A “Children’s Playground” and “Centre for Adults:” The Story of Baltimore’s Jewish Educational Alliance, 1909-1952 Pt 2

Posted on December 7th, 2016 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part II: A Jewish Spirit

missed part I? Start here.

One of the first orders of business for the newly-installed directors was to choose a name for the merged institution. The meeting minutes do not detail the search for the name or the discussions surrounding it, but a special committee was formed and after several weeks the secretary recorded the choice of the Jewish Educational Alliance. The directors could have simply gone with the name Educational Alliance, taking their example from the New York City Jewish settlement house founded twenty years earlier. But in Baltimore the founders wanted to emphasize the Jewish nature of their endeavor. The articles of the merger firmly state that “The head worker of the organization shall be a Jew, and a Jewish spirit shall pervade the work of the organization.”[1]

Educational materials used by Leah Greenberg as a teacher with the Baltimore Jewish Education Alliance. JMM 2004.79.1

Educational materials used by Leah Greenberg as a teacher with the Baltimore Jewish Education Alliance. JMM 2004.79.1

From the beginning, the JEA promoted Jewish education and hosted celebrations of Jewish holidays. Staff members wasted no time converting the old headquarters of the Maccabean House and the Daughters in Israel, which they used until a new building was constructed in 1913 (see sidebar). They immediately started a Sabbath school and soon after added a Hebrew school. Baltimore’s Jewish Comment newspaper described a series of Hanukkah events on December 17, 1909, barely a month after the JEA opened: the Sabbath and sewing schools celebrated with songs, recitations, and plays; the Mothers’ Meeting featured a candle-lighting and lecture by Dr. Guttmacher (the Reform rabbi of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and husband of JEA board member Laura Guttmacher); and in the evening a dance was held. Announcements for Purim and Hanukkah parties and Passover-related events appeared in the Jewish Comment and later in the Baltimore Jewish Times from 1909 until the JEA closed in 1952.[2]

Jewish education encompassed all ages. The JEA held weekly Sabbath services specifically designed for children.  Even its nursery school was infused with Jewish culture and history. In 1921 the meeting minutes recorded, “The need for stimulation of the children along Jewish lines was suggested. It was agreed that if Mrs. Erlanger who leads the Story Telling Class could combine Jewish Legend telling it would be a fine thing.” For older children and adults the JEA offered articles in its newsletter, The Alliance Citizen, as well as classes and lectures on Zionism, current events related to Jews around the world, and Jewish holidays.[3]

From its earliest years until it closed, the JEA was “a Jewish House,” its leaders insisted. “Altho not restricting our house to people of our faith, the Alliance wishes the community to have confidence in its Jewishness.”[4] This meant not only promoting Judaism within its walls, but also combating influences detrimental to Judaism in the outside world. In the 1920s the JEA worked with community leaders to counter the efforts of Christian missionaries, who had begun proselytizing on the street corners of East Baltimore in order to convert the Jewish immigrant population. The JEA director joined with the Down Town Committee against Christian Propaganda, which included Reform Rabbi Morris Lazaron, Orthodox Rabbi Avraham Schwartz, Conservative Rabbi Adolf Coblentz, and Mrs. Leonard Hecht. In a report delivered at the JEA’s October 1921 board meeting, the director described “an active campaign” against a missionary known as Mr. Berman. “His out-door meetings on corner of Baltimore St. + Central Ave. received a set back when J.E.A. obtained permit to hold meeting at same time on opposite corner in behalf of Larger City Springs and eventually won the crowd from his corner to J.E.A counter attraction.”[5]

Continue to Part III: Not Only a Children’s Playground


[1] Jewish Comment, October 29, 1909.

[2] Jewish Comment, December 17, 1909; Isaac Aaronson, “Jewish Charities: A Settlement Diary,” January 1916, available at Google Books, books.google.com; “At the JEA,” Baltimore Jewish Times, December 7, 1951, p. 36.

[3] JEA meeting minutes, November 16, 1921 and December 4, 1915, MS 170, Folder 213, JMM; Aaronson, “Jewish Charities: A Settlement Diary;” The Alliance Citizen 1, No. 3 (May 1914).

