History of JMM
Chronology of the Jewish Museum of Maryland
Article from JMM’s Generations: Fall 2000
Written By Barry Kessler
Wilbur Hunter, director of the Peale Museum, contacts Rose Greenberg, Secretary of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. He expresses concern about the condition of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, original home of the Congregation, which is dilapidated and slated to be razed for a parking lot.
Nineteen members of Baltimore’s Jewish community meet to organize the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (JHSM) at the suggestion of Isaac Fein, a professor at the Baltimore Hebrew College (now Baltimore Hebrew University) who has been collecting documents of Baltimore’s Jewish history for about ten years. Offices are at BHU. The organization is incorporated on April 11 with Hugo Dalsheimer as President. Isaac Fein is curator.
Over three hundred people, a starling turnout, attend JHSM’s first open meeting at BHU to hear a paper by Isaac Fein on Baltimore Jews in the Civil War. Despite its tiny size, JHSM undertakes to acquire, renovate, and maintain the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
With assurances that it will not be used for religious services, JHSM buys for $10,000 the Lloyd Street Synagogue from the elders of Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh, the congregation which has owned it since 1906. Henry Frank leads a fund-raising campaign to match a gift of $25,000 from the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation.
As planning for the restoration of the Lloyd Street Synagogue moves forward, WJZ television presents a show on the project. JHSM also beings to document Jewish cemeteries, microfilm important papers, and tape reminiscences by “important personages of today’s scene.”
A volunteer committee of Hugo Dalsheimer, Louis Cahn, and Edgar Levi undertakes the restoration of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, with the goal of returning it to its appearance in the mid-nineteenth century. The J. Raymond Gerwig Company is the contractor.
November: When Lloyd Stree’s main floor restoration is complete, the building is formally dedicated as a historic site and opened to the public. More than 1,500 visit within one week, leading to an estimated 5,000 visitors in the first year. Volunteers under the leadership of E.B. Hirsh give tours on two Sundays a month.
The outpouring of interest spurs JHSM to contract with the Gerwig company to restore the lower level of Lloyd Street Synagogue and to replicate the Ark of 1860 in the main sanctuary.
January: the recreated Ark and lower level are dedicated, JHSM’s first exhibition, “Baltimore in 1850,” opens in the Museum Room. It includes pieces of the original stained glass from the Star of David window, the earliest minute of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and an eighteenth-century Russian silver Hanukkah menorah. A plan is laid to establish an affiliate organization, “Friends of the Lloyd Street Synagogue,” whose dues will support the maintenance of the building. JHSM acquires the Friedenwald Family Papers.
JHSM programs include seminars on the Jewish Legion of World War I by William Braiterman and the Jewish labor movement by Jacob J. Edelman. JHSM collects materials relating to Israel’s Six-Day War and the Israel Emergency Fund.
The Making of an American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920 is published in conjunction with JHSM. This work by Isaac Fein, drawing upon the papers he has gathered as the basis for JHSM’s collections, is the definitive history of Baltimore Jewry to 1920 and its publication is considered to be one of JHSM’s greatest achievements to date.
JHSM’s annual meeting features a presentation on Exodus 1947, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of that ship’s battle to carry refugees to the Land of Israel. Isaac Fein proposes that JHSM now focus on the collection, study, and writing of the history of Baltimore’s Jewish community from 1920 to 1970. JHSM leadership instead initiate a project, under a Symposium Committee, to publish a series of topical monographs on historical issues of these decades, drawing on local writers.
JHSM begins a project to create fictional Jewish newspapers from past eras of Baltimore Jewish history for use in schools. JHSM sponsors an essay contest in religious schools. The Maryland Historical Society and JHSM hold the first of a projected annual series of joint meetings at Lloyd Street Synagogue. In addition to seminars and lectures, JHSM sends speakers to address groups around the state. Gilbert Sandler moderates a panel discussion on Jewish life in Maryland’s small towns.
December: Mrs. Bertha Libauer organizes the first guided bus tour of Jewish interest in Baltimore, including neighborhoods of Jewish settlement. JHSM and the American Italian Historical Association hold a joint conference on “The Interaction of Italians and Jews in America.”
As part of its bicentennial activities, JHSM publishes three biographical pamphlets. JHSM participates in Baltimore’s first Jewish American Festival, held at Hopkins Plaza, with a booth and an open house at Lloyd Street.
The first wedding to take place in Lloyd Street Synagogue since it became a museum unites in matrimony Noah Jonathon Hanft and Cecile Basia Strauss. A joint Thanksgiving service is held at Lloyd Street by Baltimore’s Reform and Conservative congregations. Spiraling energy and maintenance costs threaten the Friends of Lloyd Street Synagogue.
