The Jewish Community in Central Maryland: A Historical Perspective

Jews have been a part of Maryland since the 17th century, and today, the population of Jews in the state stands at 3.9%. In the early years, few Jews arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, but as a port of entry for immigrants and a border city between North and South, as well as a manufacturing center, Baltimore was well-positioned to reflect the evolution of American Jewish life. The Jewish community in Maryland has also maintained its own unique character. Eastern European Jews began to settle in Maryland in the 1850s, with a massive emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe occurring between the 1880s and 1920s.

Rabbi Illowy was invited to be the chief rabbi of the Shaarei Chased Congregation in New Orleans due to his popular speech. By the 1950s, the Washington metropolitan area was the sixth largest Jewish community in the United States, with 81,000 people (today it ranks fifth).The names of Jews are prominent in the struggle for emancipation in 1818-1826, during which the Jewish bill was debated in the Maryland legislature. In 1825, Solomon Etting estimated that there were 150 Jews living in Maryland. The largest Jewish populations are located in Montgomery County and Baltimore metropolitan area, particularly in Pikesville and northwest Baltimore.

Starting in the 1950s, synagogues and other Jewish institutions moved away from Washington's central commercial corridors to Upper Northwest and Maryland, and did not return until the late 1990s. State delegate Thomas Kennedy took up the cause of religious freedom for Jews despite never having met any before. Consequently, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, there were fifteen families of Jews living in Baltimore in 1796. Between 1830 and 1870, more than 10,000 Jews from Germany and other areas of Central Europe settled in Maryland. Silver Spring was one of the most attractive destinations due to new subdivisions built by Jewish real estate developers. David Fereira, a Jewish tobacco merchant from New Amsterdam, appeared in Maryland as early as 1657 and colonial records mention a Jewish doctor named Jacob Lumbrozo who was also engaged in trade. These communities had more tolerance for non-Christians so Jews were better able to settle down.

After 1740s with growth of trade in colony individual Jews appeared in Annapolis, Fredericktown (now Frederick) and few other cities but a Jewish community with support institutions did not emerge until period of American Revolution when Baltimore became one of region's major ports and attracted several Jewish families. The passing of this bill was a major turning point for Jewish communities of Maryland and Baltimore and changed trajectory of Jewish participation and commitment to public life. The researchers described only 14 percent of local Jewish community as “minimally involved” and instead noted that some people are very committed to Jewish culture or holidays even if they don't participate in religious celebrations. Today, there are numerous organizations dedicated to preserving and promoting Jewish culture throughout Central Maryland. These organizations provide educational opportunities for children and adults alike to learn about their heritage and history. Additionally, many synagogues have been established throughout Central Maryland to provide spiritual guidance for those who wish to practice their faith. The evolution of the Jewish community in Central Maryland is an important part of American history.

From its humble beginnings as a small group of immigrants seeking religious freedom to its current status as an integral part of American society, this community has made an indelible mark on our nation's history.

Ankie Groot
Ankie Groot

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