A False “Rosetta Stone”

Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by

Earlier this fall I had the opportunity to speak to the brotherhood of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation about the life of Mendes Cohen and the origins of Jewish Baltimore.  In preparation for the lecture, I thought it was incumbent on me to try to answer the question: “was there a connection between the Cohens and the community that built the Lloyd Street Synagogue (the original site of BHC)?”

I had the benefit of the research of Dr. Eric Goldstein, the Emory University scholar, who has been studying early Baltimore history on our behalf.  Dr. Goldstein had pointed out that the early Jewish settlement in Baltimore was highly transient.  A majority of Jews arriving between 1780 and 1820 stayed for just a few years, making it a tough environment for the establishment of permanent Jewish institutions.  There was a Jewish cemetery by 1797, but no regular minyan or congregation.  Baltimore was a frontier of Jewish world.

The Cohens were an exception to the pattern of transience.  Arriving in Baltimore from Richmond in 1808, they prospered in the lottery and banking business.  Like their close friends, the Ettings, the Cohens followed Sephardic traditions.  By contrast, new Baltimoreans after 1820 were almost entirely Germans practicing Ashkenazic rites.

Different sources give different accounts of when the first weekly minyans were held in Baltimore, some cited 1827, just a year after the passage of the Maryland Jew Bill.  Others claim that the practice of minyans in people’s homes began following the High Holidays in 1829.  Everyone seems to agree that this gathering called itself Nidche Yisrael (the “scattered of Israel”) and sought a formal charter as Maryland’s first Jewish congregation in 1830.

This is where my online research began.  Several sources, including the 1976 official history of the BHC, put the first minyan in the home of Zalma Rehine.  The Jewish Virtual Library stated that Rehine was a successful Richmond merchant (and a founding member of the Richmond Light Infantry) who moved to Baltimore in 1829.  The short article also pointed out that Rehine was the uncle of Isaac Leeser.

Now I may never have heard of Rehine, but Leeser was another story.  One of the most prominent Jewish spiritual leaders of pre-rabbinic America.  Leeser, technically the “cantor” of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, is known today for having introduced the practice of weekly sermons and for having made the first English translation of the Torah in the United States.  Leeser was present at the opening of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1845.

It turns out that Leeser and his uncle carried on an active correspondence in the 1830′s.  That correspondence is now archived as part of the 2100 letters in the Gershwind-Bennett Isaac Leeser Digital Library of the University of Pennsylvania:

Image courtesy of the Leeser Library.

Image courtesy of the Leeser Library.

http://leeser.library.upenn.edu/ilproject.php.  And that’s where I thought I found my Rosetta Stone!

Here was one letter that connected the “founder” of  BHC with the Cohens.  Moreover, it suggested that the relationship was so close that Dr. Joshua Cohen (Mendes’ brother) was among the trusted few who actually previewed Leeser’s sermons.  The story about chasing after the home robbers was just icing on the cake.

As so often happens, further research burst my bubble.  In trying to gather more detail on the relationships I ran across an article in the November 1976 issue of the American Jewish Archives.  The article by Ira Rosenswaike was entitled “The Founding of Baltimore’s First Jewish Congregation:  Fact or Fiction?”.  Rosenswaike explores in some detail the Rehine story, tracing its origins to an early 20th century lecture by Henrietta Szold.  Szold reportedly told her audience that a respected community elder had once recollected that an early minyan was held at the home of Zalma Rehine on Holliday Street.  Szold noted “this may possibly have been the beginning of Nidche Israel”.  Later accounts simply dropped the “may possibly” caution and said with certainty that the minyans began at Rehine’s home.  After noting the low likelihood that a Sephardi just arrived from Richmond would start an Ashkenazi Jewish minyan in Baltimore, Rosenswaike moves to some fairly solid census evidence that points to Rehine still residing in Richmond in 1830…at least a year after the regular minyan started meeting in Baltimore.

Although this nearly 40 year old article disproved my “Rosetta Stone”, I still remain hopeful that we’ll find a link between the Cohens and the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  I invite you to join me in this quest – the search is at least half the fun.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE. 

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My Walk through Jewish History

Posted on June 26th, 2014 by

As an Exhibition and Research Intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, it’s my responsibility to describe and dissect the unique connection between the Jewish community and medicine for the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing exhibit. Every day, I research topics on Jewish identity, conceptions of health, and the changing medical landscape. However, my education in Jewish History begins far before I enter the JMM. My morning walk from Patterson Park to Jonestown is an immediate reminder of Baltimore’s changing ethnic communities and the remnants of a recent past.

Southeast Baltimore and was once home to a thriving Jewish community. This should not surprise our blog readers, as the JMM and corned beef row are located just east of downtown. However, to the casual passer-by, the area’s Jewish presence is not immediate. Jewish History is only found by those who look. One day, as I was walking down East Baltimore Street, I noticed something quite unusual on a Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic Church—Hebrew.

A Hebrew inscription hidden in plain sight.

A Hebrew inscription hidden in plain sight.

On the facade of Iglesia de Dios, was a prominent Hebrew inscription, and the date 1899. Stepping back, I looked for more Jewish symbolism hidden amongst the Christian iconography. Sure enough, above the stained glass cross, were the tablets of the Ten Commandments. I could not find the earliest congregation associated with this synagogue; however, with a little research, I discovered this beautiful cream brick building at the corner of Baltimore and Chester may have been the home of former Adath Israel Congregation. This Orthodox congregation was founded in 1914 and amalgamated with Congregation Emanuel in 1920. This community worshiped at this location from 1920-1948, until it merged with Beth Isaac to form Beth Isaac-Adath Israel Congregation. The community is still thriving, just in a new location in Northwest Baltimore.

Iglesia de Dios on E. Baltimore Street is an excellent example of a re-purposed religious space.

Iglesia de Dios on E. Baltimore Street is an excellent example of a re-purposed religious space.

Re-appropriating sacred places is certainly not a new concept to our readers or the JMM. The Lloyd Street Synagogue was once used by the Lithuanian Catholic community before they raised enough money to build their own house of worship. Though I am sure it is hard to leave a place that was once your home every Saturday, it must have reassured former congregants that their synagogue was still used for praise and reflection.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue took on multiple faith communities in its lifetime.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue took on multiple faith communities in its lifetime.

Unfortunately, not all former synagogues find other communities. Just of the corner of E. Baltimore and S. Caroline, I walked past a razed former synagogue. Yet, despite the graffiti and draped blue tarpaulins, I could see the beauty the structure once had. There is no name, just an inscription of a psalm and the date 1925. The closest congregation I found near this site was Agudas Achim Anshe Chernigov Nusarch Ari Congregation, an Orthodox community located at 132 South Carolina Street from 1913-1950.

 Though it’s near demolition, one can still appreciate the structure’s subtle beauty.

Though it’s near demolition, one can still appreciate the structure’s subtle beauty.

Although I have just scratched the surface of Baltimore’s past congregations and Jewish communities, I realize I am so fortunate to work in a place that keeps these memories alive. If you have any more information on these  structures, please let the JMM know – email research@jewishmuseummd.org!

 

Mandy BenterThis blog post was written by Exhibitions Research Intern Mandy Benter. For more information on Baltimore’s many synagogues, please see Earl Pruce’s Synagogues, Temples, and Congregations of Maryland, 1830-1990 or visit the website: http://www.kilduffs.com/Synagogues.htmlTo read more posts by and about JMM interns, click here

 

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Mystery Items from the 1996 JMM Expansion

Posted on November 21st, 2013 by

During the expansion of the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 1996 there were many forgotten artifacts and objects that were found in the grounds beneath the land surrounding the museum and synagogues.  My fellow Urban Archeology intern, Molly, and I have been examining these forgotten objects, cataloging, cleaning and photographing them. Most of the materials we handle are different fragments of bottles, glass, ceramics and metal, as well as some unidentified objects.

We have been able to identify the genre of most of the objects, and through research we have been able to pin point dates, regions and companies that certain artifacts originated from. However, amongst the hundreds of objects there have been a handful that we have had to make educated guesses as to what they are, and others are completely miscellaneous and unidentifiable.

Here are some pictures of individual objects that we believe to have identified, and others which we are still uncertain of. Take a look and see if you can guess what they are, what you think they could be or what it may have been used for! If you have any input, send us an email at jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

object A

object A

object B

object B

object C

object C

object D

object D

object E (view 1)

object E (view 1)

object E (view 2)

object E (view 2)

object F

object F

 

 

Did you try and guess what they are? Here are our findings and educated guesses:

Object A: We believe it is the sole of or part of a shoe.

Object B: Purse/small bag clasps.

Object C: We believe it to be part of a lid of an ornamental ceramic jar.

Object D: We think it is the arm of a small porcelain doll.

Object E: We have absolutely no idea what the material or object is or what it was used for.

Object F: It is clearly made of wood, but we have no idea what this would have been used for.

A blog post by Collections Intern Carlyn Thomas. To read more posts by JMM interns, click here.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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