Going For a Drive Up Park Heights Avenue

Posted on March 7th, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.


Growing up in Montgomery County, I did not spend much time in Baltimore; we came up to the aquarium, the science museum, and the Power Plant a few times, but my family’s focus was on the DC museums and attractions. As an adult I occasionally visited Baltimore museums for work and for fun, but the city was still kind of a mystery to me. When hanging out with a friend who lived in Medfield in the mid-2000s, I would drive myself around 695 and come into the city down 83 – and then back out again the same way – just to avoid having to navigate between the end of the JFX and the beginning of 395 on the unfamiliar downtown streets.

Now, after 4 ½ years at the JMM and 4 ½ years of driving to work, to the Park Heights JCC, to the Associated’s Mount Royal offices (which I could not find the first time I tried to go), and to various neighborhoods in and around the city to meet with donors and lenders, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it. (And yes, I can now get between the end of 83 and the beginning of 395 with no problems.) Yesterday when traveling between two loan pick-ups I took a wrong turn in Pikesville, found myself facing Surburban Orthodox Toras Chaim, and immediately concluded that I knew how to get myself back on track. Aha! Success! I know my way around!

This, of course, means that I’ll get totally lost next time I try to find something without my phone guiding me. But it also means that, while I’m driving around, I can devote more attention to my surroundings and less to the map, which brings me to the point of this blog post: historic synagogues. Now that I’ve gotten to know historic Jewish Baltimore as well as the modern streetscape, driving past the synagogues and schools in Park Heights and other neighborhoods is like spotting old friends – some with the same name, some that have changed. Here are just a few photos from our collections for you to enjoy today (and don’t forget that you can look through our historic photograph collection yourself, on our online database).

In the 1970s, Paul Schlossberg took Polaroid photos of many Baltimore synagogues – now a useful reference for us, several decades on. Here’s the front of Beth Jacob (5713 Park Heights Avenue), dedicated in 1953; the building is now used by Cheder Chabad. Gift of Paul Schlossberg. JMM 1984.24.6

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Har Sinai building (6300 Park Heights Avenue), 1957.  The building is now (2019) home to Bnos Yisorel of Baltimore, while Har Sinai’s congregation is based in Owings Mills. Gift of Har Sinai Congregation. JMM 2012.108.107

Temple Oheb Shalom (7310 Park Heights Avenue) around 1960, in a photo taken by another conscientious recorder-of-synagogues, Menasha Katz. This building, dedicated in 1960, is still occupied by the Temple Oheb Shalom congregation. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.137.92 

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A Surprising Find at Eastern State Penitentiary

Posted on May 2nd, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

On Monday, April 23, the JMM management team (Marvin, Tracey, Joanna, Ilene and me) piled into Ilene’s car and drove to Philadelphia.

We made the trip to visit our colleagues at the National Museum of American Jewish History and at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Both institutions provided engaging and meaningful experiences, and both provided surprises. I will leave some stories for other posts (and maybe other writers), and focus here on what I found the most surprising about Eastern State Penitentiary: its synagogue.

The historic prison has a beautifully restored synagogue in its midst. I was surprised when our tour guide first mentioned its existence, and my surprise was only compounded when we stepped into the space.

The small room is paneled in a dark wood not unlike our own Rosen-Salganik Board Room, with a simple but decorative ark in one corner and a golden star of David medallion on the ceiling.

The original synagogue door shows the ghosts of two stars of David that used to adorn it.

The space had been built in the early 20th century. “Were there a lot of Jewish prisoners here?” I wondered aloud. Our tour guide informed me that when the synagogue was completed in the 1920s, about 80 of the 1400 prisoners there were Jewish. Rather than a pressing demand for Jewish religious expression among the prisoners, the Eastern State synagogue was built by the broader Philadelphia Jewish community. Likewise, the gleaming, restored space was made possible by the contemporary community.

Once we had had a chance to take in the space, our guide asked for our help flipping down a long section of paneling. As the section flipped down on a long piano hinge, exhibit panels were revealed, presenting the history of the space and of Jewish life at Eastern State.

We had fun comparing historical photos to the contemporary space in which we stood, and were all intrigued to read that the first Jewish clergy to visit Eastern State did so in 1845, the same year our own Lloyd Street Synagogue was born.

Also on display in the synagogue space was a small crowd-sourced display, Share Your Mitzvah.

The Eastern State staff created cards that allowed visitors to share mitzvahs done either by them or for them. They’d also created cards for children to draw pictures to share their stories of good-deed-doing or -receiving. I was impressed with both the sentiment of the display and the low-tech efficiency of it.

In fact, don’t be surprised if one day in the not-too-distant future JMM asks for similar crowd-sourced reports of good-deed-doings.

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A Volunteer Field Trip – Right Next Door!

Posted on March 19th, 2018 by

A blog post from JMM Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis. To read more posts from Wendy, click here.

One can learn much about a building, but it doesn’t come to life until you have seen it filled with people using it for its intended purpose.    On Shabbat, March 3rd, a group of Jewish Museum of Maryland volunteers had that opportunity.  At the invitation of Rabbi Etan Mintz, we participated in the morning service and had a delicious lunch at B’nai Israel, one of the two historic synagogues on the Jewish Museum of Maryland Berman campus.  We were warmly welcomed by the congregants and the rabbi.  All of our male volunteers who were present at the service were given honors during the Torah service and I had the honor of walking with the Torah in my arms in the women’s section.

Inside the sanctuary with some of our volunteers, Phil Sagal, me, Marvin Spector, and Larry Levine.

Instead of a sermon by the rabbi, after services, Fred Shoken, a congregant who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the history of B’nai Israel spoke to the entire congregation using questions we had previously submitted as his general outline.  Did you know that when the building was built, Hebrew words were carved in stone above the exterior doorway?  It originally identified that the building was the Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the date of the building.  When B’nai Israel moved into the building, the original congregation’s name was filled in and recarved with the name of the new congregation.    When the exterior was restored in 1987, some of the filling in of the letters was removed, leaving an overlap of both names.  In the sanctuary, all the beautiful woodwork is original except for the mechitzah (the fence separating the men from the women) and the railings leading to the ark.  Rabbi Mintz showed everyone interesting historic objects from the congregation’s collection including a list of yarhtzits written on parchment.

Standing outside the synagogue.

Typical for synagogues, at the end of the service, the president of the congregation, Shelly Mintz, who is also a JMM volunteer, made announcements.  As expected, she included information about upcoming events and services. But her words also expressed how this oldest continuously operating synagogue building in Maryland is still the place of active Jewish involvement.

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