Chronology: Maryland and Israel Part 1, 1830 to 1900

Posted on August 23rd, 2017 by

Compiled by Avi Y. Decter and Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

The term “Zionism” was coined only in 1890, but for 2,000 years Jews throughout the world have yearned for a return to their ancient home in the Land of Israel. Prayers and rituals refer to Israel’s winds, dew, and rain, the fertility of its soil, and the beauty of its produce. The longing for return and redemption has helped to sustain the Jewish people. In the modern era, longing was transformed into an international movement to rebuild a Jewish homeland in Israel as a refuge and as a center for Jewish renewal.

In this movement, Maryland has played an important role. This timeline, based on research conducted by Barry Kessler for the Museum’s Bridges to Zion exhibition in 1998, calls out some of the many events and people who have participated in the Zionist project from the early nineteenth century to the present day.


Letter from Mendes Cohen to his mother, March 19, 1832. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Letter from Mendes Cohen to his mother Judith, from Jerusalem, March 19, 1832. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Baltimorean Mendes I. Cohen is one of the first American citizens to visit Palestine as part of his six-year tour of Europe and the Middle East. His descriptions of life there, depicted in letters to his mothers and brothers, offer a rare glimpse of Palestine’s Jewish community through the eyes of an American Jew.



Jehiel Cohen (in 1847) and Aaron Selig (in 1849) visit Baltimore, appealing for Maryland Jews to aid the poor, the infirm, the elderly, and the scholars of Israel. Messengers and letters from orphanages, academies, and other institutions serving the Jews of Palestine represent a tradition of charity that dates back to ancient times, founded on the belief that Jews in the Land of Israel contribute to the spiritual salvation of the Jewish people by their study of holy texts and their presence in the holy cities.


Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), a prominent English philanthropist and Jewish communal leader, donates a Torah to Congregation Shearith Israel in recognition of the Congregation’s support for the Jewish residents of Palestine. In 1879, Montefiore gives a second Torah to Congregation Chizuk Amuno.


Young, intellectual Russian Jewish immigrants form the Isaac Bar Levinsohn Hebrew Literary Society to foster cultural activity among Baltimore’s East European Jewish immigrants. With the support of Rabbi Benjamin Szold and his daughter Henrietta (1860-1945), the Society promotes a variety of cultural and educational activities and serves as an early forum for the discussion of Zionist ideas. The following year, under the leadership of its president, Solomon Baroway, the Society opens the Russian Night School in East Baltimore, one of the nation’s first night schools for immigrants. Henrietta Szold serves as superintendent.


“The very learned, although very young” Rabbi Simon Isaac Halevi Finkelstein founds a branch of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion), Baltimore’s first Zionist organization. In its first year, the organization raises $234.58, of which $48.76 is sent to Palestine, the rest being used for Zionist propaganda in Baltimore. By 1899, a branch emerges in Hagerstown, as well.



Cyrus Adler at Oxford, 1898.  Courtesy of the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler Collection.

Cyrus Adler at Oxford, 1898. Courtesy of the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler Collection.

Cyrus Adler, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Semitics Department, visits Palestine. On his return, he delivers a lecture, illustrated by stereopticon views, that enables Baltimore Jews to “see” the Holy Land, bringing Palestine close to home.

Also, Zev (Wolf) Schur publishes his Hebrew-language periodical, Ha-Pisgah, in which he espouses a strongly Zionist view as an antidote to Reform and assimilation. Schur continues to publish in Baltimore into 1892 and thereafter in Chicago.


Shavei Zion [Returnees to Zion], an organization that promotes emigration to Palestine, holds a public meeting on 26 May, which is attended by more than 1,000 people. However, calls to return to Zion are undercut by the hardships of pioneer life in Palestine and the opportunities of America.


Hevrat Zion (Zion Association) is founded at the Russian Night School with the ideal of rebuilding Palestine. The Association accepts members without regard to their “individual religious and social views.” The Association publishes Dr. Aaron Friedenwald’s lecture on “Lovers of Zion.” The next year, the Association brings to America the famous orator Zvi Hirsh Masliansky (1856-1943), who electrifies audiences with Zionist rhetoric.



Black and white carte-de-visite of Henrietta Szold when she became editor of the Jewish Publication Society, Nov. 1893.

Black and white carte-de-visite of Henrietta Szold when she became editor of the Jewish Publication Society, Nov. 1893.

Henrietta Szold publishes “A Century of Jewish Thought,” advocating the revival of the Hebrew language and a return to the Land of Israel as remedies for a divided and de-natured Judaism.



