Maryland Generations The Jewish Experience; They Came to Stay: A World of Their Own
Welcome to a special night of programming on Maryland Public Television. I'm Jeff Saul can in just 30 minutes NPT and PBS will present part 1 of the Jewish-Americans. It's the story of opportunity freedom and prosperity. The Jews have founded America from their first settlement to the present. Right now we begin with Maryland generations the Jewish experience. Tonight an up close and personal examination of the earliest migration of German Jews to Maryland and how that 19th century wave marked the beginning of the Jewish American experience in our states. Marilyn generations the Jewish experience is made possible in part by the wine and Melvin Cohen family foundation. Irene and Edward H Kaplan Jack King Ben and Esther Rosenblum foundation and buy these additional
contributors. And by Sinai Hospital is celebrating 50 years in northwest Baltimore Sinai Hospital a Jewish sponsored health care organization providing quality patient care and teaching for all people. For more information on life bridge health dot over. My great great grandfather was born in a small town in Germany. And his family were very poor. Like many. Prospective immigrants at that time were looking to create a better life. They left for an opportunity for their children. They thought it would be safer. It was a courageous decision because they had to give up basically everything to come over to the United States. They stepped off those ships. And they went where
rumor said there was work. Those that had sewing machines on their backs they had jobs right away. The others simply began walking. Down the streets until they found work and some did not happen. All right. They were peddlers shopkeepers artisans and tailors. European Jews arriving in successive waves of immigration to Maryland. Hoping to build a life for themselves and their families.
The first group German speaking Jews from Central Europe came in the mid-1980s. Fleeing government restrictions and a deteriorating economy. They made the grueling and landed passage on steamships. Returning to Baltimore after dropping off tobacco in Germany. A second and larger exodus began around 1880. Lasting into the first decades of the 20th century. This time it was Jews from Eastern Europe. Fleeing religious persecution a worsening economy and war. The Port of Baltimore the chief port of Maryland was the point of entry for tens of thousands of Jews during this period. Bringing skills from the old country and a desire to succeed. These venturesome newcomers would end up leaving an indelible mark on Maryland and the nation in the years to come. But the story of Maryland's Jews actually began more than two centuries
earlier. Although many colonists came to America in search of religious freedom. The few Jews who lived in Maryland in colonial times could not take that right for granted in sixteen forty nine Maryland's Catholic founders had promulgated the act of toleration the act of toleration was about promoting tolerance among all the different Christian denominations. But it sort of left out in sixteen fifty eight. A doctor named Jacob Lombroso became the only Jew to be tried under the law. He got himself in trouble by. Denying that Jesus Christ was. God. And for that he was actually put in prison under the Maryland act of toleration colonial authorities proclaimed a general pardon and Lombroso was set free. That was the first indication of religious freedom in the state of Maryland that was in the sixteen hundreds.
But other restrictive provisions remained Maryland's constitution adopted in 1776 required anyone who would hold a public office to declare their belief in Christianity and Jews couldn't plead to Jesus so they couldn't hold public office in the late 1790s Jewish leaders began petitioning the legislature to remove the provision they found a surprising ally the champion of changing the law was a legislator from Hagerstown name Thomas Kennedy who was not Jewish but who believe very firmly in. Freedom of Religion and he thought it was a travesty that Jews were prevented from holding public office. For eight years Kennedy passionately promoted a measure known as the Jew bill to remove the discriminatory provision. It finally passed in 1826. Later that year two prominent Jewish leaders
Solomon etting and Jacob Cohen became the first Jews to hold office in the state. As the 19th century progressed a growing number of Central European Jews began making their way to Maryland. Many started out as partners an occupation that required little startup capital. And soon worked their way up to jobs in the retail or manufacturing industries. Henry sunand born for example began life in America as a peddler in 1848. Within a few years he was running a flourishing clothing manufacturing company. Harrison Ford and company continued to grow and expand and at its peak was producing about 3000 say today which made it the largest clothing manufacturer in the country. But for the Shannon born family and for many other Jews trying to make their
way in the new land. Jewish customs and religious practices often took a backseat to efforts to integrate into American life. They did not necessarily follow the same kosher rules. They wanted to socialize as Americans and Americans eat certain foods and they wanted to be able to eat the same foods. They want to be assimilated. They want to be successful and this was the path to that and they were very they were very driven and they started to pick up what they considered not Christian customs but American customs and Christmas was one of them. So they gave each other presents. They had Christmas parties and the same thing often started happening with Easter. They would get Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. And that's what they saw in American society and they wanted to be Americans. The drive to integrate more fully into American culture encouraged the rise of the reform movement.