Spurred by Helen Sollins, an active JHSM member concerned about the deterioration of the historic B’nai Israel Synagogue, the City of Baltimore grants the congregation $3,000 in emergency funds to repair its leaking roof. Mrs. Sollins continues to advocate for the building’s preservation.
Lloyd Street Synagogue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. JHSM and the B’nai B’rirth Nathan Hackerman Lodge jointly create the Maryland Jewish Hall of Fame in the Museum Room at Lloyd Street. Entry forms sent to synagogues and Jewish organizations request nominations of one living and one deceased Jewish leader. Proceeds from the Awards Dinner go to maintain and develop the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
JHSM publishes the first issue of Generations, its annual history magazine. JHSM sponsors a Jewish Artists Week with funds from a special grant. Nat Lipsitz donates his extensive collection of photographs to JHSM.
Robert Weinberg becomes head of the JHSM building committee, charged with finding a permanent home for the growing organization. Inspired by a project in Philadelphia, he wonders if a museum could be built on Lloyd Street in conjunction with the historic synagogues.
September: JHSM moves from the Baltimore Hebrew College to rented offices in the Embassy Apartments on Clarks Lane. Joan Lippman is hired part-time as the first executive administrator and Cynthia Requardt is the first archivist. Rose Cohen recruits and coordinates eleven archives volunteers. JHSM becomes an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Robert Weinberg, with the assistance of Isidore Schnaper and others from the JHSM, successfully negotiates with the B’nai Israel Congregation to deed the congregation’s historic building to the JHSM as part of a projected Jewish Heritage Center in East Baltimore. He begins to raise funds to support the restoration of B’nai Israel and the construction of the new Jewish Heritage Center.
Major financial support from the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Foundation gives an essential boost to the Heritage Center project. The City of Baltimore has agreed to donate the land between the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel Synagogues. Grants from the Maryland Historical Trust assist with the restoration of B’nai Israel Synagogue.
September 19: Ground is broken for the construction of the JHSM’s Jewish Heritage Center, designed by architect Lee Coplan. JHSM’s membership list is computerized thanks to Treasurer Leonard Sollins. Donal and Johanna Kann create a traveling exhibition, “Synagogues and Community,” for the JHSM presentation at the Jewish-American Festival.
Bernard Fishman becomes JHSM’s first Director and first full-time employee. JHSM has an annual budget of less than $100,000 and endowments of less than $1 million, including pledges.
Construction of the Jewish Heritage Center stops as James Cox and Son, the construction contractor, declares bankruptcy.
Robert Weinberg successfully negotiates a resumption of construction work. JHSM moves into a nearly completed building. Elizabeth Kessin Berman becomes JHSM’s first full-time curator.
JHSM’s Heritage Center and the restored B’nai Israel Synagogue are dedicated and opened to the public. E.B. Hirsh, JHSM’s long-serving president, presides at the celebration. Elizabeth Berman curates JHSM’s first major original exhibition, “And So They Came: The Experience of Jewish Settlement in Maryland 1656-1929,” accompanied by a published catalogue.
Philanthropist Harry Weinberg visits JHSM unannounced and surprises Director Bernard Fishman with a gift of $100,000. The funds become JHSM’s first exhibition endowment. Emmy Mogilensky becomes JHSM’s first Director of Programming, developing trips and activities, and providing first-hand testimony of the Holocaust through her tours.
Exhibition endowments provided by the Hoffberger Family Fund and the Marie C. and Standford Z. Rothschild Foundation provide additional support to the exhibition program. JHSM and the Baltimore Museum of Industry members exchange visits in conjunction with JHSM’s exhibition on the garment industry, “Threads of Life.”
An original exhibition on the nineteenth-century painter and photographer Solomon Nunes Carvalho, researched and organized by Elizabeth Berman, becomes the first JHSM exhibition to travel to other American cities.
JHSM completes its first historic building documentation project, making architectural drawings and photographs of the former Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue on High Street.
The Museum Room in the Lloyd Street Synagogue is renovated and the Hall of Fame is disassembled. The new gallery becomes the location for a series of photographic and topical exhibitions mounted by new curator Barry Kessler.
Making use of paint analysis of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, JHSM repaints the building interior and exterior. The sanctuary changes from white to a palette of buff, green, gold, blue, with a Greek anthemion design typical of the mid-nineteenth century.
The Board approves a plan, developed by Bernard Fishman, to expand the JHSM, more than doubling its space.
