Since Jews first arrived in Baltimore, they have been an integral part of the city's economic, civic, and cultural life. From educational and labor development to historical and cultural initiatives, the Jewish community has been a major contributor to the development of Baltimore. In 1983, Shoshana Cardin became the first woman to lead a major Jewish federation when she was appointed president of Associated Jewish Charities in Baltimore. This was a major milestone for the Jewish community in Baltimore, and it set the stage for further progress.
The city also welcomed subsequent waves of Jewish migration, including German Jewish refugees from Nazism in the 1930s, Holocaust survivors in the post-World War II era, Iranians in the late 20th century, and Soviet and post-Soviet Jews in the late 20th century. Jews were involved in the civil rights movement, but this movement also targeted Jewish store owners who maintained discriminatory policies. The desire to maintain a strong community led Jews to live close to each other, although real estate discrimination also helped draw the boundaries of Jewish residence. The Museum interprets the Jewish experience in the United States, with special attention to Jewish life in Maryland.
Until 1826, when the Maryland legislature passed the Jewish Bill allowing Jewish public officials to take a substitute oath, Jews failed to achieve full civic equality in the state. Local anti-Semitism increased with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, prompting the formation of Baltimore Jewish Council in 1939 - a community relations organization that continues to fight against anti-Semitism, promote dialogue between Jews and other local communities, and address broader urban problems. A second phase of synagogue development began in Eastern Europe in the early 1920s when the first generation born in America founded several congregations in northwest Baltimore, including Beth Tfiloh - one of the first synagogical centers in America. In 1917, Rabbi Avraham Schwartz de Shomrei Mishmeres founded Talmudic Academy - the first Jewish day school outside of New York.
As a port of entry for immigrants and a border city between North and South, as well as a gateway to the interior of America and a manufacturing center itself, Baltimore has been well positioned to reflect on American Jewish life. Despite being integrated into Baltimore's social scene, two families maintained their Jewish identity by acquiring their own cemeteries, maintaining kosher practices and holding religious services at home. The street vendors sent by these families to railroad lines leaving Baltimore became small merchants and founders of Jewish communities from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. The economic development of Baltimore's Jewish community has had an immense impact on its culture and history.
From educational initiatives to civil rights movements and beyond, this community has been an essential part of Baltimore's growth and development. The city's rich history is testament to this fact.