quietly with love and dedication.

Only two of my relatives served the community in public ways – one was a Hershfield who served as secretary of a synagogue in New Jersey. The shul is now defunct, and I have no documentation about this except for Oral History tapes of my mother.

Another Hershfield in the same family in Jersey City served on the public School Board.  But this branch of the family are notorious for not answering letters, and we have been out of touch with them since the 1960s, so no documentation has been found to verify the anecdote.

(As for yichus, that is, genealogical status, I sometimes imagine that I am descended from a 2nd Century Sage or a Levitical priest.  But this may be ego on my part!)

Every time we quest for our family’s history, read an article in a Jewish History periodical or visit the JMM, we are raising a memorial to the whole Jewish people.  It is like placing rocks on the top of tombstones when we visit cemeteries. The purpose is to make the marker-stone larger, thereby, increasing the honor of those who have passed away. Saying Kaddish for one’s father is another example.  Sharing our genealogies with living relatives is a third example of zichron – remembering our ancestors.  And from where we came.

1973.008.001 Collage of Galitzianer gravestones (1903) from Gruft family collection. Artist unknown.]

1973.008.001 Collage of Galitzianer gravestones (1903) from Gruft family collection. Artist unknown.]

The value of learning, teaching and celebrating our many-faceted history becomes more apparent when we consider how often in history that the Jewish people have faced extreme adversity.  Even if our immigrant-ancestors lived a life of obscurity, toiling in the moderate Garment Industry of Jonestown or peddling as an arabisher, there is eternal value to our interest, care and memory of them.  We need the Eternal One’s eyes to perceive the value of Jewish history.

1997.149.003  Button sewing machine (1930s), made by Singer, from D. Schwartz and Sons Garment Machinery Co., of Baltimore Street and later, Gay Street.

1997.149.003 Button sewing machine (1930s), made by Singer, from D. Schwartz and Sons Garment Machinery Co., of Baltimore Street and later, Gay Street.

 

photo of Robert SiegelA blog post by Collections Volunteer Robert Siegel. To read more posts by and about JMM volunteers, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights – October 2013

Posted on October 11th, 2013 by

With our newest exhibition, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War opening this weekend, we have heard from many Marylanders who have family connections to the Civil War. Through extensive research, some have assembled detailed family trees and fascinating documents that highlight their ancestors’ roles during the war. This week’s issue of JMM Insights focuses on genealogy and the variety of resources available at the JMM to assist individuals as they embark on family history research.

Research Requests

Each month the JMM receives dozens of requests by phone and email from individuals looking for all kinds of information about their families. The most common requests come from individuals from all over the country seeking the location of a relative’s (who lived in Baltimore) gravesite or date of birth or death. Sometimes people have detailed information about the relative in question but need just one final piece of information to complete their family tree. Other requests involve more extensive research when they have limited information but hope that we can help steer them in the right path towards learning more about their family’s history. Genealogical research is very much like trying to solve a mystery and it is often fascinating following the trail of clues from one source to another. Unfortunately we are not always able to find the specific information that the researcher is seeking but more often than not, we are able to provide them some assistance or to refer them somewhere else where they might be able to find what they are looking for.

Resources

Family History Resource Page

Family History Resource Page

Thanks to the assistance of many JMM staff and volunteers who have worked for years compiling valuable databases that are essential for genealogy, the JMM has a variety of resources available for researchers. Many of these are available on our website (jewishmuseummd.org/collections-research/genealogy/). For example, indexed databases for cemeteries located throughout the state include the names of individuals buried at that site, along with the date of death of the individual in question, and the section in the cemetery in which the person is buried. This information is essential for people looking to find specific gravesites as so many cemeteries are large and encompass multiple congregational plots.  Other records that are used frequently to assist individuals looking for information about dates of death and location of burial are the Jack Lewis Funeral Home records (1924-1939 and 1956-1965)and the Baltimore Jewish Times obituaries.

People who want to conduct more extensive genealogical research can make an appointment to visit our library to look through our resources which also include bound editions of the Baltimore Jewish Times, census records, city directories and passenger manifest lists of ships from Europe that brought immigrants to the Port of Baltimore. We also serve as a repository for people who have compiled family trees and these are available for researchers, as well. Further resources include a database of Baltimore’s religious personnel, Yizkhor (Memorial) books of East European towns, and circumcision, midwife, and marriage records of individual Baltimore-area mohels, midwives and rabbis.

The JMM also maintains a list of referrals for researchers when we do not have the resources that they need to complete their searches.

