A Synagogue’s Move to the Suburbs: The Beginning of the Future

Posted on May 14th, 2012 by

A blog post by Molly Martell, Johns HopkinsUniversity, Class of 2015

This semester I was able to take a course through Johns Hopkins and the Jewish Museum of Maryland called “Staging Suburbia” in which we, as students, helped the curatorial team at the JMM take a closer look at the move of Baltimore’s Jewish population from the city to the suburbs in the 1950’s and 60’s. At one point in the course, I was to interact with some of the museum’s collections. It was then that I found this “Beginning of the Future” pin in the JMM’s database.



With the information on the pin as my starting point, I began trying to figure out what happened on May 3rd of an unknown year, hoping it would somehow fit into the story of the migration of Jewish families, businesses, and places of worship to the suburbs during the 1950’s and 60’s. After thoroughly searching the web and the museum’s archives, I was still no closer to finding out what event the pin was tied to. It wasn’t until I started reading through Jan Bernhardt’s On Three Pillars: The History of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 1871-1996, that I was finally able to uncover the history of this little pin.

On January 20th, 1952, Chizuk Amuno began promoting theme of “Toward New Horizons for Chizuk Amuno” (Bernhardt 249). They enacted plans enacted to move the synagogue to suburbs. By October of that year, Chizuk Amuno was able to put down a deposit on a71-acre plot of land on Stevenson road.

Despite the progress that was made on the synagogue’s move to the suburbs, “Excitement surrounding the relocation plans was put aside in January 1953, as Milton Fleischer decided to step down from the presidency of the synagogue after serving as an officer for 55 years- 31 of them as president” (Bernhardt 252).

Plans for the synagogue’s move was overshadowed by the president’s retirement and for five months, the synagogue focused more heavily on welcoming the 8th president, Isaac Potts, to Chizuk Amuno’s congregation.

To re-engage interest and support in the relocation project, “a ‘Festival of Synagogue Music,’ coordinated by Bernice Kolodny, was held on May 3rd, 1953 and featured renownNew York cantor Arthur Wolfson as soloist. Dr. Hugo Wolfson conducted a choir of 75 voices and an orchestra of 40 musicians in 3 works by French-Jewish composer Darius Milhand. The concert attracted citywide attention as more that 1,200 listeners crowded into the sanctuary” (Bernhardt 253). The “Beginning of the Future” pin was most likely used as part of the festivities this day in 1953.

The little pin represents Chizuk Amuno’s goal to relocate to the suburbs, despite losing its president of 31 years. It conveys a message of hope and would have most likely been used in conjunction with the music festival to raise money for the new synagogue and spread the word of its new suburban branch. The move to the suburbs was cyclical in many instances- Jewish families and businesses would move to suburbs as synagogues began to move, and more synagogues began to move as families and businesses began to choose the suburbs over the city as well. 

Chizuk Amuno’s move from Lloyd Street to Stevenson Road mirrors not only the desires of Baltimore Jews of this time to become a part of suburban life but also the larger American ideal of the time- to embrace the future and strive for a life determined by oneself.

Ground was broken for the new synagogue three years later.

1991.007.022 Chizuk Amuno School groundbreaking, October 1956.

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The Maryland Jewish World, At Your Fingertips

Posted on May 9th, 2012 by

A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.

Our library volunteers recently completed a wonderful new resource for anyone researching—or simply curious about—Maryland Jewish history. It’s a listing of all the biographical files in our research collection, with summaries of each person’s significance or accomplishments. All 1,923 of them, from Judge Howard Aaron to Rabbi Meyer Zywicka.

Larry Adler, world-famous harmonica player and Baltimore native.

It’s interesting just to browse through the list. You get a real sense of the diversity of Maryland Jewry: in addition to the rabbis, business people, doctors, and lawyers you’d expect to see, you’ll also find a crab house owner, an internationally famous harmonica player, a bomber pilot, and Gertrude Stein (who lived in Baltimore for awhile), just for a start. And even within the expected categories, there are some unusual and fascinating profiles. Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn spent part of his childhood in Baltimore’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum, was “wounded, disfigured and blinded” in combat during World War I, and wrote autobiographical novels. Hyman S. Rubinstein is described as a neurologist, violinist, and psychiatrist who invented his own shorthand system. Makes you want to read his file, doesn’t it?

Gertrude Stein with Baltimoreans Claribel and Etta Cone (their files are especially interesting).

Keyword searches on particular topics should prove valuable for research projects. We’re currently working on a traveling exhibition on the suburbanization of Baltimore Jewry and we need to find out about the role played by Jewish real estate developers.  I just did a keyword search of the terms builder, developer, contractor, construction, and real estate—it turned up fifty-four individuals. So now we need to go look at those fifty-four files. . . . The summaries on the list just hint at the material that might be found in the files themselves, which range from thick folders on some people, to perhaps a single article on others.