As the reform movement gained ground in America. It created divisions within. This conflict was played out in the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation the first American synagogue to have an ordained rabbi. Rabbi Abraham Rice Rabbi Rice was orthodox of course and. The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was an Orthodox congregation one when it was first founded. But in America people were getting a little bit sort of lax in their orthodoxy. He thought that that America itself led to LAX religious observance that the Jews were forced to work on Saturday. He wrote a very famous letter back to his mentor in Germany saying all the Jews in America are just. They really aren't practicing correctly. They removed all distinctive clothing and head covering their inner marrying their eating bad food.
I don't even know if it's possible to be a Jew in America. Meanwhile some of his congregants broke away and started Har Sinai one of America's first reformed congregations and brought over a reform firebrand from Germany. Rabbi David Einhorn he instituted services in Germany and promoted a loosening of dietary laws and Sabbath restrictions. But perhaps he was best known for his outspoken opposition to slavery in Maryland a border state in the years leading up to the Civil War. Einhorn spoke with Sypher Asli against slavery. And paid for it with his job. He was asked to leave or actually flee for his life with his family. A congregant told him that a lynch mob was coming to his home in Baltimore to literally lynch him. Unfortunately his congregants still liked him enough and respected him well enough to get him out of town.
And then in the middle of the night his family left him and the horse and buggy and went to Philadelphia. Although the vast majority of Maryland's Jews settled in the Baltimore area some ventured into other parts of the state. We think of the story of Jews in America as an urban story living in a tenement in the city was not everybody's idea of a good time and there were often opportunities to be found in many of them but when an out to the outlying districts to Western Maryland to Southern Maryland to the eastern shore where they became settlers they serve the pharmacy in the small homes and in those areas. Eventually they settled in those areas and set up their own small stores. Cumberland a bustling industrial town served by both the B.A. railroad and the canal attracted a growing number of Jews to this commercial
hub. In 1853 Cumberland chartered its first Jewish congregation. Hi I am a name that means well of life. Less than two decades later the group build its first synagogue. As their numbers grew Cumberland's Jewish shopkeepers banded together to balance the demands of their businesses with their religious obligations. Early on the Jews of Cumberland took their took their Judaism so seriously that they took out an ad in area newspapers saying that where the merchants the Jewish merchants of Cumberland intend to observe the Sabbath and close our stores on Saturdays and we hope that you our loyal patrons will continue to patronize our stores on the days that we are open and it gives us a window into understanding what their lives had to be like in terms of observing
Judaism in him and making a Jewish life in a small town. Jews also settling such places as Hagerstown Frederick Berry and Annapolis. But preserving the Jewish way of life in these settings required wish wash with much. How are they going to bar mitzvah but much of their children. Well there is a unique and remarkable story some of it was done by traveling. Rabbis traveling teachers coming through. Perform a wedding. Or a bar mitzvah and travel and. Come into Baltimore for an hour get bar mitzvah and go home. Then there was the issue of food. Where were they going to get kosher meat in Frederick. Where were they going to get kosher meat in Salzburg. Lots of families would put their meat kosher meat packed in dry ice on a bus on a weekly or
monthly basis and have it brought in. To Town. In many towns people would learn how to kill chickens in a kosher way in Calvert County. They rotated. That that responsibility one teaching the next so so one man would slaughter chickens for awhile decide he had enough of that. And say OK now it's your turn and go to the next guy and then it would be his turn to do it for a while. Meanwhile life was changing rapidly for Baltimore's Jewish population. Severe poverty and pogroms in the Russian empire brought a great influx of eastern European Jews to the city starting around 1880. They settled in East Baltimore near congregations founded earlier by German Jews. Tensions began to rise between the newcomers and the by now well-established Jews from Central Europe really by the time the East Europeans came. The Germans had become Americans. They had sort of turned away from orthodoxy for the most part towards Reform Judaism
