Stories of Prohibition

Posted on January 25th, 2012 by


Since the Purim Pandemonium Committee picked this year’s theme (Gin & Jews: Speakeasy Style), I have become somewhat obsessed with the Prohibition era.  I’ve watched documentaries, read books, scoured the internet and even delved into my family history.  And I’ve found some great stories, which I will now pass on to you.  At the end I’ll include some links to sites that can help you figure out what to wear to Purim Pandemonium this year.


I’m going to start the post with a Prohibition story from my own family.  The family members involved in this story were not Maryland Jews (they were in fact French New York Catholics), but I love this story so I have to share.



The picture above was taken in the late nineteen-teens or maybe early nineteen-twenties.  The girl on the right is my great grandmother (Marie Louise), in the middle is her grandmother (also Marie Louise and my great, great, great grandmother), at the left is her aunt, referred to by all of the family now as Great Aunt Mal.  This story is about Great Aunt Mal.

Great Aunt Mal (and all the rest of that side of my family) lived in a little town up in New York right across the border from Canada.  They owned multiple barges that they used for shipping and they could and did move the barges between the two countries.  In addition to cargo space the barges, or at least Great Aunt Mal’s barge, had living space. So picture my Great Aunt Mal and her husband on their barge moving between Canada and the US.

This is my great great grandfather’s barge, but Great Aunt Mal’s would probably have looked something like it.

Among the many niceties on Great Aunt Mal’s barge was a piano.  While in Canada Great Aunt Mal bought up some liquor and hid it behind the piano.  It’s been awhile since I heard this story so I’m a little fuzzy on the details – was the liquor maybe in the piano, or behind the wall panels?  However she did it, she did it and she brought the liqour back to the United States. This could be dangerous business with Prohibition agents on the look out for violators.  The one thing I remember most about this story is what her husband said to her.  This liquor running was all Great Aunt Mal’s idea, and he told her that if they ever got caught she was on her own. Great Aunt Mal never did get caught.


Now back to Maryland for a little Prohibition era blurb from The Baltimore Sun:


“Rev. M. N. Weisblatt to be in Court Wednesday on Liquor Charge.

“The case of Rabbi Menochim N. Weisblatt, charged with a violation of the Volstead act, has been scheduled for trial in the United States District Court next Wednesday, Amos W. W. Woodcock, United States District Attorney, announced yesterday.

“Indicted jointly with the rabbi are his sons, Nathan and Joseph. They are said to have been in possession of liquor on March 6, March 13 and March 17. They also are charged with unlawful sale of liquor. Through their attorney, Ellis Levin, they have pleaded not guilty. It is understood their defense will be that the liquor was for sacramental use only.”

The Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1925, pg. 4 (This article and other historic Baltimore Sun articles can be found online at http:///

Keep an eye out for more prohibition stories from the staff and the newspapers. Until then take a look at these links for costume ideas.

Fancy, but not your typical flapper:









Casual wear:






Fancy duds:



 Check out our Twitter feed for these and other costume ideas.

 And remember Purim Pandemonium will be Saturday, March 10, 2012 from 9pm-1am.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

A Baltimore Jewish Riot?

Posted on May 25th, 2011 by

One of the most fun parts of my job involves delving into the museum’s archives to research topics related to our exhibitions and publications. Right now, I’m deep into research for a new book on the history of the Baltimore Jewish community, which allows me to pretty much look in any direction I want to. I enjoy uncovering examples of “bad behavior”—let’s face it, it’s just more interesting, especially when the behavior goes against stereotypes of Jews or the official, rather staid version of history that is usually promoted by a community’s leaders (of course, this applies to any community, anywhere). I thought I’d share an interesting story line I came across recently.

A typical raid during Prohibition (from

It’s well known that Jews were not big fans of Prohibition in the 1920s, but I was still a bit surprised to come across incidents of Jews engaging in spontaneous acts of violence against prohibition agents—in fact, at least twice in a single year. In January 1922, according to the Baltimore Sun, “An attack was made upon the agents and police at the place of Abraham Levine, 140 North Exeter Street.” As the police uncovered “a quart bottle of whisky and 25 barrels of fruit wine,” a sergeant “was struck over the head by an alarm clock thrown by a woman supposed to be Mrs. Levine.” The couple’s twelve-year-old son, “in a towering rage,” told the officers that “if he had a pistol he would shoot him.” More than 1,000 people gathered to witness the raid in the Jewish immigrant neighborhood of East Baltimore, and their sympathies were not with the police.

The sentiment in Fells Point (from

The following June, in an article headlined “Crowd Threatens To Beat ‘Dry’ Agent,” the Sun reported what happened when the car of a prohibition agent named Barton collided with a truck operated by Abraham Lazarowitz of East Fayette Street. “Lazarowitz, it is alleged, jumped from the truck and struck Barton in the face. Barton drew a blackjack.” When bystanders learned that Barton was a prohibition agent, some of them “offered to help beat him.” The arrival of reinforcements saved Barton from the angry mob, and Lazarowitz was arrested. When his lawyer asked the judge to reduce his bail, the judge refused. “I am going to do my duty in stopping unprovoked attacks against Government officers, even if they are prohibition agents.”

Two gents in Prohibition-era Baltimore. JMM 1989.211.6.23

Apparently prohibition agents were universally unpopular, and Jews were far from the only ones spoiling for a fight. The Lazarowitz incident was only the “latest in a series of attacks” against agents, the first occurring during the raid of an Irish saloon.

Baltimore Jewish Times ad for Champagne (ginger ale, that is), 1928.

Next month… Baltimore Jewish juvenile delinquents, perhaps, or champion golfers…


A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland