Performing Community Part 3

Posted on April 2nd, 2018 by

Article by Avi Y. Decter, former JMM executive director, with Erin L. Titter, former JMM archivist. Originally published in Generations – 2003: Entertaining Maryland. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Part III: Popular Entertainment

Missed the beginning? Start here.

A wide range of community performances focused directly on popular entertainment. The Jewish Educational Alliance sponsored numerous clubs and groups that presented shows to the community. The JEA Orchestra, under the skilled direction of conductor Benjamin Klasmer, was organized in 1919 and for at least a generation was a major musical force in the community. Members of this early youth orchestra later joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and other professional ensembles. The JEA also sponsored the Maccabean Glee Club and the Meyerbeer Society, singing groups that helped to feed the nascent Civic Opera Company.

The Jewish Educational Alliance Orchestra with founder-conductor Benjamin Klasmer (center), 1920s. JMM 1977.24.1

The Alliance Players, a JEA dramatics club, began productions in the late 1920s. Led by noted director Harry King, the Alliance Players met weekly to read and critique plays, practice their theatrical skills, and prepare for performances in the community. In 1933, the Alliance Players appeared in performances at the Jewish Educational Alliance auditorium on Lombard Street, and at City Hospital, the Madison Avenue Temple, the Bolton Street Temple, the Council on Jewish Youth, and the Methodist Church on York Road. In addition to full seasons of one-act and full-length plays, the Alliance Players appeared on local radio for weekly broadcasts during the 1930s.[1]

The JEA Alliance Players in a production of “Crime and Punishment” with Doris Margulis and Bobby Adams, n.d. JMM 2001.24.4

The JEA sponsored numerous clubs, many of which also produced annual entertainments. One such group, the Shoshanna Club, which was active in the 1940s and ‘50s, developed musical revues and minstrel shows. Their 1945 production, Git on Board, was described as an all-girl minstrel show replete with “Mirth, Melody, and Mischigas.” Some of these JEA productions were popular dramas of the day; others were written by local authors on Jewish themes; and still others were parodies or pastiches that dew on mainstream entertainments. As former club member Rae Rossen put it, the club provided a “home away from home” that helped members to “grow culturally.” Whatever their provenance or form, these productions engaged Jewish youth in the challenging work of transitioning from a largely immigrant community in the early twentieth century to a primarily native-born, fully acculturated community by mid-century.[2]

In the postwar years, a number of community groups continue to present entertainments. One of the best-known of these is the Covenant Guild, a women’s philanthropic organization established in 1947. By 1953, the Covenant Guild had formed a Choral Group that began by entertaining at Guild meetings, then started performing for other organizations, using their performance fees for fundraising to bolster the Guild’s charitable giving. Inevitably, as the group matured, spouses and then children were drawn into performances, including the Guild’s full-scale annual shows presented at the Alcazar. Like other community groups, the Covenant Guild melds traditional Jewish values with contemporary, ironic styles to promote what historian David Glassberg calls “cohesion, continuity, and common purpose.”[3]

Critic Marshall Fishwick has observed that “America is not so much a nation or a people as a search.”[4] Community performances are markets along the path of the Jewish journey here in Baltimore. They affirm, challenge, and interpret the circumstances and values of generations and groups, mirroring experience and guiding future action. Community performances embody a collective imagery, reinforcing the communal identities of performers and audience alike.

The End.

 

[1] Associated Citizen, June 1933. Courtesy of the Jewish Educational Alliance Archives (at the JCC, Owings Mills) and JEA Archivist Bernard Cohen.

[2] Telephone interview with Rai Rossen, July 5, 2003. Interview with Bernard Cohen, July 8, 2003.

[3] Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, p. 282.

[4] Fishwick is cited in Ima Honaker Herron, The Small Town in American Drama (Southern Methodist University Press: Dallas, 1969), p. xvii.

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Once Upon a Time…09.16.2016

Posted on June 13th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

1988.169.1Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  September 16, 2016

 

PastPerfect Accession #:  1988.169.001

 

Status: Mostly Identified! Alliance Players’ production of “The Genius Business,” 1945. Pictured are: (right) Marcia Zuriff, (center, seated): Lillian Schlisselberg, (left) unidentified

 

Thanks To: Rita Freedman

 

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The JEA Building Today: Or, A Building in Disguise

Posted on March 30th, 2017 by

Marvin and I recently had the privilege of touring the old JEA Building, now owned by our neighbors Helping Up Mission. There’s not much that physically remains from the Jewish Educational Alliance, but Tom Stone, Director of Facilities and Operations at Helping Up, was able to point out a few areas where clues to the building’s original use can still be seen.