Volunteer Assistance

As many of you are aware, several months ago, in order to balance the JMM budget, we made some difficult decisions that resulted in the elimination of two full-time staff positions, both of which provided valuable assistance to researchers. While other members of the JMM staff have stepped up to ensure that we are still able to provide access to our collections for researchers, we have also found two outstanding new volunteers who have taken on the task of working directly with researchers.

Edie speaking to a group from the Jewish Genealogical Society of MD.

Edie speaking to a group from the Jewish Genealogical Society of MD.

Edie Shlian began volunteering in July. Edie has extensive experience conducting research into her own family’s history and in the few months that she has been here, she has provided invaluable assistance handling genealogy-related requests. Edie has become quite familiar with our resources and has had some wonderful successes tracking down vital information for researchers. Genealogy is truly a passion for Edie and we are fortunate to have found someone so dedicated to providing assistance on behalf of the JMM.

John Sondheim is a member of the JMM Collections Committee. A retired librarian from the Enoch Pratt Library John has extensive knowledge about local Jewish history. John is working with senior collections manager Jobi Zink to provide assistance to students, scholars and museum professionals who are interested in conducting research in our collections. Thanks to John’s hard work and dedication, we have been able to keep our library open regularly for research appointments.

We are most appreciative of the work that Edie, John, and the many other volunteers who work in our library perform as they compile genealogical databases, scan photographs, identify people in photographs, organize our vertical files, transcribe oral histories and memoirs, and process archival and photographic collections by creating new folders and boxes for materials. It is through their collective efforts that we are able to make our collections accessible to the public and to perform such a valuable service in connecting people to their past.

How To Make Use of JMM Resources

If you are interested in conducting research at the JMM, the first place to start is with our website. As mentioned above, many of our genealogical databases can be downloaded directly from our website. In addition, our collections database is available online (jmm.pastperfect-online.com/) and is the first place to start if you are looking to see if we have objects, photographs or documents that are of interest to your particular area of research.

Past Perfect Search Screen

Past Perfect Search Screen

Once you have searched through our online resources and determine that you would like to come in to research materials further, it is necessary to make an advanced appointment. Appointments can be made through the following means:

  • For collections research, call (410) 732-6400 x213 / research@jewishmuseummd.org. It is helpful to provide the catalog number of particular items from the database you would like to see and a good description of the project you are working on.
  • For family history research, call (410) 732-6400 x224 / familyhistory@jewishmuseummd.org
  • For photograph reproductions, call (410)732-6400 x219 / photorequest@jewishmuseummd.org. Again, please note the catalog number and description of the photograph you would like reproduced.

Please note that messages left on by phone or email are checked by staff one-time per week and it is not always possible for someone to return your message immediately. Please try to give ample notice when you wish to make an appointment as it can take several weeks before we can accommodate your request.

One of the wonderful benefits of JMM membership is that there is no charge to make an appointment for research. For non-members there is an $8 daily fee.

Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland

We are pleased to report that the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland has recently begun holding regular meetings for its members and that the JMM is proud to partner with this organization to make our genealogical records more accessible. The JGS of Maryland is an association of individuals in our community who are searching for their roots and growing their family trees. The group meets on a regular basis to share information, overcome “brick walls”, and to enhance knowledge and skills. The JGS of Maryland recognizes the importance of web based research and helps members identify and use the most valuable sites for Jewish genealogy.  Members of the society regularly offer lectures and workshops regarding Jewish genealogy to the community and help others interested in discovering their ancestors and their places of origin. For more information, check out their website at www.jewishgen.org/jgs-maryland.

Upcoming Events

Be sure to stop by the JMM this weekend as we open Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. Our members opening takes place on Saturday, October 12 at 7:30pm followed by our opening to the public on Sunday, October 13. For more details, visit our website, jewishmuseummd.org/calendar-event/upcoming/.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Elaine, Meet Stanley

Posted on April 3rd, 2013 by

debA blog post by Historian Deb Weiner.

We recently started to create a new genealogy resource: a database of Jewish babies born in Baltimore, as revealed by Jewish Times birth notices. So far, we’ve compiled around 700 names of babies born between 1928 and 1932. We’re also recording the names of the parents and the hospitals where the births occurred.

Sinai Hospital on East Monument Street, 1940. 2010.20.13.

Sinai Hospital on East Monument Street, 1940. 2010.20.13.