JHSM earns professional accreditation from the American Association of Museums. A new core exhibition, “Fertile Ground: Two Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Baltimore,” features room-size vignettes that portray scenes ranging from a Federal parlor to a 1960’s bar mitzvah, along with a display of specially collected artifacts relating to Baltimore’s growing Orthodox community.
Twenty-five fifth graders from public School #139 participate in “East Baltimore SNAP!” Under the guidance of a professional photographer, they shoot pictures of the neighborhood which are exhibited in the Lloyd Street Gallery.
JHSM publishes two valuable historical books: Traders and Transports: The Jews of Colonial Maryland by Eric Goldstein and Synagogues, Temples, and Congregations of Maryland by Earl Pruce.
In collaboration with the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, JHSM presents “Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews,” along with many programs relating to Black-Jewish relations. A fire at the Eubie Blake Center results in the early closing of the exhibition and emergency conservation of several contemporary works.
“Daughter of Zion: Henrietta Szold and American Jewish Womanhood,” organized by curator Barry Kessler, presents an artifactual biography of Maryland’s distinguished educator, editor, Zionist, and humanitarian. The exhibition travels to Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York; Hadassah later presents it at their 2000 national convention in Los Angeles.
Tali Katz becomes JHSM’s first full-time Director of Education. Coinciding with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, JHSM presents the first annual Feldman Family lecture: Leonard Fein, son of founding JHSM curator Isaac Fein is the speaker.
Construction begins on the expanded JHSM building designed by architect Jonathan Fishman of RCG, Inc. Lee Rosenberg heads the Building Committee.
JHSM begins to document the surviving historic synagogue buildings in Maryland through architectural drawings and photographs. Funded by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, it is the largest such project ever undertaken.
With the main museum building under construction, “The Golden Land: A Jewish Family Learning Place,” an interview children’s exhibition on East Baltimore’s turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrant community, opens in the Lloyd Street Synagogue Gallery.
April: In collaboration with The Contemporary Museum, JHSM mounts “Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities,” on loan from the Jewish Museum, New York, in a vacant store in Owings Mills.
The stately mahogany-paneled former office of L. Manuel Handler is transferred to JHSM through the generosity of Samuel Boltansky, becoming the first period room to be installed in an American Jewish museum.
JHSM undertakes to place all collections records on a fully searchable computerized database. Two data entry workers under the supervision of Registrar Melissa Martins begin to convert all the old collections records, a process which is half complete by 2000.
JHSM changes its name to the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The new museum building opens with two major exhibitions, “Bridges to Zion: The People of Maryland and the Land of Israel” and “The Eighteen: Paintings by Archie Rand.” Nearly one thousand people attend the opening events highlighting the new exhibition gallery, lobby, museum shop, collections storage areas, loading dock, and offices, as well as the renovated library.
Bernard Fishman announces his departure after thirteen years as Director of JMM. The Museum’s annual budget now approaches $750,000 and its endowments top $6 million. Collections have grown to include many thousands of artifacts, documents and photographs. Barry Kessler serves as Acting Director for three months.
The Jewish Museum hosts its first evening program for young Jewish adults, planned by Board members and an advisory committee. Hundreds enjoy the Israel cafe-style party in the Museum’s new lobby.
The Jewish Museum presents its first living history walking tour. Carol Cohen portrays Yiddish actress Bessie Tomashefsky, who grew up in East Baltimore, as she brings to life the Lombard Street neighborhood at the turn of the century.
Avi Y. Decter is appointed Director after filling in as Acting Director for six months. JMM opens “Cornerstones of Community: Maryland’s Historic Synagogues,” an exhibition based on the synagogue documentation project and original research by guest curator David Kaufman and co-curator Melissa Martens. A scholarly catalogue is published.
The Board approves new By-laws and a new Collections Management Policy, outlining policies and procedures relating to all aspects of acquisition and care collections.
More than twenty Jewish organizations and groups participate in the Museum’s time capsule project, filling modules with everyday objects and images that speak about their concepts of Jewish identity. The modules are exhibited at their own locations before being integrated into a single exhibition at the Museum.
Dozens of visitors bring objects for appraisal as part of “Jewish Treasures Roadshow” in conjunction with the exhibition, “Tchotchkes! Treasures of the Family Museum.”
April: Annual meeting inaugurates fortieth anniversary year with special recognition to past presidents and Robert Weinberg, visionary initiator of the Jewish Heritage Center.
Anita Kassof is appointed Assistant Director, Melissa Martens Curator, Jobi Okin (Zink) Registrar, and Abby Lester Archivist/Librarian.
*Many Thanks to Bernard Fishman for his assistance in preparing this Chronology.