A Mystery in Signage

Posted on June 26th, 2012 by

Hi everyone! My name is Ariella Esterson and I am one of the new Education interns here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree in History and Secondary Education at Queens College in New York. Since starting my internship a few weeks ago, I have been lucky enough to shadow some tours and help rewrite the docent tour script. While reading through the script and participating in a tour, I have recently noticed the Hebrew inscription that is located on the outside of B’nai Israel.

Looking at this plaque, I was left with many questions. When was it put up and more importantly what did it say? Being able to read and understand Hebrew, I was able to figure out that the first line read “Sh’ar Shel Beit El” with means in English “Gate of the House of God.” This is written to symbolize that this building is a synagogue or Jewish house of worship. After consulting with a book on Hebrew acronyms, I can safely assume that the second line, the “Kuf Kuf” stands for “Kehilla Kedosha” or “Holy Congregation.” The third line was when I started having some issues translating. It seemed to be like a bunch of gibberish, with letters strewn all over the place. It was hard to determine what each letter was, and I realized I needed to do some research. The fourth line I assumed was a date, but until I solved the mystery of the third line, I assumed the fourth line would make no sense.

While scanning the Past Perfect database, I finally stumbled on a picture of this plaque that was accessioned to the museum in 1987 (1987.173.071)

As one can clearly see from this picture, besides for the peeling paint and old feeling to the plaque, the third line is clearly visible. The letters spell out the name of the synagogue “B’nai Israel.” Now that I knew what line 2 said, I played detective and matched up those letters to the plaque that is up now. Taking a pen and outlining the letters that made the words “B’nai Israel,” I found that the leftover letters spelled “Chizuk Amuno,” the old synagogue that used to reside there! What a find!

Although I was able to decipher what the third line said, I was still left with a burning question. Which synagogue name was listed on the plaque first? I hoped that the fourth line would help shed some light on this question. I hoped that this would result in a date of when the plaque went up, which would reveal which synagogue was listed first. Using Gematria, which is assigning a numerical value to Hebrew letters, I was able to see that “Taf” equals 400, “Reish” equals 200, “Lamed” equals 30, and “Vav” equals 6, to make a grand total of 636. To my disappointment, this was not a year that I could use. My eyes then saw the last three letters on the plaque which are “Lamed” “Pey” and “Kuf.” Consulting once again my acronym dictionary, I got the words, “L’Prat Katan,” which in English means “Small details.” What this means is that back in the day when years were written they would leave out a letter (Hey, which in this case would be 5,000) from the beginning of the year, but they would put this acronym at the end to remind the reader to add the original 5,000. When that is added, there is now a grand total of 5,636. When this year is converted to the English year, you are left with 1876, the year Chizuk Amuno was established!

Based on this information, one can safely assume that “Chizuk Amuno” was etched in first on the plaque. When the building was bought by “B’nai Israel,” they covered up the original letters and re-etched the name of their synagogue. During the restoration period in the 1980’s, workers uncovered both synagogue names and decided to keep them both there for all visitors to see the transformation. I can now say mystery solved!

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There’s No Place Like Home

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by

A blog post by Senior Collections Manager, Jobi Zink


I know it’s the New Year and everyone is going to expect this to be a saccharine sweet post about family, traditions, and food. And I have plenty of entertaining stories about my family—and my family’s traditions with food! Just ask Karen Falk what she learned about the Okin clan’s food traditions during her research for Chosen Food. But that will have to be another post.

CP 15.2010.35

And this isn’t a post about a girl from Kansas with some sparkly shoes, either.

This is really about the satisfaction of crossing something off my to-do list and feeling like I’ve done a mitzvah at the same time. Now Avi would joke that crossing anything off my to-do list is a mitzvah since the list is currently about 26 pages long. He might be right: I think that this was actually one of the very first things that I put on my to-do list when I started as a part-time curatorial assistant over a decade ago.

A sample page from my to-do list of epic proportions.

In 1998 The Jewish Museum of Maryland purchased a pinkas (congregational record book) belonging to the Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, PA.For a brief history of the congregation click here: http:///www.kesherisrael.org/index.php/shul/C15/ 

As evidenced by the cover of the pinkas, the book is from the congregation’s 15th anniversary

Shortly thereafter acquiring the pinkas, the Museum revised its mission statement with a clear concentration on the history, traditions and culture of Jewish life inMaryland, rather thanMaryland and its surrounding areas. The book was never approved for accession, and in 2001 I tried to find a suitable repository for it. My calls, letters, and pleas brought no response from any of the institutions I contacted.

The book remained in its acid free box on the shelf downstairs. The collections staff would look at it and sigh. Every few years I (or my interns) would try again to find a home for it, but never with any luck. But this year an e-mail was answered: the congregation wanted it back!

So on a cold, rainy Tuesday before Thanksgiving I drove up to Harrisburgto hand-deliver the pinkas. When I arrived, a Thanksgiving dinner was in full swing! It was a wonderful to see the members enjoying their extended family. I didn’t have a chance to meet Rabbi Akiva Males, but he’s assured me that when the book is translated he will share the information with the congregants.

The Collections Staff is thrilled that the pinkas has finally found its way home.

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MS 18 Temple B’nai Sholom Papers

Posted on June 23rd, 2011 by

Letterhead from the archives. 1983.2


Temple B’nai Sholom Papers


 MS 18



The Temple B’nai Sholom Papers were donated to Jewish Museum of Maryland by Temple B'nai Sholom and accepted into the archives as accession 1983.002. Alison Reppert processed the collection in August 2009.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.  Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Temple Sisterhood brochure. 1983.2


Temple B’nai Sholom was begun in 1948 when a group of Jewish families from Essex, Middle River and Dundalk areas met at the Essex Community Center and voted to become a Reform congregation where their children could be raised Jewish in a non-Jewish community.  They initially met for services at the Victory Villa Community Center in Middle River, and later conducted Sunday school classes at the Essex Seventh Day Adventist Church and in rented second-floor quarters on the 400 block of Eastern Avenue.  In June 1951, the congregation bought a brick house located at 1108 E. Homburg Avenue in Essex, which became their location until 1968, when they sold it.  In 1969, High Holiday Services were held in the Fellowship Hall of the Essex Methodist Church.  In the years that followed, these services were held on the rear patio of the home of Pauline Baker at 2203 Baker Avenue in Middle River until the congregation disbanded in 1982.

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Dr. Mordecai I. Soloff was the first rabbi of the congregation, and when he left Baltimore, a current board member, Dr. Samuel Glasner took his place as rabbi and stayed until 1955.  From 1955-1965, the congregation was served by student rabbis from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, who performed Friday night services.  No Saturday services were provided.  Mr. Victor Kandel led services from 1967-1982.

Some of the preceding information provided by: Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album. By Gilbert Sandler. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Uniongram sent by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation sisterhood to the sisterhood at Temple B'nai Sholom. 1983.2


The Temple B’nai Sholom Papers consists of constitutions, minutes, reports, announcements, correspondence, ledgers, receipts, sermons, calendars and taxes related to the congregation’s existence from 1948-1982.  This collection contains information on the congregation’s beginning, such as its constitution and correspondence concerning B’nai Sholom’s application and acceptance to the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. It also contains information about B’nai Sholom’s selling of their building in 1968, as well as their final disbandment in 1982.
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Songs from a sisterhood event. 1983.2


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