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Hiking through History

Posted on June 17th, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, MD – one of my favorite places to hike.

It’s that time of year. Our wanderlust leads us to unexplored spaces. A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points – but then you’ll miss all the scenery. Some like to wander through mountains, some like to meander down a beach, but my favorite place to go hiking is through the pages of history. If you let yourself stray off the main path, there’s no telling what surprises you might find. I thought I would share some of the twists and turns I’ve recently experienced.

Three weeks ago, I was preparing to speak at the Museum of Howard County History (MHCH) in Ellicott City. My topic was the history of the Jews of Howard County and the MHCH had actually prepared a small exhibit on this topic in 2016. The exhibit included the agricultural colony of Yaazor. Zig. Technically speaking Yaazor was located in the Woodlawn community of Baltimore County but it was pretty close to the Howard County line. I asked Lorie if we had anything in the archives on Yaazor. She presented me with a paper on the colony written by BHU student Deborah Silberman in 1983. Zag.

Men at the Jewish Colony of Yaazor, 1917. JMM 1993.28.1.

The paper contained an amazing story from the son of the community’s shochet who said that during Prohibition his father slaughtered chickens by day and (to make a living) brewed bootlegged whiskey at night. The son goes on to report that when “I was thirteen years old in 1928 when the Catonsville Police came to my home and pointed their guns at my father… the police allowed him to write a note asking a neighbor to care for our farm, but the message, written in Russian, actually asked the colonist to destroy the still.

Some hikes actually take me across a bridge from one topic to another. Two weeks ago, I was getting ready for an interactive discussion of American immigration laws and the Jewish experience at B’nai Israel (as part of their annual Shavuot Limmud program). My plan was to use primary sources to tell the story. I thought, what better place to begin than Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus, contrasting its call to send us “wretched refuse” with recent proposals from for “merit-based” immigration. Then it hit me – what if some in the audience don’t understand the reference to “Colossus.” Zig. With the reduction in history education in elementary school, it seemed that it was no longer a safe bet that everyone knew the Seven Wonders of the World. For a quick refresher, I looked up the “old Colossus” (i.e. the Colossus of Rhodes) in Wikipedia. Zag.

I was vaguely aware that the Colossus of Rhodes had collapsed in an earthquake just 54 years after it was built, but it never had crossed my mind as to what happened next. Imagine my surprise when I read this:

The same story is recorded by Bar Hebraeus, … “And a great number of men hauled on strong ropes which were tied round the brass Colossus which was in the city and pulled it down. And they weighed from it three thousand loads of Corinthian brass, and they sold it to a certain Jew from Emesa” (the Syrian city of Homs). Theophanes is the sole source of this account and all other sources can be traced to him.

It appears that, according to Theophanes, a 7th century Jewish scrap dealer used 900 camels to cart away the statues remains and recycle them. I didn’t end up using this anecdote at Limmud but it may make a feature appearance at the opening of the Scrap Yard exhibit in October.

Finally, there are times when you feel truly lost in the woods but being lost is not necessarily a bad thing. I was helping prepare the script for our upcoming showcase exhibit, Redeemable: Baltimore’s $2 Bill and the Making of American Currency. The featured artifact in the exhibit is a $2 bill signed by revolutionary patriot, Benjamin Levy. I thought that the easiest panel to write would be the biography of Mr. Levy. After all, nearly every website (including JMM’s) credits him with being the first permanent Jewish settler in Baltimore (1773) Zig. But the question I found debated on the web was whether Benjamin Levy was truly Jewish?

The question is not as absurd as it sounds. A genealogy search revealed that both Benjamin and his wife Rachel had been born into a prominent New York Jewish family (and it appears that they were cousins). While in one sense this settled the matter, it still left open the question of whether they were practicing Jews. One site that questioned their affiliation mentioned that they were buried in an Episcopal cemetery. However, further research revealed that when Rachel died in 1794 there wasn’t a Jewish cemetery in Baltimore – the first wasn’t created until 1797. And though Benjamin dies in 1802, perhaps he had expressed a strong preference to be buried beside his wife. Zag. Further exploration in Jacob Rader Marcus’ expansive history, United States Jewry 1776 -1985, led to a realization that of the Levy’s five children, two married outside the faith and the other three remained unmarried. By the fourth generation in America, there were no Jewish descendants of Benjamin and Rachel Levy.

The trails of history are endless. I encourage you to explore them this summer. I can’t think of a better trailhead than the Jewish Museum of Maryland.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Side Bar 3

Posted on June 5th, 2017 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways

Side Bar: Benjamin Bober: “Milkmen them days, it wasn’t like today”

Miss the beginning? Start here.

Unidentified woman posing with milk can, c.1924. JMM 1998.47.7.1

Unidentified woman posing with milk can, c.1924. JMM 1998.47.7.1

“We landed on Ellis Island, and they brought us from there here to Baltimore…to my aunt.  And her husband then was a milkman.  And milkmen them days it wasn’t like today.  It was small milkmen that used to go around with milk – two cans and a little pint measure.  And you had your customers.  There was a lot of them milkmen around…. And then when I came, the first thing my uncle did was, he took me along with him…. Now when it came to Highlandtown there was already bigger milkmen.  There was milkmen that had maybe fifty cows or more.  And they used to deliver to these little milkmen….  Everybody, amongst the Jewish milk people, mostly all walked.  I think there was one had a horse and wagon….. I used to carry a can and a pint measure.  And whatever the woman wanted I would come in the house and give her whatever she wanted…. I didn’t get paid from my uncle.  I just used to help him…

See now, my mother at that time she had a little milk store.  And there was some in that neighborhood they used to come for milk and she would also sell butter….

I was in the fourth grade when my mother married a man that used to have a little farm…. On Johnnycake Road.  And that was a little Jewish settlement, [Yaazor]…. Now my stepfather, he tried to make a living from the farm itself.  He used to raise what he could, like tomatoes and corn.  And he used to have a couple of cows.  They used to make cream and cheese…. Now later on, when I got older…stepfather allowed me to have cows.  And…my mother helped and I used to also make cream cheese and butter.  I used to come in town and I had my customers,….

And then I had a cousin that had a store in the city, a little dry goods store and…I used to take care of that little store…. it was easier for her to have somebody to look after the store while she was…in the house, she didn’t have to run back and forth….

I bought a great big farm with a hundred and seventy acres [on Old Annapolis Road].  And…course I had people working for us…. That was a different farm altogether.  That was a gentlemen’s farm…. And the men used to work on the farm.  The women used to do the picking….. And…we farmed in nineteen-twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.  I think three years we farmed it…. I had a grocery store before I bought the farm.  I had a grocery store on Monroe Street.  That was during the war.  And the troops came out, and I had the flu, I was very sick.  A lot of people died.  When I came out I just wanted to get out…and that’s how this farm was advertised.  And we went and looked at it and we got together and we bought it.  We didn’t have enough money, we had to borrow money, get mortgages on the farm…. we used to send loads of stuff in.  To Marsh Market and they used to sell it…. Now when I bought the farm there was also a lot of cows.  I’d also run the dairy then…we used to sell the milk [to]…Snesil Dairy…. And then we used to raise a lot of vegetables, like we used to have mules and big wagons, we used to send them in to the wholesale market….

Then, we left the farm, and I went, went back to the grocery business.  And my partner was a baker and he went back to the bakery business…. I held onto the farm for about forty years…. I owned it.  And I, I had this farmer that used to farm it….”

~Excerpted from Oral History 161, Benjamin Bober July 29, 1982

Continue to Side Bar: Gordon Salganik: “People in Washington didn’t know what to do with a brisket”


Posted in jewish museum of maryland