Shalom + Aloha = Shaloha OR What Hawai’i taught me about the Lloyd Street Synagogue

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 by

While being a Navy wife can have its ups and downs, last week was a definite up. Chief Petty Officer Guy-Decker had temporary duty orders that sent him to the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii.

He was to be busy with some super-secret operations of which we mere mortals may not know. To support his world-saving activities, the US Navy provided a plane ticket, a hotel room in Waikiki, a rental car and a per diem food allowance. What can I say? I tagged along.

I found Hawai’i to be among the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I had my breath taken away by the beauty of the landscape more times than I can count. I also found it to be instructive in ways I could never have anticipated.

There's no denying the natural beauty.

There’s no denying the natural beauty.

On my second full day on the island, I decided to take in some history. My husband had the rental car with him on the Naval station, so I hopped a city bus into downtown Honolulu. My destination was the Iolani Palace. This magnificent residence, completed in 1882 is the only royal residence on American soil.

The front of Iolani Palace.

The front of Iolani Palace.

Taking a tour of an historic building, how could I not think of the LSS? I first noted the cool lanyard-encased iPods the palace handed all of the visitors. Along with a set of headphones, this device allowed me to take a self-directed tour of the building.

How cool!

How cool!

But the content of the tour is what really affected my thinking.

As I entered the ornate building, my feet clad in the provided booties to protect the floors, the helpful guide in my headset pointed out the etched glass windows, imported from France, the inlaid wood with hardwoods imported from Italy, the fine china, imported from England. “What the Heck!” I thought. “He had so many amazing natural resources right here in Hawai’i. Why did King Kalakaua use all of that European stuff?”

Just as I was disdaining this 19th-century royal, my iPod guide invited me to stand at what was the front door in 1882 and imagine myself a visiting dignitary from Europe. Look at the grand staircase and up at the electric lights. Electric lights, my digital host, pointed out, in 1882—before either the White House or Buckingham Palace could boast of electricity.

And looking at those literal light bulbs, the proverbial one lit above my head.

And looking at those literal light bulbs, the proverbial one lit above my head.

I apologized to his majesty Kalakaua in my mind. “I get it! You had to prove that Hawaiians were not ‘savages.’ You had to prove to the white Europeans who coveted your land that you were equals.”

And immediately I thought of our beloved Lloyd Street Synagogue, with its imposing columns. As you would learn if you were to take our All American Synagogue, Bell, Book and Candle tour, the synagogue was designed by non-Jewish architect, Robert Cary Long, Jr., a professionally-trained architect who was known for designing beautiful churches.

I’ve sometimes wondered that this church-building non-Jew was the architect of choice. But of course, Baltimore’s Jewish community also felt the need to prove they were not “savages.” When LSS was completed, it was fewer than 20 years after Maryland’s “Jew Bill” passed, allowing non-Christian (or at least Jewish) individuals to enjoy the same rights as Christian citizens. And only 15 years earlier, in 1830, the governor had had to intervene against obstructionist lawmakers to allow the congregation to officially incorporate.

In the case of the 19th-century Hawaiians, as with the Jewish community of Baltimore about 40 years prior, they were working to prove themselves to be not just as “civilized,” as the Europeans and their Christian neighbors, but twice as “civilized.”

The difference between the two communities is that the Baltimore Jewish community more-or-less succeeded; the Hawaiians’ story is more complicated. King Kalakaua’s successor, his sister, Queen Lili’uokalani (notably, the composer of possibly the most famous Hawaiian song, “Alaho Oe”) was deposed by a coalition of “Hawaiian-born citizens of American parents, naturalized citizens and foreign nationals” (i.e. no Hawaiian natives) with the support of the American Minister to Hawaii. Two years later, after a defeated uprising in her defense, Lili’oukalani was imprisoned in her own Iolani Palace by her opponents. It wasn’t long before the islands were formally annexed by the United States.

QueenLiluokalanis' dress

QueenLiluokalani’s dress

Perhaps because of my Lloyd Street Synagogue-Iolani Palace epiphany earlier in the week, when we attended one of the many luaus that take place every night, I felt the sense that I was in a place I didn’t really belong. I was keenly aware that the version of the culture I was viewing was caricaturized and then commodified for my benefit.

The luau dancers

The luau dancers

I kept imagining what the Jewish equivalent of a luau might be. As our host on the bus ride to the beach-location taught us words in Hawaiian (“’aloha’ means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ It also means ‘love’”), I started to imagine the “oneg” party we might throw for tourists. “’Shalom’ means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ It also means ‘peace.’” I imagined the costumed dancers doing the horah; the giant pots of cholent and chicken soup and mounds of challah loaves.

My imagination replaced the dancing hula dolls intended for dashboards with davening yeshivah boys, and it made me a little nauseated. I felt in my bones how one-dimensional the Judaism of this tourist party would be. My beloved, rich, thick, complicated religion/culture/ethnicity reduced to slogans and bobble heads.

Can you imagine Yeshiva boys instead?

Can you imagine Yeshiva boys instead?

And yet, even (especially?) in its caricaturized, commodified form, the Hawaiian picture is so pretty, so pleasant. I couldn’t resist getting a selfie with the smiling hula dancers who waited by the hotel bus for just that purpose.

Smiling with the dancers

Smiling with the dancers

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



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JMM Insights: Shammes or Shamus?*

Posted on April 15th, 2016 by

Starting May 1st!