and they saw these new immigrants coming in being just totally foreign to them. These Jews from Eastern Europe they've used Jews from Central Europe a comfortable why. They wore long black coats they were funny hats they kept kosher they prayed in this goofy language what's called Yiddish. As the new immigrants flooded into East Baltimore the more established Central European Jews moved up and out to expensive homes in the fashionable tree lined Utah place area. The German Jews had their old insular world. They had their own in town club the Phoenix Club. They have their own funeral parlor they have their own country club. These European Jews along side it for Merrill community too. They were transporting East Baltimore into a noisy bustling enclave centered
around Lombard Street. Poorer and more numerous than the Jews who had arrived decades earlier. The new arrivals packed together in tenement communities. The streets were filled with the sounds of Yiddish and the smells of livestock and privies. They have their bakeries they have their Kosher butchers. The. Chickens have become synonymous with lumber and street life. You know because they in those days they kept chickens in cages on the streets right out on the sidewalk. And in those days you could walk into one of these places like Yankee loss and you point to a chicken and he kill it for you on the spot. And then pluck it. And then you take it away. With more than a dozen synagogues in walking distance the area was rection religious life. It was a little village transplanted. From Eastern Europe while the central European Jews rarely socialized with the new arrivals. They felt an obligation to help.
My great great grandfather's company provided numerous jobs to Jews coming from Eastern European countries as dead. Many of the other businesses located in and around Baltimore in Maryland. One thing about Jewish community we have a responsibility to take care of our own so we give very generously to make sure that any Jew in Maryland is taken care of. And in the 1900s the well-established Jews worked with the newer immigrants to establish everything from hospitals and schools to burial society to aid the more recent arrivals. The Jewish Educational Alliance provided wholesome activities for youngsters a night school founded by Henry and his old daughter of Rabbi Benjamin so old of Ohev Sholom. Provided adults with desperately needed language and job skills. In her classes there was a rule no Yiddish spoken here
only English they were becoming American that's the whole idea. As Baltimore's Jewish community was shuttling down roads a separate community with a somewhat different character was emerging in Washington D.C. along the 7th Street commercial corridor. At the beginning they were merchants serving the growing city that was growing because the government agencies were growing. So it was every kind of business furniture sales jewelers shoe makers. We had a lot of mom and pop grocers that were among the Eastern European immigrants. A triad of synagogues Washington Hebrew. Addison Israel and Ohev Sholom. Grew up along I Street. Adding to the sense of community was a network of recreational and social organizations. In one thousand twenty five. President
Calvin Coolidge attended the cornerstone laying ceremony for the new Jewish community center at 16th and q a streatch. Which served as a hub for communal life for children adults and the elderly. One thing that shut Washington apart was the unusual number of Jewish owned grocery stores. By the mid 1920s. Some 300 were scattered across the city. To make ends meet. The owners often work long hours seven days a week. They would close half a day on Sunday so folks could to have a picnic at Rock Creek Park or just have a little time together. But of course none of these grocers wanted their kids to work in the store. They wanted them to go to professional school and become doctors and lawyers and go into business which is as how the stores eventually died out.
