Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1850 – 1889
1853: The Oheb Shalom congregation is founded by up-and-coming German immigrants as a midway alternative to Har Sinai’s radical Reform and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s continued (yet increasingly fractious) Orthodoxy.
1853: The completion of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad through the Appalachian mountains to the Ohio River opens up vast western markets to Baltimore entrepreneurs, expanding the city’s economy and offering opportunities to Jewish wholesale and retail merchants.
1855: Reform rabbi and firebrand David Einhorn of Bavaria arrives to lead Har Sinai Congregation. He conducts a heated feud over issues of liturgical reform with moderate Benjamin Szold of Hungary, hired in 1859 as rabbi of Oheb Shalom.
1858: Moses Hutzler moves his general store from East Baltimore across town to Howard Street, joining dozens of small dry goods dealers—including many fellow German Jewish immigrants—in the city’s emerging retail center near Lexington Market.
1861: The Civil War divides Baltimore Jewry, with most Jews trying to maintain a moderate position but extremists in evidence on both sides. A pro-slavery mob destroys the press where Rabbi David Einhorn’s abolitionist newspaper, Sinai, is printed. Einhorn flees with his family to Philadelphia and, after his congregation asks him to tone down his anti-slavery rhetoric, he refuses to return.
1865: A portent of things to come: Bikur Cholim Congregation is founded, the first in Baltimore to follow the Polish style of worship.
1867: The North German Lloyd Steamship Line joins with the B&O Railroad to boost shipping links between Baltimore and Bremen. The ships transport Maryland tobacco and lumber to Germany; on the reverse trip they carry Europe’s major export to the New World: immigrants. Although most of the new arrivals head west on the B&O, many others remain, causing an immediate rise in Baltimore’s immigrant population. Over the coming decades, the city’s Jewish population will be swelled by the Central and East European Jews who stream into the steamship company’s docks at Locust Point.
1868: The Hebrew Hospital and Asylum opens in East Baltimore; its name later changes to Sinai Hospital.
1870: Traditionalists at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation who can no longer keep Reform at bay break off to form Chizuk Amuno, a traditional congregation. By century’s end, Baltimore Hebrew and Oheb Shalom are counted as Reform, while Chizuk Amuno becomes a founding congregation of the Conservative movement.
1876: Chizuk Amuno builds the last great German Jewish synagogue in East Baltimore, on Lloyd Street just a few steps from its forerunner, Baltimore Hebrew. But the Germans soon begin their move uptown, and within twenty years the neo-Moorish building will become home to the Russishe Shul, otherwise known as B’nai Israel, an early East European congregation founded in 1873.
1870s-1880s: Small shuls established by groups of East European landsmen begin to appear in East Baltimore. Jews from Bialystok start this trend by forming Ohel Yakov, known as the Bialystoker shul, in 1875. Dozens of small, landsmen-based shuls will spring up over the next several decades. Some will merge to form larger second-generation synagogues; many will disappear.
1881: A wave of pogroms in the Russian Empire helps spur the Great Migration of East European Jewry to America. The Jewish population of Baltimore grows from 10,000 in 1880 to 24,000 in 1890. Most of the new arrivals find work in the sweatshops and factories of the city’s garment district. The East Europeans create a bustling culture in East Baltimore, with their own synagogues, communal institutions, entertainments, and shops.
1882: Seventeen-year-old Lithuanian immigrant Jacob Epstein starts the Baltimore Bargain House, which he grows into one of the nation’s largest wholesale dry-goods operations. Through Epstein’s influence, Jewish peddlers and shopkeepers settle throughout the South, establishing a strong retail presence and numerous small communities.
1886: Baltimore’s first great modern department store is opened on Eutaw Street by Joel Gutman, a German Jewish immigrant with thirty years in Baltimore retailing. Two years later, Hutzler Bros. opens the city’s second grand emporium on nearby Howard Street, solidifying the area as Baltimore’s downtown retail shopping mecca. By 1910, they will be joined by several other large department stores, mostly German Jewish owned, including Hochschild Kohn’s and the Hub (a Hecht family store).
1889: Henrietta Szold, 29-year-old daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Szold, befriends members of the Hebrew Literary Society, a group of Russian Jewish intellectuals. Together they open the Russian Night School to teach English and help Americanize the immigrants of East Baltimore. She serves as superintendent of the school, which becomes a model for settlement houses around the country.
1889: Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) is the first Zionist group founded in Baltimore.
For a more detailed history of Jewish Baltimore, particularly 1950 – present, please check out On Middle Ground by Dr. Eric L. Goldstein and Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Copies available online at Esther’s Place, the JMM gift shop.