[4] January 1921 report, JEA meeting minutes, MS 170, Folder 213.

[5] JEA meeting minutes, April 6, 1921 and October 5, 1921, MS 170, Folder 213.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

A “Children’s Playground” and “Centre for Adults:” The Story of Baltimore’s Jewish Educational Alliance, 1909-1952

Posted on December 5th, 2016 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

“Most of our activity when we were growing up was at the JEA. . . . We learned how to speak, we had declamation contests, we played basketball. Even I, who was like a little butterball, whenever they’d let me in the game I’d play. But I was on the team.” — Paul Wartzman, Jewish Museum of Maryland oral history

JEA children at City Springs Park, JMM 1992.231.302

JEA children at City Springs Park, JMM 1992.231.302

Part I: Settlement Houses

The Jewish Education Alliance is usually depicted through the eyes of childhood. Its programs influenced thousands of Jewish boys and girls in East Baltimore during the first half of the twentieth century, boys and girls who later remembered it as the place that shaped their lives, taught them skills, and gave them a way to be active without getting into serious trouble.

Few people remember the JEA as part of a nationwide settlement house movement that advocated new ways to bring social services and change to urban areas, especially to immigrant neighborhoods. The JEA offered space for clubs, entertainment, and athletics for children and teens, but it was built for more than engaging the kids of the neighborhood. It was founded as a settlement house meant to serve and uplift the immigrant Jewish community of East Baltimore.

Settlement houses first appeared in the United States in 1886, modeled after similar organizations in England. They were planned as social service and community centers in poor, often heavily immigrant areas, staffed by trained, well-educated men and women. The staff, mostly from middle class backgrounds, lived at the settlement house. Supporters believed that living in the community allowed workers to understand the true needs of the poor and create effective ways to deal with those needs by forming close relationships with the residents. Young settlement workers differed from the older generation of charity workers who often focused on the destitute rather than the working poor and who entered poor communities with preexisting ideas of the meanings of and reasons for poverty, usually focusing on individual weaknesses. This new generation wanted to launch investigations to find the deeper and broader social or economic problems that led to poverty.[1]

Working Girls Home of the Daughters in Israel. From Isador Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Working Girls Home of the Daughters in Israel. From Isador Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Settlement house workers, however, did have their own preconceived ideas. Many of them were influenced by the Progressive movement which swept the nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Progressive reformers were diverse individuals, but a few generalizations can be made about them: they saw the basic problems around them as linked to industrialization and the growth of a multi-ethnic society, they often formed coalitions to make their reforms work within the existing political system, and they believed that with the proper environment anyone could change for the better.[2] For settlement workers, as for most reformers, a proper environment included basic education, cultural development, improved health and cleanliness, and the Americanization of immigrants.

Many Progressive reformers and settlement house workers were influenced by Protestant Christianity. But since most of the neighborhoods they targeted were religiously and ethnically diverse (and often more Catholic and Jewish than Protestant), settlement movement leaders such as Jane Addams of Hull House strove to maintain secular institutions in order to serve the entire local population. However, a number of settlement houses reached out to specific ethnic or religious communities. Jewish settlement houses appeared in cities throughout the country, set up by the Jewish community (often by American Jews of German descent), for the Jewish community (predominantly East European immigrants). They embraced many of the same goals as other settlements and offered many of the same programs. But to varying degrees, they also incorporated Jewish culture and religion into their activities.[3] The JEA of Baltimore was one of these houses.

By 1909 the United States had close to 400 settlement houses, with a total of twelve in Baltimore.[4] Two of those twelve, the Daughters in Israel and the Maccabean House, served the Jewish community of East Baltimore. Women founded the Daughters in Israel in 1890 to aid immigrant girls. Along with a range of programs, they opened the Working Girls’ Home where young women with jobs, but without parents or guardians, could live. A group of men incorporated the Maccabean House in 1900 “for the purpose of maintaining a reading room and library and other educational and benevolent . . . undertakings in the city of Baltimore; [and] carrying on educational, benevolent and philanthropic work among the poor.”  The Maccabean House focused on, but did not limit its activities to, the young men of East Baltimore.[5]

Maccabean House, 1204 East Baltimore Street

Maccabean House, 1204 East Baltimore Street

The two institutions had overlapping programs as well as gaps in their service to the community, so in 1909 they merged to form a new institution: the Jewish Educational Alliance.[6] Departing from the gender-segregated structure of nineteenth century charities, eight men and eight women joined together on the founding board of directors (see Caroline Friedman’s article in this issue on women’s role in charities). But the board did not depart from convention in another respect. Its members were all American-born children of German descent, drawn from long-established and well-off Jewish families: William Levy, Aaron Benesch, David Federleicht, Simon H. Stein, Walter Sondheim, Dr. Jose Hirsh, Henry S. Frank, Lewis Putzel, Laura Greif, Laura Guttmacher, Bertha Dalsheimer, Miriam Bernstein, Minnie Wiesenfeld, Lillie Strauss, Mollie Wiesenfeld and Mrs. S.B. Sonneborn.[7]

Their backgrounds contrasted with the newly-arrived East European Jews who populated the East Baltimore neighborhood where the new settlement house was located. But the mediators between the board and the neighborhood – the settlement workers who lived and worked at the JEA – were a mix of German and Russian, some children of immigrants, and others immigrants themselves.[8]

Continue to Part II: A Jewish Spirit


[1] Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement: 1890-1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 18.

[2] Daniel T. Rodgers, “In Search of Progressivism,” Reviews in American History 10, No. 4 (December 1982).

[3] Mina Carson, Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1990), 53-64.; Gerald Sorin, A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880-1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Finding Aid, Jewish Educational Alliance Records, 1915-2008, JMS 002, Savannah Jewish Archives at georgiahistory.com/containers/99.

[4] Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, eds., Handbook of Settlements (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1911), 95-104.

[5] “Daughters In Israel: A New Society for Doing Good – its purpose,” Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1890, p. 6; Articles of Incorporation for The Maccabeans of Baltimore City, March 19, 1900, MS170, Folder 210, Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM).

[6] After the merger, the Maccabean House ceased to exist. The Daughters in Israel continued to operate the Working Girls’ Home.

[7] October 21, 1909, JEA meeting minutes, MS 170, Folder 212, JMM; U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore City Manuscript Census, 1910, 1920.

[8] U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore City Manuscript Census, 1910, 1920.




Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Generations 2007-2008: Bridges to Zion: Maryland and Israel

Posted on November 9th, 2016 by

Generations 2007-2008: Bridges to Zion: Maryland and Israel

Table of Contents

Introduction by Avi Y. Decter and Deborah R. Weiner – download as pdf

An American in Palestine: Mendes I. Cohen Tours the Holy Land by Deborah R. Weiner – download as pdf

The American Delegate(s)* at the First Zionist Conference by Avi Y. Decter – download as pdf

Revolutionizing Experiences: Henrietta Szold’s First Visit to the Holy Land by Henrietta Szold – download as pdf

Why I was a Zionist and Why I Now Am Not by Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron

“Israel” by Karl Schapiro

Mahal Days by Raphael Ben-Yosef

Photo Gallery: Maryland Philanthropy and Israel by Rachel Kassman

The Blaustein-Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations by Mark K. Bauman

The Comeback Kid: Leon Uris Returns to City College, 1995 by Rona Hirsch

“Who is a Jew” by Shoshana S. Cardin

Book Review: A Dream of Zion: American Jews Reflect on Why Israel Matters to Them by Melvin I. Urofsky

Field Notes: The Jewish Journey: The Jewish Museum in New York by Fred Wasserman

Chronology: Maryland and Israel

Cost: $10

To order a print copy of Generations 2007-2008, please contact Esther’s Place, the JMM Museum Shop at 443-873-5179 or email Devan Southerland, Museum Shop Assistant at dsoutherland@jewishmuseummd.org.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Next Page »