Rabbi Dr. Schepsel Schaffer, (1862-1933), made from ”The Jews of Baltimore”, by Isidor Blum. JMM 1999.121.1

Rabbi Dr. Schepsel Schaffer, (1862-1933), made from ”The Jews of Baltimore”, by Isidor Blum. JMM 1999.121.1

Shearith Israel’s Rabbi Schepsel Schaffer (1862-1933) is one of two official American delegates to attend the first World Zionist Congress in Basel, where he represents Baltimore’s Zion Association. The other American delegate is Adam Rosenberg of New York City, who was born in Baltimore. By 1910, Rabbi Schaffer presides over the five-member Council of Baltimore Zion Associations.


Dr. Aaron Friedenwald (1836-1902), an eminent Baltimore ophthalmologist, travels to Palestine with his wife, Bertha. After his return, he speaks in New York and Philadelphia on the regeneration of the land and of the Jewish spirit, predicting that the “center for Jewish thought” in Palestine would “radiate an influence” that would overturn generations of degradation and prejudice.



The Federation of American Zionists holds its second national meeting in Baltimore. When the Federation was established in 1897, immediately after the first World Zionist Congress, Baltimore’s Zion Association and Ezrat Hovevei Zion were charter members. Among the 19 local delegates are Louis Levin, Solomon Baroway, Israel Fine, and Aaron Friedenwald.


Continue to Part II: Maryland and Israel, 1900 to 1950

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Revolutionizing Experiences: Henrietta Szold’s First Visit to the Holy Land Part 1

Posted on August 14th, 2017 by

Letter by Henrietta Szold. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel


Henrietta Szold (1860 – 1945) has long been celebrated for her role in building a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The founder of Hadassah and the force behind Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, she virtually created the public health system in pre-state Israel and also ran the Youth Aliyah, which safely brought thousands of Jewish youth out of Nazi Germany and into Palestine during the 1930s. Remarkably, all these achievements occurred after Szold turned fifty. Though she had been involved in Zionist circles in her native Baltimore and later New York City, it was not until she traveled to Palestine with her mother in 1909 that she made improving conditions her life’s work.

Henrietta Szold and her mother Sophie, August 1909, visiting friends in England before traveling through Europe to Palestine. JMM 1992.242.7.13

Henrietta Szold and her mother Sophie, August 1909, visiting friends in England before traveling through Europe to Palestine. JMM 1992.242.7.13

Not that Szold was a late bloomer. From 1889, when she became superintendent of the nation’s first immigrant night school in Baltimore, to her many years working as an editor at the Jewish Publication Society of America, she had been an important contributor to American Jewish cultural affairs. But in 1908, when leading Jewish scholar Louis Ginzberg, with whom she had worked closely and fallen in love, rejected her for a younger woman, she suffered an emotional crisis that led her to question her previous twenty years in service to male-run institutions. She needed a new direction, and her trip to Palestine enabled her to find it. She came to see that her longstanding belief in “spiritual Zionism” – the development of Jewish settlement in the Holy Land as a way to bring about spiritual renewal for modern Jewry – could be advanced by encouraging women to engage in practical work to address the dire health conditions she had witnessed during her trip.

This realization did not occur immediately, as demonstrated by the letter printed here, one of the gems of the JMM archives (1995.206.1). Writing to her mentor, Judge Mayer Sulzberger, just after leaving Palestine, she expresses doubts about herself as well as the state of the Zionist movement. But she also vividly describes the transformative effect the visit had on her. Upon her return to America, she embarked on a new path that led to the founding of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in 1912. Another visit to Palestine in 1920 resulted in her settling there permanently to overs the various projects she had initiated.

Szold did not always agree with the Zionist establishment; in the 1930s and 1940s, for example, she publicly supported a bi-national state. Her strongly independent thought is on display here, in her honest critique of the Zionist project as she saw it “on the ground.” But her belief in the Holy Land as a way to renew the Jewish people shines through as well.

The Letter, page 1

The Letter, page 1

The Letter:

The Mediterranean, between Alexandira and Trieste

November 28, 1909


Dear Judge Sulzberger:

My very indefinite dating of this letter indicates only one thing definitely – that my face is at last set westward and homeward. I feel that this is the time when I may venture to give you a little account of my impressions – don’t be alarmed, I shall not subject you to a catalogue of sights and scenes. This is the proper time because I cannot help believing that Italy, even Italy, which is to fill out the rest of my long vacation, must be in the nature of an anti-climax after my Oriental experiences. If I were younger I should call them revolutionizing experiences. At all events, if I had undergone them earlier in life, they might have had a decidedly shaping influence upon my Jewish attitude and work. As it is, they will probably be a very stimulating memory without much noticeable result in action.