Dr. Hyman S. Rubinstein. 1987.48.1

For students working on history papers, keyword searches will enable them to find particular individuals or gather info on broad topics. Just to see, I did a couple other searches. There are forty-four artists. There are sixteen poets, from Baltimorean Karl Shapiro, one of the most important American poets of the last century, to Hyman Pressman, longtimeMarylandcomptroller “known for his bad poetry.”

The cover of Hyman Pressman’s collected poems.

Not everyone on the list is Jewish. The only entry for “Q” is Allen Quille, whose profile notes that he was an African American parking lot millionaire who supported Zionist causes and was honored by theBaltimorebranch of the Zionist Organization of America around 1980. Thomas Kennedy is there, of course (look him up), and many other gentiles who had some kind of impact on Jewish life in Maryland.

Allen Quille being honored by the Z.O.A., circa 1980. 1995.128.40.1

Anyone doing research should keep in mind that this document is a guidepost, not an end in itself. With a database this large, there are bound to be inconsistencies, incomplete categorization, typos. It’s up to the researcher to be as creative as possible when thinking up keywords to use to search the document, and to follow up by looking in the actual files to get a more complete picture of the person being profiled.

Download the file here: JMM Biographical Vertical Files

Volunteers Harvey Karch and Vera Kestenberg did a fantastic job pulling this project together, spending hours reading the files and typing summaries into an Excel file. Thanks also to Bernie Raynor and Allan Blumberg, who added their talents to the project as well.  Ira Askin, who has been keeping track of our vertical files for years, was also involved. It’s great to have volunteers who can carry out an important initiative like this—which will be helpful for anyone researching Maryland Jewish history, for years to come.

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Posted on February 6th, 2012 by

By Rachel Cylus, Program Manager

It has been exactly one month and one day since I started my job as the Program Manager here at the JMM, and just over five weeks since I returned to America after 1.5 years living in Germany.  Pretty high up on my list of priorities was, of course, spending time with my grandmother, Helen Goldberg, who turned 90 on January 17th (the same day as Betty White!!).

Being just as eager to manage programs at home as I am at work, my mom and I set to work planning a surprise party to celebrate our very own Golden Girl.  And since no party, or program for that matter, would be complete without an activity of some sort, we decided to recreate an autograph book that my grandmother had as a child, and invite all of the guests to write messages in it.  Not wanting to spring this extra assignment on anyone last minute, we called our guests ahead of time to let them think about some fun memories and stories that they might want to write in grandma’s 90th birthday autograph book.

One of the women’s stories fit so perfectly with a project that we are working on at the Museum, that I had to share it with all of you.  But first, a bit of background:

One of the projects that I will be helping with here at the JMM is a traveling exhibition that we are developing called: The Next Big Thing: Jewish Life on the Suburban Frontier.  The exhibit will be about the Jewish community’s move to Northwest Baltimore County in the 1950s and 60s, and as with all JMM exhibitions, we of course want any family photos you have that relate!

When I sat down with Laura Tomes and Dean Krimmel, who are heading up this project and partnering with the JMM to teach a class at Johns Hopkins on the same subject, the first thing Dean did was ask me my own family’s history.  In discussing Grandma Helen’s epic 90 year long journey from Eastern Avenue to Pikesville (at least it sounds epic when she tells it!), I mentioned that she had sold real estate starting in the 60s.  Dean’s eyes lit up, and a few days later he sent me an email.  He looked up my grandmother’s name on theBaltimoreSun online through the Enoch Pratt Library and found her real estate listings.  “Time to get out the tape recorder!” he told me.

Real estate listing from Helen Goldberg and Loretta Roomer The Sun, June 18, 1972.

What he did not know was that just a few lines above my grandmother’s listing was another familiar name.  It was the name of a life long friend of my grandmother, and of course, a guest at her upcoming surprise party.  When we called to tell Loretta about the autograph book, she knew just what she wanted to write about.  They have been friends since childhood – Loretta turns ninety this summer, but it was their years working together in real estate that cemented a lifelong friendship.

Grandma Helen (Left) blows out the candles to her birthday cake sitting next to her lifelong friend and real estate colleague, Loretta Rooner.

The class at Hopkins began yesterday, and I am fortunate enough to get to take it in conjunction with helping develop the exhibition.  I look forward to sharing with all of you as I learn more about the suburbanization of Baltimore’s Jewish community and draw more connections between my family’s history and the JMM.

Getting down to business with the Hopkins class.

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