Of course the desire to rise in American society was not confined to store owners. In this land of opportunity. Many immigrant parents wanted their children to make something of themselves. But. As the 20s and 30s unfolded. Many Jews would find that dream harder to achieve. As a deepening depression. Rising anti-Semitism. And gathering clouds of war claiming the nation's attention. Maryland generations the Jewish experience is made possible in part by the Rhine and Milton Cohen family foundation. Irene and Edward H Kaplan Jack Benny and Esther Rosenblum foundation and these additional
contributors. And by celebrating 50 years in northwest Austin and finding quality. People. For more information. You were watching Marilyn generations the Jewish experience. Stay tuned for the encore NPT and PBS presentation of the Jewish-Americans park watch that's coming up in just 10 minutes. But right now we continue Marilyn generations the Jewish experience with a visit to a thriving Jewish community. And one of Maryland's largest suburbs NPT is Lou Davis finds out how Holocaust survivors began anew in Montgomery County. More than six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Of those that lived through that horrible experience those that were liberated after World War 2. Many went to Israel and between one thousand forty five in one thousand fifty to one hundred thirty
seven thousand came to the United States to start a new life. We came in. Penniless but a survivor's because we have had a torturous journey to. Portugal. Most came with nothing the clothes on their back. Many had barely survived the terrible years in the camps. Their homes had been taken they were ill their family was destroyed. Close relatives and friends killed. Yet they survived and they began anew. Conditions were very tough. I just couldn't imagine that you. Knowing the whole party Marget Mizer lived for a time in New York then in Argentina in California and New Mexico and finally here to Maryland where she settled in Montgomery County married and raised a family and became a leading authority on special education.
I became a survivor and so I. Did things which really I had no right to try. But I tried and I was successful and so is success breeds success. I started the new program that transition from school to work for four people who graduated from a special education program so that they wouldn't sit home and twiddle their prime Solomon was born in Romania near the Russian border. He hid out in Europe during the war and eventually coming to America to reunite with his brother. He went back to school and is a leading expert now on botulism. He recently retired after more than thirty eight years with the Food and Drug Administration. Your early experiences yes they teach you with the work looks like Franco is not from. Where you were beat up. And. Down. There is still
room service to energy. Get up take over from here. I can fight. Back. With that and spoke with. Brains. And. Slowly if you know where I stand this is the place to do it. In America. At the Holocaust Museum in Washington they've compiled histories of thousands of survivors many living in this area. Steve locker is curator of the permanent exhibit there. There were many people eager to come to the United States after years of incarceration. After years of persecution wanting to come to the United States and live in a free democracy they had to start their lives from scratch. They had to learn a new language for many of them. Many of them had their schooling interrupted. So for many years it was going back to school learning a trade if they didn't have one who was building a new life in a new
society. And this was something that they took up and they succeeded in doing this. Walker says he sees in the Survivor a resiliency perhaps developed because of the hardships that they endured. And a determination and a will to start again and to become an American. Some of it came from the you know their family background some of rhythm probably came from Jewish tradition. Some of it probably came from their experiences of life survival of survival in ghettos in concentration camps death marches. But I think that there was that this build up of the inner strength that many of these people. I think that and they also had this this drive to survive. It has been more than seven decades now since many of these Jews came to the United States. They are a living testament of not only the bad times the terrible times in Europe but also of the good times and the opportunity that this country has afforded them.
I'm Lou Davis for Maryland Public Television. Lou thanks very much an art Abramson executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council joins us in the studio now thank you for being here. My pleasure. What what do we know about the survivor community in Maryland Do we know numbers. We have a relatively good idea. There are about 300 on our records here in the Baltimore area. There's another 200 we presume in the general area. And it's probably as least the similar number in a Montgomery County Prince George's County area and maybe talk a little about the efforts that have been made to preserve their stories their legacies says as they get up in years. The main way we have been doing that is through oral histories. We partnered with the fortune off library at Yale University a number of years ago and we had most certainly most of the survivors that we were able to find in this area.