It was not due to any conscious arrangement on my part that my trip abroad arranged itself as it did. I spent the first month in Scotland and England, all the time I was there I tingled with the feeling that I was in my intellectual home. My Anglo-Saxon education announced itself at every step. I had no right to feel that blood was thicker than water, to be sure, but I discovered that brain tissue is not a negligible element in appreciating relationships.

From there we went direct to Vienna and Hungary, my mother’s home, from which she had gone away fifty years to a week when we returned. And there I did learn that blood is thicker than water. I found a really huge circle of relatives, ready-made and ready to receive me as though I had had the same intellectual and sentimental antecedents with themselves. It was as rare an experience as cathedrals and picture galleries to me, for we are a very small family in America and I have never known the pleasure of the intimacy that stands between family ties and friendships. And it was curious to observe how America had done little more than modify external characteristics; the family soul had remained unimpinged by time and distance.

But I feel that my real experiences began when I left Buda-Pest and was whirled through Servia [sic], Bulgaria, and Turkey to Constantinople. Again, in the ordering of my Oriental trip, chance was kind to me. I cannot be sufficiently thankful that I had the opportunity of seeing Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, Beirut, and Damascus before I entered the Holy Land proper.

Also, it was lucky for me that I did not, like most tourists, enter by way of Jaffa and Jerusalem. That was intentional maneuvering on my part. I wanted to see the land with my own eyes, or spectacles if you will, not through the spectacles of the warring factions in the two intellectual centres. The other chance gave me a true Oriental setting for the Holy Land, the proper atmosphere. After seeing half a dozen cities and the country districts, even if only from the car window or the carriage seat, I knew enough to distinguish between what is peculiarly Jewish and generally Oriental. It was eminently useful knowledge. I know it to be such when I remember what other six-weeks-tourists of Palestine on their return.

Continue to Part II: Entering the Holy Land[1]

[1] Interested in more Henrietta Szold history? Check out Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore from 1860-1902, an innovative and interactive mobile tour on the early life of Henrietta Szold, developed by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Download the free mobile app and follow the JMM’s audio tour that will lead you through the progression of Henrietta’s early life, which also tells the story of the German-Jewish immigrants to Baltimore and the Russian Jews that followed decades later. Each stop on the tour includes unique, historical images that will transport you back in time to see Baltimore through the eyes of the Szolds.


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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1910s

Posted on February 8th, 2017 by

Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

The Baltimore Jewish community has produced many leaders who have worked to make the world a better place. The range of issues they have addressed is impressive: from women’s suffrage to civil rights, labor relations to helping the elderly, refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more.

This chronology traces the careers of ten Baltimoreans who stood up for social change, with each person’s entry revolving around a turning point—one for each decade of the twentieth century. This is by no means a “Ten Best” list. The people included here are remarkable for what they accomplished, but others, equally remarkable, could have been chosen as well. These profiles should be seen as representative of a larger group of Baltimore Jews who have made major contributions to their communities and to the broader society in myriad ways.

The 1910s: Jacob Moses

Click here to start from the beginning.

1915: During a time of intense labor turmoil, Jacob Moses (1873-1968) is named arbitrator in Baltimore clothing industry disputes, selected jointly by union leader Sidney Hillman and manufacturer Sigmund Sonneborn. It is but one important facet of the career of this quintessential Progressive.

Jacob Moses. From Isidor Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Jacob Moses. From Isidor Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

His concern with fairness made Moses not only a sought-after arbitrator, but an advocate for the rights of those he felt were treated unequally. As an attorney, state senator, Juvenile Court judge, and civic leader, Moses championed the principle of fair treatment under the law. He proposed juvenile justice reform because delinquent children did not have recourse to the legal protections of adults. He sought to establish a detention center for indigent defendants who could not make bail, because they were unfairly forced to languish in jail before being proved guilty. In 1924, he led a delegation that lobbied (unsuccessfully) for equal pay for female high school teachers.

Fragment of a newspaper cartoon about a strike by railroad shop workers in western Maryland. JMM 1963.42.15

Fragment of a newspaper cartoon about a strike by railroad shop workers in western Maryland. JMM 1963.42.15

Above all, Moses was a staunch feminist. He remained a vocal proponent of women’s suffrage after the premature death in 1918 of his wife Hortense, a suffragist and leader of Jewish women’s groups. In the 1920s he endorsed a national equal rights bill, proclaiming, “I believe that men and women should be equal in every respect before the law.” Moses also dedicated himself to Jewish causes. As a young man he presided over the Maccabeans, which aided Jewish youth; in the 1920s he became a leading Zionist—unusual for someone from a privileged German Jewish family.

Continue to The 1920s: Dr. Bessie Moses

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