From May 1 to July 10, 2016, our Historic Jonestown neighbor, the Carroll Mansion will be transformed into a showcase for some of the most innovative manufacturers and craftsmen in Baltimore and across the nation. The Mansion has been designated the “All American House” by the MADE: In America organization.  To celebrate, the city invited other historic sites to participate in presenting “Baltimore’s American Treasures.”  We couldn’t resist recognizing our own Lloyd Street Synagogue as the “All American Synagogue.

Built in 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is the third oldest Jewish house of worship still standing in the United States.  The building was designed by Robert Cary Long Jr., a prominent architect of churches during that time. Nearly every component of the original building along with the 1860 renovation and addition were the result of American craft and manufacturers.

For several months a great team of interns and staff have been scouring  through records and photos related to the material culture of the building and its contents.  By “material culture” we mean the physical evidence of a culture; and the interpretation of objects and the social context in which they were made and employed.

Article on re-dedication of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, 1905

Our research included Baltimore City Directories from 1843-1845; newspapers, congregational  minutes, Maryland Historical Society archives, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Archives, and the JMM’s own thorough research files, etc. The building has had such an extensive history, serving first as a traditional synagogue founded by German immigrants, and transformed later into a congregation that embraced reform traditions. The building was later sold to a Lithuanian Catholic Church and years later sold again to immigrants from Eastern Europe that transformed the building into a thriving center for Jewish tradition in East Baltimore.  Each of the congregations used local manufacturers and craftsmen to build and design many of the elements featured in the buildings like the Holy Ark, the organ, and the pews.

Bell illustration by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

We’ve come up with many fresh insights, but found ourselves still struggling with a few unanswered questions.  Where did the original torah scroll come from, what happened to the church’s bell, and how did we get conflicting stories of how the current chandeliers were acquired?  We decided that the best way to resolve these mysteries was to “crowdsource” the clues.  And that has led to the idea of putting together – “The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery” experience, a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue with an interactive twist.  Part of the Book, Bell and Candle Mystery, will be to share with you the new stories and clues we’ve uncovered about the ritual objects used in the building.  But part will also be to get your input on unanswered questions that we still have pertaining to the objects, so we can crack the mysteries.

Rendering of LSS chandelier

The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery will debut on Sunday May 1st @ 3:00 p.m., and continue at that same hour every Sunday through July 3.  Whether you identify with a synagogue shammes or an investigative shamus, you’ll find something in this experience that opens a new window on this great historic site. So put on your “gumshoes” and your thinking caps and join us in our search for answers.

*For those of you struggling with the pun in the title – click here to see the explanation (and have no “shame.” Half our staff couldn’t figure it out either. -MP)!


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A Day in the Life of a JMM Docent

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by

By JMM Volunteer Harvey Karch

One of the best parts of being a docent at a museum, especially, I think, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, is that one never knows what is going to happen on a tour.  The unexpected is almost to be expected every tour.   It certainly was the case on Tuesday, January 15, during the one o’clock tour.

Harvey leads a tour outside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

No one was in the Museum for the eleven o’clock tour, and that was not a surprise given the cold and damp weather.  As one o’clock came and went, I wasn’t shocked that there was no one for the tour either.  However, at about 1:10 a woman entered the museum asking whether she was too later for the one o’clock tour.  Since no one else was there, I gladly stepped up to the counter and told her that I would be happy to show her the sights of the Museum.

Describing the matzoh oven in Lloyd Street Synagogue.

As is my habit, after introducing myself, I asked the where she was from and what had brought her to the Museum today.  She told me that her name is Deb, Deb Miller, and she has lived in Boston since arriving to attend graduate school there some forty years ago.  However, she added that she had grown up in New York City, but that her roots run deep in Baltimore.  Her grandparents had lived in Baltimore, and her mother had grown up here before going to live in New York after her marriage.  She also explained that her family members were among the founders of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.  As we walked toward Lloyd Street Synagogue, she went on to say that her grandfather had attended Shomrei Mishemeres, and I told her that mine had also.  I explained that one of my family’s stories is that my grandfather had come from Volnya and had come to Baltimore because there was a group from his home area living in the city.  Ms. Miller suggested that perhaps our grandfathers had known each other, and perhaps had even prayed together.  We both chuckled and went on with the tour.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1962, shortly after the Jewish Historical Society acquired it from the Shomrei Mishmeres Congregation. IA 1.0005

Once inside of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it was obvious from the look on her face that being in this synagogue was a particularly emotional experience for Ms. Miller.  She asked me a lot of questions about Shomrei Mishemeres and the building itself as she looked around, taking in everything about the place.  It was at the point where I started telling her about why there are no regularly held services anymore in the building that it suddenly occurred to me that this was no ordinary visitor, and I asked her if she was related to Tobias Miller, one of the last members of Shomrei Mishmeres and part of the group who sold the building to the Jewish Historical Society.   She told me that he was her grandfather, and I had the pleasure of telling her that the man I had always heard referred to as “Tuffsy” Miller was the reason that my grandfather had come to Baltimore from Volnya, since Miller was one of my grandfather’s best friends from the old country.  We both realized at that point that not only had our grandfathers prayed together, but had been very good friends as well as “landsmen”.  Ms. Miller later asked what my grandfather’s name was, and thought that it sounded familiar.  We both wondered what our grandfathers would have thought of two of their grandchildren meeting so many years after their deaths (1961 and 1970) at the Lloyd Street Synagogue?

We even have a picture of Tobias Miller signing the deed of the LSS over to the Jewish Historical Society. IA 1.0944

Ms. Miller and I parted ways, but this is one tour that I will remember for a long, long time.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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