Record the histories and we now have copies of all of that. What are the plans for that why why is it so important. Well obviously and unfortunately they will not be with us forever. And for those who would contend it did not happen for those who dispute certain things these are the histories This is the documentation. How else is that record preserved. In Maryland I want to talk a little bit about the Holocaust Museum in Washington but there are local resources as well. Right. Well local resources through us. And we have on a regular basis or arrange for survivors to travel throughout the state too. Go to schools to basically anywhere they're invited to talk about their experiences. We have partnered with Comcast for example to do programs in the schools that they even record about the experiences of the survivors as
as time goes by. Is it more difficult to get younger people to younger Jews to pay attention to what happened. You bet. In fact we had some recent anti-Semitic incidents here and unfortunately they were committed by Jews. Why do you think that happens. I have been asking myself that question but clearly they have no memory of being taught about the Holocaust or if in fact they were taught about the Holocaust. Something's missing. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is an extraordinarily powerful place. Right. And Been there are a couple of times and the thing that strikes me is how crowded it is how many people of all sorts of diverse backgrounds take the time to to visit something that's frankly not the most pleasant or uplifting experience. It is imperative that those who are not jewish
be welcomed. We have their questions answered. And that that kind of setting be open to everyone. And of course the Holocaust Museum in Washington does a fantastic job of reading that message out. We want you to come they have experience though since they will arrange programs for anyone but the key is to make sure that the memories are preserved and as much as possible the lessons learned in Jewish schools either full time schools or Sunday school type programs. How how much focus on this. Is there how much do you think is is appropriate a question is is there. You can't be too much. No my view in fact is exactly the opposite. It's not enough. It's been easier for us to arrange Holocaust teacher training which we do want to regular basis in non-Jewish schools than in Jewish schools because there's a feeling well they don't need it.
Well in fact they do need it and look ahead to the next generation a little bit. The Challenge 20 years from now is more severe or where as time goes on as it is it possible to focus more directly on on something like this much more severe a problem of baby class if in fact the survivors die out. There is even less of a chance for us to spread that message in appropriate places in a few seconds. Following up a focus on the Holocaust with the this question how how big how vibrant is the Jewish community in Maryland very vibrant. We have very strong Jewish institutions perhaps in terms of population size stronger here than just about anywhere in the United States. All right Art Abramson of Baltimore Jewish Council thank you for being with us. And stay tuned for the NPT and PBS presentation of the Jewish Americans part
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- This segment is the first part of "Maryland Generations The Jewish Experience." This first part of this segment examines the "migration of German [and Eastern European] Jews to Maryland, and...Jewish American experience in [Maryland]." The second part of this segment focuses on Jewish Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Montgomery County. The third part of this segment involves Jeff Salkin interviewing Art Abramson of the Baltimore Jewish Council; topics addressed include the Holocaust and the United States Holocaust Museum. The first part part of this segment includes interviews with descendents of Jewish immigrants, historians, and other experts, while the second segment includes interviews with Jewish immigrants and Holocaust survivors. Other information about this segment: Seg 16x- format
- Maryland Generations: The Jewish Experience looks at Jewish history in America through the lens of Maryland's Jewish communities" (https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1610579331.html).
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Copyright Holder: Maryland Public Television
Guest: Abramson, Art
Host: Salkin, Jeff
Interviewee: Weiner, Deb
Interviewee: Mandel, Marvin
Interviewee: Neumann, Mark
Interviewee: Fink, Steven M.
Interviewee: Boxman, Bradd H.
Interviewee: Falk, Karen
Interviewee: Sandler, Gilbert
Interviewee: Cardin, Benjamin L.
Interviewee: Apelbaum, Laura Cohen
Interviewee: Meisner, Margit
Interviewee: Soloman, Hiam
Interviewee: Luckert, Steve
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
Reporter: Davis, Lou
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- MLA: “Maryland Generations The Jewish Experience; They Came to Stay: A World of Their Own.” 2008-11-23. Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 13, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-71ngffgx>.
- APA: Maryland Generations The Jewish Experience; They Came to Stay: A World of Their Own. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-71ngffgx