Left: The JEA’s Levy Building, circa 1925. Gift of Jack Chandler, JMM 1992.231.105 Center: The Seafarer’s International Union Hall, circa 1970. Gift of Jack Chandler. JMM 1992.231.255 Right: 1216 E. Baltimore Street as it looks today. Taken by JMM staff, March 29, 2017

Left: The JEA’s Levy Building, circa 1925. Gift of Jack Chandler, JMM 1992.231.105
Center: The Seafarer’s International Union Hall, circa 1970. Gift of Jack Chandler. JMM 1992.231.255
Right: 1216 E. Baltimore Street as it looks today. Taken by JMM staff, March 29, 2017

In 1913, the JEA’s Levy Building opened for business at 1216 E. Baltimore Street. It was designed and built to their specifications, with classrooms, a two-level gymnasium, and two rooftop play areas – altogether, a modern, up-to-date facility for East Baltimore’s Jewish community.

The JEA basketball team posed in the gymnasium, 1921. Jacob Kadish is in the top right. Gift of Shirley Kadish Davids, JMM 2017.1.1

The JEA basketball team posed in the gymnasium, 1921. Jacob Kadish is in the top right. Gift of Shirley Kadish Davids, JMM 2017.1.1

Dedication of the Moses Hecht Work out room at the Jewish Education Alliance, 1944. Note the ceiling-high window (opening to the hall) and transom; traces of these can still be seen over the shorter 1950s doors in the current building.  Gift of Eleanor K. Levy, JMM 1991.20.5

Dedication of the Moses Hecht Work out room at the Jewish Education Alliance, 1944. Note the ceiling-high window (opening to the hall) and transom; traces of these can still be seen over the shorter 1950s doors in the current building. Gift of Eleanor K. Levy, JMM 1991.20.5

By the late 1940s, however, the building was no longer quite so modern, and much of the community it served had left the East Baltimore neighborhood. In 1952 the JEA merged with the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association and Camp Woodlands to form the new Jewish Community Center, and the old facility was sold to the Seafarer’s International Union (SIU).

“Seamen Open Modern Hall,” The Baltimore Sun, November 11, 1954.

“Seamen Open Modern Hall,” The Baltimore Sun, November 11, 1954.

The SIU, naturally enough, needed something a little different from the building. They modernized the façade, updated the infrastructure, and created new spaces designed to fit the needs of their members: a “hiring hall,” with notice boards advertising shipping jobs; rooms for card playing and pool tables; event spaces, including a solarium and a cocktail lounge; a large, modern cafeteria and kitchen; union offices; and a retail shop.  In some respects, the building’s new use was not too unlike the original: recreational, educational, and social spaces for an members of a specific community. Nonetheless, so complete was the transformation that the Baltimore Sun, in its 1954 description of the grand opening, noted “the structure… would never be recognized as the former Jewish Alliance Building.”

The Sun was right. About the only original element still easily visible from the outside is the rear rooftop deck, used as a playground by the JEA and a “sun deck” by the SIU.  It’s surrounded by a low brick wall and a high chain link fence, and it’s pretty much the only point of connection for modern viewers (such as myself) attempting to convince themselves that, yes, this really is the same building.

Left: Children playing on the JEA roof, circa 1945. Gift of Jack Chandler, JMM 1992.231.029 Right: The current view toward downtown from the rear roof deck. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

Left: Children playing on the JEA roof, circa 1945. Gift of Jack Chandler, JMM 1992.231.029
Right: The current view toward downtown from the rear roof deck. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

With a closer look, though, the JEA can still be seen: on the front, where the applied façade is cracked in tidy half-circles above the 3rd floor windows, mimicking the original brick arches underneath; inside, in the covered-over transoms peeping above the newer, shorter interior doors; and in the old gymnasium, left relatively alone but (for safety reasons) only visible from the doorway.

The arch of bricks above the window want to be seen! Taken by JMM staff, March 29, 2017

The arch of bricks above the window want to be seen! Taken by JMM staff, March 29, 2017

And yes, I apologize; I was distracted by reality and did not take many photos on our tour, so you’ll just have to imagine these things.  (And none of my photos of the gymnasium came out; it was pretty dark.) More visible, and more easily photographed, are parts of the SIU’s modern update, such as the “solarium” installed in what had been the JEA’s front rooftop playground, and the ship-like design of the SIU cocktail lounge on the first floor.

The SIU solarium, built where the front rooftop playground was originally. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

The SIU solarium, built where the front rooftop playground was originally. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

The jazzy maritime-themed SIU cocktail lounge included two porthole windows revealing tanks of fish.  The large kitchen (through the open door) was in an addition built by the SIU. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

The jazzy maritime-themed SIU cocktail lounge included two porthole windows revealing tanks of fish. The large kitchen (through the open door) was in an addition built by the SIU. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

Looking at the east side of the building from inside the 1950s addition, you can see where the smooth, modern façade was applied directly over the original brick.  Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

Looking at the east side of the building from inside the 1950s addition, you can see where the smooth, modern façade was applied directly over the original brick. Taken by JMM staff, March 7, 2017

So yes, those of you who – like me – doubted that this is the same building, it turns out that if you remove the front stoop and change the classical windows to big sheets of plate glass, the whole character of a building is altered. But behind the mid-century disguise, the original elements can still tell part of their story.  And thus ends your architectural history lesson for the day.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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