Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1990s

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 1990s: Rabbi Mark Loeb

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1993: Rabbi Mark Loeb (1944-2009) is named national chairman of Mazon: A Jewish Response To Hunger. The organization’s dual purpose—not only to feed the hungry, but also to address the systemic causes of hunger and poverty—perfectly suits Loeb, a humanitarian deeply concerned with social justice.

Memorial program for Rabbi Mark Loeb. Photo by Silber Photography, courtesy of Beth El Congregation.
Memorial program for Rabbi Mark Loeb. Photo by Silber Photography, courtesy of Beth El Congregation.

The popular rabbi more than doubled the membership of Baltimore’s Beth El congregation during his twenty-eight-year tenure. But Loeb was not afraid to speak from the pulpit on controversial topics. As he told the Jewish Times in 1996, “My congregants know me, respect me, and know that I respect them, even when we disagree.” He was one of the nation’s first Conservative rabbis to perform a commitment ceremony for a same sex-couple, long-time congregation members. The event occurred “after an extensive discussion within the congregation,” he told the Baltimore Sun. His progressive views did not stop him from speaking out about social change that he objected to: in 1993, he urged female congregants to wear less revealing clothing to services. “A synagogue is not really a place to be fashionable. Rather, it is a place to feel the power of holiness,” he wrote in the Beth El newsletter.

Rabbi Mark Loeb and Rabbi Michael Henesen conduct a B'rith at Baltimore Hebrew University, September 1990. JMM 2009.40.3895
Rabbi Mark Loeb and Rabbi Michael Henesen conduct a B’rith at Baltimore Hebrew University, September 1990. JMM 2009.40.3895

Loeb co-founded the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. He served on gubernatorial commissions on discrimination, adolescent pregnancy, and capital punishment. When he passed away in 2009, one year after his retirement, testimonials poured in from his congregation and from around the nation. As Rabbi Arnold Rachlis summed up, “He was devoted to his congregants, MAZON, interfaith dialogue and a large, pluralistic, inclusive world.”

~The End~

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