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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1960s

Posted on February 24th, 2017 by

Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

The Baltimore Jewish community has produced many leaders who have worked to make the world a better place. The range of issues they have addressed is impressive: from women’s suffrage to civil rights, labor relations to helping the elderly, refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more.

This chronology traces the careers of ten Baltimoreans who stood up for social change, with each person’s entry revolving around a turning point—one for each decade of the twentieth century. This is by no means a “Ten Best” list. The people included here are remarkable for what they accomplished, but others, equally remarkable, could have been chosen as well. These profiles should be seen as representative of a larger group of Baltimore Jews who have made major contributions to their communities and to the broader society in myriad ways.

The 1960s: Rosalie Silber Abrams

Click here to start from the beginning.

1966: Rosalie Silber Abrams (1916-2009) is elected to the Maryland House of Delegates; she becomes a state senator four years later. During her productive eighteen-year career in the legislature, she helps pass legislation focused on patient rights, child welfare, mental health care reform, environmental protection, and women’s rights.

Rosalie Silber Abrams. JMM 1984.37.1.9

Rosalie Silber Abrams. JMM 1984.37.1.9

Abrams’s legislative accomplishments included the creation of the state’s Health Service Cost Review Commission, a groundbreaking initiative to control hospital rates and enhance the quality of patient care. Selected Senate Majority Leader in 1979, she was the first woman to hold a major leadership post in the Maryland General Assembly and also became the first female chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. Abrams retired from the Senate to head the state Office on Aging in 1983, where she served until retiring in 1996.

Abrams (standing, left) at the signing of a bill she co-sponsored, c. 1971. Governor Marvin Mandel is seated at left. JMM 1983.8.17.1

Abrams (standing, left) at the signing of a bill she co-sponsored, c. 1971. Governor Marvin Mandel is seated at left. JMM 1983.8.17.1

Abrams grew up working in the popular East Baltimore bakery owned by her parents, Ike and Dora Silber. A graduate of the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing, she served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy before marrying and raising a family. Though she began her political career relatively late in life, her background in health care, confidence, and practical political skills gained her the respect of her colleagues and made her an exemplary advocate for health and welfare issues.

Continue to The 1970s: Harry Greenstein

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Learning from Wisdom

Posted on July 20th, 2016 by

Throughout this internship, I’ve spent many fond hours at the front desk talking with Betsy, one of the museum’s volunteers. Betsy is well travelled, wise, and open minded, and I love talking to her about the news and politics. Although she is an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, and I of Bernie Sanders, our differences of opinion only make our conversations more interesting, and lead to excellent discussion. Betsy has a very different point of view from myself, which helps me to see issues in different ways than I would normally look at them, and I can’t help but to trust the wisdom of her experiences.

If you've been to the Museum, you've probably met Betsey at the Welcome Desk!

If you’ve been to the Museum, you’ve probably met Betsey at the Welcome Desk!

We’ve also conversed thoroughly about food and travel. Betsy and I have both been to China and find other cultures fascinating, and have discussed our favorite restaurants in the Baltimore. We both seem to share a passion for ethnic foods and exploring the city. Since the start of my internship, I think I have learned the most about the world and how to have a good life. She just turned 90 last week, so here’s wishing her a happy Birthday!

06.06.2016 Interns (23)Post by Education and Programs Intern David Agronin. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.


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Compared to What?

Posted on July 13th, 2016 by

It goes without saying that America has had more glorious “4th of July” weeks than in 2016.  Rather than fireworks, our eyes were riveted on gunfire – grisly videos of both citizens and police under attack.  In the midst of this cauldron of hatred and fear we lost two major voices that had railed against silence in the presence of inhumanity: Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist, Sydney Schanberg.  It only compounded our sense of loss.

I noticed that the events of the last ten days have also sent people scrambling for historic comparisons.  I have seen articles in several major media sites comparing current events to those of the late 60s.  For me this isn’t a historic era, but rather part of my lived experience.  I chose to escape the constant drumbeat of awful news for an hour going into the basement to sort through my memorabilia from college.  Among the posters for anti-war rallies and flyers for protests of every kind I ran across a school newspaper from my freshman year at GW.  It’s banner headline screamed of the violence that came to campus 45 years ago.  My recollection is that I locked myself in my room, covered my windows with masking tape, and still found myself coughing from tear gas after our dorm was subjected to gas canisters dropped from helicopters.

The Hatchet

The Hatchet

But in shuffling through the papers I also discovered another unexpected (and timely) perspective.

In all the chaos of the last week, the passing of Judge Abner Mikva on July 4 received modest coverage.  But for me it was a significant event.

Readers of my blog posts know that I grew up on the South Side of Chicago at a time when Mayor Daley (the first Mayor Daley) and the “machine” ran not only the city itself but all political representation of the city.  Chicago may be the “second city”, but it takes a backseat to no one in the category of political corruption.  In the 1960’s we were represented in Congress by Barratt O’Hara – a machine politician who was a Spanish-American War veteran and who had served as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois during WWI.  There is nothing like a first political infatuation and at age 14 I went door-to-door for Abner Mikva as he attempted to fight the machine.

Mikva lost.  But in a rising tide of anti-Vietnam War sentiment, he finally made it into office in 1968 and when I entered college at George Washington University I went to Capitol Hill to volunteer.  They assigned me to the addressograph machine – an essential tool in the era before mail merge software.   The job itself was not that exciting but I spent a fair amount of my free time pursuing my interests as a political junkie – running from office to office collecting signatures of the famous legislators of my youth.

As I grew older, I lost much of my ardor for political activism but I continued to admire Congressman and then Judge Mikva from a distance.  Mikva eventually became Chief Judge of DC Court of Appeals in the 1990s (the position now held by my classmate Merrick Garland).  He would encourage a young man named Barack Obama to enter politics and eventually receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievements.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

So there in the box with my political autograph collection (including Eugene McCarthy’s on the back of a hastily grabbed West Point application) – I found this newsletter from Abner Mikva directed at high school students.  I may have saved this from my days working the addressograph machine.

The newsletter's final paragraph.

The newsletter’s final paragraph.

I turned to the back page and my jaw dropped.  It reminded me that 45 years ago when many of thought our nation was doomed and the future had never been darker – we were wrong and Abner Mikva was right: “compared to what?”

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

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