Posted on May 9th, 2012 by Rachel
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. 1918.104.22.168
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.
Posted on February 6th, 2012 by Rachel
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.
Posted on January 30th, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Intern Erika Rief.
It is no coincidence that I chose to intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland during my winter break. Over the past six months, I have been on an incredible journey discovering parts of my family history. My internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is extremely fitting considering how large of a role Baltimore plays in my family’s history. As one of the Education and Programming interns, I have been given the opportunity to lead tours of the two historic synagogues on either side of the museum, the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel. Telling the story of the Jews who lived on the surrounding streets and worshipped in these synagogues is extremely personal to me. Unbeknownst to me when I began my internship, it is in fact part of my own family’s history.
Erika's first day at the JMM.
Simon Rief, my great-great grandfather’s brother (my great-great grand uncle), played a very large role in my search for answers about my family’s past. He was the first Rief to come to the United States. Arriving in America in 1880, he was already established by the turn of the century. Therefore, he was the sponsor for my great-great grandmother and great-grandfather who immigrated to the United States in 1904. Before I started conducting family history, I was aware of my great-grandfather’s uncle, Simon Rief. However, besides his name, I didn’t know much more about him. I knew even less about his descendants’ whereabouts.
My first major accomplishment of the family research indirectly involved Simon Rief. While failing to find my great-grandfather’s naturalization papers, I discovered that my great-grandfather, Nathan Rief, changed his name after he arrived in the United States. My whole family knew my great-grandfather as Nathan Rief. Aware that Nathan had come to this country, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find a ship manifest or naturalization papers with his name. Between a vague memory that my great aunt Beatrice recalled and inspecting Nathan’s Hebrew name, I realized that his name was originally Simon Nathanial Rief. He switched it to Nathan Simon Rief to avoid confusion with his uncle, Simon Rief, whom he was obviously very close with. Knowing Nathan’s original name, I was able to locate his naturalization papers, which provided many more details about his origins and journey to the United States.
Moving on in my search, I started tracking Simon Rief’s family using the U.S. Census records. Since he was the first Rief in the United States, I thought studying him might provide me with more insight. I spent many hours tracking Simon Rife in the 1900 Census, Simon Reif in the 1910 Census, and Simon Rief in the 1920 Census.
Then, through a very big coincidence which needs a blog post to explain in itself, I discovered that one of Simon Rief’s descendants happened to go to high school with me. Even though Rob Rosenberg lived in Harrisburg, we both attended Beth Tfiloh for four years together and never knew we were related. He also happened to be engaged and getting married right around the corner from Emory, in Atlanta Georgia, where I go to school. I had already planned on attending the wedding. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a friend from high school getting married; it was mishpacha! Our great-great grandfathers, Simon Rief and Moshe Rief were brothers.
Rob’s aunt, Janet Abromowitz, who lives in Baltimore informed me that Simon Rief was instrumental in founding the Hebrew Free Loan Society. She also told me he was president of B’nai Israel Congregation. However, back in October when I spoke to her, that didn’t really mean anything to me. As I began my internship here, and started to learn more about B’nai Israel, I became more curious as to my family’s connection with the synagogue.
From the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s online archives search, I knew that there was a printing block and glass slide with a picture of him. So, last week I ventured downstairs and with the help of one of my fellow interns, Ginevra, I located the printing block and slide. I had never seen a picture of Simon Rief before and had no idea what to expect. Looking at Simon Rief’s picture, I saw a reflection of my grandfather who passed away this past June. I couldn’t have been more excited with my newly found treasure. However, I wondered what the printing block had been used for. To try and figure it out, I started digging through the B’nai Israel archives. As I opened the first folder, I found a pamphlet from the celebration of B’nai Israel’s Diamond Jubilee in 1948. Inside the pamphlet was a page with all of the faces from the printing blocks. In the upper right corner was the picture from the printing block. Underneath was labeled ‘Simon Rief, president.’ It must have been a copy of an old newsletter that they used for the Diamond Jubilee celebration.
Assuming that I had found all that there was to find, I skimmed through the rest of the folder. But, I stopped for a moment when I came across the translation of the original by-laws and names of the members of the congregation. Perhaps Simon’s name would be listed. The names were listed alphabetically by Hebrew first name. As I began scanning the names, my jaw dropped. I saw ‘Yishayahu Nachum ben Moshe Michal HaLevi Reif,’ also known as Simon Nathanial Rief, also known as Nathan Simon Rief, my great-grandfather. Sure enough, I found Nathan’s brother, along with Simon Rief and his wife. Afterwards, I found the original book and found all of their names, handwritten in Hebrew over 100 years ago. It never crossed my mind that my great-grandfather might have attended the same shul as his uncle. Here I am, over 100 years later, giving tours of what is most likely the first synagogue that my great-grandfather ever attended in the United States.
…just another typical day at the Jewish Museum of Maryland!