The Jewish Community in Central Maryland: A Historical Overview

Jews have been settled in Maryland since the 17th century, and by the year 2020, the country's population was 3.9% Jewish, with 201,600 people. A 45-minute drive from Baltimore, Harford County, whose total population is around a quarter of a million, has just one Reformist temple in Havre de Grace and a Chabad center in Bel Air. The county is mostly white (about 80 percent) and mostly Catholic or Christian. Estimates of that country's Jewish population range from 550 to 1,200 or more.

David Brunn offers just one example of the Jewish contribution to Baltimore and the surrounding region. Since Jews first settled in the city, they have played an active role in the economic, civic and cultural life of Baltimore. Despite facing a great deal of discrimination, Baltimore has been a place where Jews could thrive, participate in local culture and adopt a strong identity as “Baltimoreans”. At the same time, Jews formed their own close-knit community with well-defined neighborhoods and strong institutions.

This hasn't always been easy either, since they have been very diverse groups, coming from all over the world, from very different circumstances and religious backgrounds. The first Jews to leave their mark were the Etting and Cohen brothers, merchants, bankers and civic leaders of the early 19th century. Two Cohens and an Etting fought in the Battle of Fort McHenry. But they also had to fight for their own political equality, because Maryland's constitution required public officials to take a Christian oath to hold office. In 1826, the state legislature finally passed the “Jewish Bill”, which allowed Jews to take a substitute oath, and their fellow citizens quickly elected Solomon Etting and Jacob Cohen to the Baltimore City Council.

Despite being integrated into the Baltimore social scene, the two families maintained their Jewish identity, acquired their own cemeteries, maintained kosher and held religious services in their homes. From the humble beginnings of the first congregation, in rented rooms above a Fell's Point supermarket in 1830, a thriving network of religious, cultural and charitable institutions grew. In 1840, that congregation - Baltimore Hebrew - became the first in the United States to have an ordained rabbi when it hired Bavarian-trained Rabbi Abraham Rice. He built the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1845 - the third oldest surviving synagogue building in the country - and in 1842 some members separated from Baltimore Hebrew to form Har Sinai - the first American congregation founded on the principles of Reform Judaism. In 1933, the creation of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College made Baltimore an important center of Orthodox Judaism - a position it retains today. Despite their religious diversity, Jews united around activities such as caring for poor Jews and fighting anti-Semitism.

In 1920, community organizations came together to form the Associated Jewish Federation which continues to serve the community. Jewish immigrants arrived with few resources. German Jews used to start out as street vendors while men and women from Eastern Europe worked hard in the city's textile industry. Baltimore's business and manufacturing opportunities helped families get ahead; husbands, wives and even children often worked together to set up small businesses. When Jews rose out of poverty they moved from their immigrant ghetto in East Baltimore (which still houses Corned Beef Row delicatessen stores) to a series of neighborhoods and suburbs in Northwest. Their desire to maintain a strong community led them to live close to each other although real estate discrimination also helped draw boundaries of Jewish residence.

While most Jewish families achieved middle or upper middle class status some founded some of the most prominent firms in Baltimore; Louis and Jacob Blaustein's Amoco Oil Company began in 1912 when father and son were selling kerosene door-to-door while The Hoffberger family built a diverse empire that included a heating fuel company National Bohemian Beer and The Baltimore Orioles. Both families created charities to benefit a variety of local causes; in fact philanthropic organizations and Jewish businesses have had a big impact on Baltimore. For decades Hutzler's and other Jewish-owned department stores drew Baltimoreans to downtown while property developers like Joseph Meyerhoff shaped region's growth. Meyerhoff The Cone sisters Carroll Rosenbloom and others shaped key institutions from symphony to art museum to The Baltimore Colts; contributions of Baltimore's Jews have extended far beyond city limits. Henrietta Szold founded country's largest Jewish organization Hadassah in 1912 then built Israel's pre-state health system while Zionists in Baltimore purchased old Chesapeake Bay steamboat for purpose of transporting Holocaust survivors to Palestine under new name Exodus his trip became key episode birth state Israel. A decade later Leon Uris native Baltimore presented saga ship popular novel bears name ship; other Jewish residents Baltimore who have influenced popular culture include film director Barry Levinson pop singer Mama Cass Elliott (born Ellen Naomi Cohen) pioneering rock roll songwriter Jerry Leiber. This website is made possible part grant Maryland Heritage Areas Authority. While 36 percent Jews over 65 years age who participated study are married non-Jews about 50 percent Jews between 30 40 years old have spouses who are not Jewish 61 percent young people aged 18 29 who are married or live non-Jewish partner among 22 500 children living Jewish homes Baltimore 20 500 (91%) were raised Jews some way whether religion secularism culturally or Jews another religion. Community members have long-standing ties area as nearly half Jewish adults (45%) were raised Baltimore; for many Baltimore Jews Harford County's rolling rural hills growing suburban landscapes are world away large established Jewish communities which offer new person...

Ankie Groot
Ankie Groot

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