Volunteer Spotlight on: Harvey Karch, docent

Volunteer Docent, Harvey Karch was born and raised in Baltimore.  He first lived above the family grocery store in Dundalk, next migrated northwest to Forest Park, then onward to Park Heights.  After college, he moved to Montgomery County – he currently lives in Rockville.  Harvey always had an interest in the Lloyd Street Synagogue since it was the shul where his grandfather davened (prayed).  His grandfather was from Volhynia , as was his friend, the president of Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh, Tobias Miller. Harvey’s father, Leonard Karch, became a Bar Mitzvah at the Lloyd Street Synagogue on a snowy day in January 1936. He told the story of the weather being so bad, that after services they simply went back to their East Baltimore Street home where people ate kichel, drank whiskey and said “Mazel tov!” And that was that – no big celebration like children today have come to know. When Harvey graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Liberal Arts, he was hired by Social Security. They trained him to be a computer programmer. He worked his way up the ladder, and after 38 years retired as the Chief Information Officer at an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.  He admits that the key to his success was perseverance.

Harvey Karch
Harvey Karch

The impetus to Harvey volunteering at the JMM was two trips he took as a visitor, in 2001. On the first visit, he joined his synagogue chaverah from Potomac. He was inspired to attend because of the family connection. The second time he came was with a program offered jointly through B’nai Brith and the Knight’s of Columbus.  They visited the historic synagogues then went for dinner in Little Italy.  Quite honestly, Harvey did not love the tours.  He went into the Museum Shop and bought Isaac M. Fein’s The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773-1920 – The Making of An American Jewish Community. After reading it, he made an appointment with the Education Director, Deborah Cardin, and discussed becoming a docent.  When she explained that the Isaac Fein book is what our Docents use for training, he was recruited. Harvey had actually taken classes at Hebrew High School, part of the former Baltimore Hebrew College, with Isaac Fein in the early 1960’s. He was well on his way to understanding the Baltimore Jewish Community and it’s history, and became a Docent in no time. In addition to volunteering at the JMM, Harvey delivers Meals on Wheels in Montgomery County and enjoys taking classes in Jewish Studies and History at the University of Maryland.

Beyond volunteering as a Docent at the JMM, Harvey also works on the “Cemetery Project” with former JMM Historian, Deb Weiner.  Harvey had searched the Jewish Genealogical Society database for his parents’ records, with no success.  They are buried in the United Hebrew Cemetery on Washington Boulevard. It is currently associated with Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation, and run by W.S. Tegeler Monument Company, but they only maintained paper records as of 2012.  So, twice a month, for three years now, Harvey and Deb have gone to the cemetery, taken information off of 3” x 5” cards and entered it onto a spreadsheet.  They began with the letter “A,” have completed 90% of the records, and once it is complete, the information will be uploaded onto the JMM website, for universal use.  It is quite an accomplishment, for which a lot of people will be grateful.  True to “Smalltimore” form, Harvey learned that the man running the cemetery now is a cousin of his father.

Harvey says he continues to feel the family connection every time he walks into the Lloyd Street Synagogue even though his grandfather passed away over 50 years ago.  And, he enjoys meeting the visitors who go on his synagogue tours.  He was once giving a tour to a woman and her grandson, who happened to be wearing a Dundalk High School sweatshirt.  Harvey mentioned that he used to live there, above a store in the St. Helena area. The woman asked if it was Stone’s Market or Karch’s? He was tickled that she remembered it from when she was a young girl.  He also remembers the time had two priests on his tour.  One was an historian who wanted to show the younger priest the building because it had once been used as a church. When Harvey explained that the Star of David stained glass window survived, in tact, during the years it was a church, the priest agreed that it was part of their heritage too.  Then, when the 3 men entered B’nai Israel and Harvey asked them to put on yarmulkes, the older priest picked up a red one, handed it to the younger priest and said, “Congratulations on your promotion!” A fun time can always be found at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and we appreciate that Harvey continues to share his precious volunteer hours with us, to enable such.

ilene cohen

A blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. Every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at icohen@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

jewish museum of maryland Volunteers

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