From Baltimore to Iraq to India

Posted on December 27th, 2017 by

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

I recently traveled with my husband to India.  It was an adventure into a culture and way of life that was fascinating.  But what surprised me was the connection between the current exhibit at Jewish Museum of Maryland and my recent travels to India.

The David Sassoon Library and Reading Room

In the Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage exhibit there is a facsmile of business correspondence of the Sassoon family.  The memory of this was trigger when I saw a sign on a building in Mumbai “David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.”  I remembered that David Sassoon was a Baghdadi Jew who moved to what was once called Bombay and established an international trading business in the mid-1800’s.  What I have learned since, is that he remained an observant Jew and built 2 synagogues in the Bombay area.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. Via.

Just a few blocks from the Sassoon library I visited a synagogue called Keneseth Eliyahoo.  It was built by Davis Sassoon’s grandson in 1884 when there was a huge Baghdadi Jewish community living in the area.  Upon looking up the synagogue on the internet, I found that when the Keneseth Eliyahoo recently dedicated a new Torah, a representative of the Midrash Ben Ish Hai, a New York synagogue/school, spoke at the dedication.

Interior, Kenesseth Eliyahu Synagogue. Photo by Reuben Strayer. Via.

The name “Ben Ish Hai” triggered another memory.  In the Iraqi Heritage exhibit there is a 1906 religious guidebook for women written by Yosef Hayin ben Elijah al-Hakam, also known as Ben Ish Hai.  Ben Ish Hai was an international known and respected rabbi whose name and teachings and Baghdadi traditions are expounded at the New York Midrash Ben Ish Hai.

Who knew that a trip to India would illustrate to me that, as the final panel in the Iraqi Jewish Heritage exhibit states, “Iraqi Jewish life continues as a vibrant tradition in Iraqi Jewish communities worldwide.”

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Sacred Space, Past and Present

Posted on June 26th, 2017 by

Post by Collections Intern Joelle Paull.  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Old Synagogue, Krakow

Old Synagogue, Krakow

Studying medieval art, I have become really interested in how ritual space shapes a community and in turn is shaped by a communities need. While studying and traveling in Europe, I found myself exploring medieval synagogues and Jewish ghettos. Until that point my studies had been focused on Christian ritual spaces that became the center of towns across Europe. I was excited and pleasantly surprised to find myself in Jewish ritual spaces, often the center of centuries old Jewish neighborhoods. In some cases, like in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, the only distinguishing features of the synagogues are the rows of windows in the upper gallery.

These were unusual when compared to the narrow, cramped homes surrounding them. The same is true of the Old Synagogue in Krakow, one of the many centuries old synagogues on the perimeter of the city center, which was built in the 15th century, underwent many changes and was ultimately renovated and restored in the 20th century after WWII. Today, it is located in the corner of a square and is a simple multi-level brick building, with three large windows over the large entrance. From the outside there is little indication of the function of the building or the large rib vaulted interior.

Color snapshot of the Lloyd Street Synagogue facade, c. 1982.

Color snapshot of the Lloyd Street Synagogue facade, c. 1982.

Walking into the Lloyd Street Synagogue my first day of work, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the synagogue and the spaces I had studied. The Lloyd Street Synagogue is a perfect example of a ritual space that evolved over centuries to reflect the community around it. The synagogue was the center of the Jewish community in Baltimore and as such took on both a religious and civic importance. The archaeological discoveries at the current synagogue, showcased in the exhibit, The Synagogue Speaks, allow us to understand what the synagogue looked like from 1845 to today.

From this understanding we can begin to understand how it functioned on a day to day basis and the role it had in the lives of its patrons. The unassuming facade of the sacred building gives little to no indication that it is a synagogue. It was only in the 1900s, after the building was converted the building back into a synagogue that the exterior begins to show signs of its function – Hebrew lettering on the portico, the gallery level windows on the façade. The 20th century synagogue, until it was beginning in the 1960s, was elaborately decorated, with new furniture, chandeliers, and murals. The following restoration returned the synagogue to its original 1860s appearance. The ability to walk into a space and see the many layers of its history makes the Lloyd Street Synagogue unique. The oral and written histories and the many artifacts only add to our understanding of the space itself.

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“Henrietta Szold‘s Baltimore” Bus Tour Debut

Posted on May 4th, 2017 by

The past few months I have worked with historian Barry Kessler and Ilene Dackman-Alon on the Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore Bus tour, which launched this past Thursday with a bus filled with local Hadassah members from the Greater Baltimore chapter. In preparation for the tour, I helped to create a booklet that accompanies the tour filled with quotes and images related to Henrietta’s life in Baltimore. I also went on “practice tours” throughout the city with Barry and Ilene. To create the booklet, I searched through the JMM database to find pictures of Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) and her family as well as images of Baltimore’s cityscape that she would have seen or visited in the late 1800s.

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

It was especially meaningful to have this premiere tour be for Hadassah, the organization Henrietta Szold founded in 1912 to provide medical aid to the people of the land of Israel. Barry’s narration of the tour allowed us to imagine what downtown Baltimore looked and felt like in the late 1800s, when Henrietta was born and raised, and gave the Hadassah group a better understanding of the early life of their founder.

I learned a lot about the life of Henrietta Szold and her family in Baltimore, and I also learned a great deal about the city’s cultural and economic history while researching this tour and working with Barry. For example, I learned about the importance of Camden Station, located down the street from where Henrietta was born on South Eutaw Street, and how it was one of the gateways to the city. Camden Station had a significant impact on the economic life of Baltimore’s mercantile industry workers. Nearby, many impressive garment factory buildings sprung up bearing the names Strouse, Sonneborn, and Hamburger, which are now loft style apartment buildings. One highlight on the tour was the stop at the Oheb Shalom Cemetery on the east side of Baltimore near Dundalk. Many prominent Baltimore Jewish families have relatives who were buried here. We stopped to pay our respects to Henrietta’s family- Rabbi Benjamin Szold and his wife Sophie Schaar Szold and their other children (Henrietta is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem).

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Another memorable stop on the tour was the Oheb Shalom Eutaw Street Temple located in Bolton Hill, now run by the Prince Hall Masons. We were able to go inside the beautiful and historic sanctuary which the Masons have preserved so that others can learn more about this impressive building and its history.

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Henrietta Szold: Living History Character was made possible through the generous support of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, Inc., a supporting foundation of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Educational opportunities were made possible by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of the Associated.

Alex MalischostakPost by Museum Educator Alex Malischostak.

 

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