So the list can tell us some interesting things. Like, where were Jewish babies born during that time period? If you guess the obvious, Sinai Hospital, you’d be right—half the time. Around 48 percent of the babies listed in the JT were born at Sinai, then located on East Monument Street. In second place was Mercy Hospital, with 15 percent. Some 9 percent were born at the Women’s Hospital in Bolton Hill. (It later merged with another hospital to form GBMC.) In fourth place was Church Home Hospital in East Baltimore, with 8 percent. This hospital, by the way, is where Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 after he was found, delirious, on Lombard Street between High and Exeter (later, the heart of Jewish East Baltimore). And how many were born at Johns Hopkins Hospital? One! A girl named Helen Udell. Why this particular distribution? I have no clue.

OK now to even more interesting stuff. What do you think was the most popular name for Baltimore’s Jewish baby girls from 1928 to 1932? Hint: look at the headline. Of the 367 girls whose names were listed, there were sixteen Elaines, topping the baby girl pool. In second place was Beverly, with fifteen names. I found that one hard to believe. There were eleven babies named Betty, nine named Phyllis, eight Myras, seven named Frances, Marilyn, Ruth, and Sonia. There were six Aileens, Charlottes, Harriets, Joans, Natalies, Rhodas, and Shirleys.

Around sixteen years later: Teens prepare to go onstage at the JEA. Left to right: Joan Levinson, Judy Brodsky, Betty Levy, Rhoda Wagner, Phyllis Erlich. 95.98.119

Around sixteen years later: Teens prepare to go onstage at the JEA. Left to right: Joan Levinson, Judy Brodsky, Betty Levy, Rhoda Wagner, Phyllis Erlich. 95.98.119

I was surprised there were more babies named Natalie than Barbara (four) or Hannah (three) or Bessie (two) or Susan (zero). And there were three girls named Leatrice, which I found odd, since I’ve never met one person with that name. I wasn’t surprised by the popularity of Phyllis—the name belonged to my mom (b. 1935), my dad’s sister, one of his cousins, and two of their close friends. I actually thought it would score higher.

Baby boys: Stanley led the way with thirteen out of 341 boys. Next was Howard with eleven. There were ten baby boys named Allen (or Allan), Marvin, and Richard. Nine were named David and Harold (or Harry). There were eight Bernards, Jeromes, and Roberts. Seven were named Alvin, Herbert, and Norman while six were named Arnold, Joseph, Leonard, Martin, and Samuel. There were only two Aarons, one Abraham (plus one Abram), two Benjamins, two Jacobs, one Israel, and no Isaacs. I guess the Bible had fallen out of favor during this period. Why name someone Israel or Isaac when you can name him Irving? (There were three of those, plus four Irwins, an Irvin, an Ira, and an Isadore.)

Around sixteen years later: Rambam Chapter of the AZA, northwest Baltimore. Even in this Zionist group, all but two of the identified boys had popular Americanized names. Back row: second from left, Irv Bowers, right end, Marvin Glass. Middle row: second from left, Al Blaker, center, Bernie Raynor. Bottom row: left end, Avrum Miller, right end, Hanan Sibel. 2008.117.1

Around sixteen years later: Rambam Chapter of the AZA, northwest Baltimore. Even in this Zionist group, all but two of the identified boys had popular Americanized names. Back row: second from left, Irv Bowers, right end, Marvin Glass. Middle row: second from left, Al Blaker, center, Bernie Raynor. Bottom row: left end, Avrum Miller, right end, Hanan Sibel. 2008.117.1

Lest you think there were more girls than boys born to Baltimore Jewish families, I should point out that birth notices for around 160 boys did not include names, while only 90 girls were unnamed. All told, there were around 500 boys and around 450 girls listed . . . I don’t know if that means that fewer girls were born, or that parents were more likely to send in birth notices for sons than for daughters.

In fact, this is not what you’d call a scientific poll—because I have no idea what percentage of the Jewish babies born during the period were listed in JT birth notices, or if a “certain kind” of family was more likely to have a birth notice than some “other kind” of family, which could skew the sample. But the results are suggestive nonetheless. By the late 1920s, the Baltimore Jewish population had become mostly Americanized, especially the young parents who were having these babies. They were the adult children of immigrants, American-raised if not born, and I think that tells you something about their choices.

We continue to work on the list—it should be interesting to see how the popular names change over time.  And here’s where I need to recognize the volunteers who are doing such a great job constructing this database. Thanks to Stefan Freed, Martin Buckman, Vera Kestenberg, and Harvey Karch! (And by the way, there were six Martins, two Harveys, one Stephan, and no Veras on the list.)

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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