A Family Album
From East Baltimore to Forest Park to Park Heights, from Nates and Leon's deli to Hutzler's department store, Jewish Baltimore tells stories of neighborhoods, people, and landmarks that have been important to Baltimore's Jewish experience. Gilbert Sandler, whose popular columns have appeared in Baltimore's Jewish Times and the Baltimore Sun, offers a wide-ranging history of the region's Jewish community from the 1850s to the present, covering both German Jewish and Russian Jewish communities. Sandler's archival research uncovers new details about important people and events, but the heart of his book lies in its anecdotes and quotations—the reminiscences of those who recall the rich tapestry of days gone by. More than a hundred nostalgic photographs help to bring the memories to life.
Many of Sandler's essays invoke famous names in Baltimore history—names like Jack Pollack, the ex-boxer turned politician; Joseph Meyerhoff, who gave his city a symphony hall; Samuel Hecht, founder of the last surviving local department store chain. But just as often, these essays remind us of unsung heros: rabbis, merchants, teachers, and camp counselors. Sandler tells many inspirational stories, including how one young woman, escaping from Germany in 1939 on a ship headed to Bolivia, seized an opportunity when she learned the ship would stop in Baltimore. She sent a cable to her boyfriend in Richmond, Virginia, telling him to meet her at the dock, and the two were married onboard—which eventually allowed her to enter the United States. Sandler always uncovers the "human interest" in his stories. His account of the S.S. President Warfield—refitted as the Exodus to carry food, supplies, and 4,500 European refugees to Palestine in 1947—contains personal recollections from one of the local businessmen who played a key role in the secret operation, and even a statement from someone who, as a young workman, helped to load the ship.
Jewish Baltimore also highlights fondly remembered institutions. Hutzler's department store, for example, was a common meeting place for weekend shoppers; a notebook in Hutzler's balcony allowed friends to trade messages and track each other down in the large store. Hutzler's celebrated return policy stated that "anything could be returned within a reasonable amount of time"—with the word reasonable conveniently left to the customer's discretion. There was also Hendler's ice cream, whose advertisements featured a kewpie doll, proclaiming "Take home a brick!" When a competing chain bragged about producing twenty-eight flavors, Albert Hendler counted fifty flavors in his father's stock—including licorice, eggnog, and tomato aspic (the last flavor produced as a speciality for the Southern Hotel).
Focusing on religious education, Sandler tells of the Talmud Torahs, the area's first highly visible, community-wide system committed to providing a Jewish education—two hours of instruction daily, in addition to a Jewish student's other lessons. The Talmud Torahs, dating from 1889, laid the foundation for later Jewish schools, such as the Isaac Davidson Hebrew School. Sandler also visits P.S. 49, a public school remembered for its high concentration of Jewish students. For recreation, the Monument Street "Y" was a popular site, providing a health club, game rooms, six-lane swimming pool, soda fountain, and library. In his essays on summer vacations, Sandler discusses family visits to Eastern Shore beaches and describes the summer camps that were frequented by Jewish children. Sandler has a knack for getting the people he interviews to recall every detail, from the names of favorite teachers or rabbis down to the price of a movie at the Avalon theater and which streetcar line they used to get there.
Baltimore has a strong and historically important Jewish presence, and this book engagingly tells the story of that community.
About the Author
Gilbert Sandler is a feature writer for Generations, the journal of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and a contributor to the Baltimore Sun and the Jewish Times. He is the author of The Neighborhood: The Story of Baltimore's Little Italy and Baltimore Glimpses Revisited.
"Books like Sandler's restore ethnicism's good name."
"As a professional historian who writes about Baltimore, I learned much from this book, and I spent several delightful evenings visiting a little world that is now rapidly moving from living memory into the silence of history."
"The Jewish community of Baltimore has made important and substantial contributions to the cultural, business, and professional life of Baltimore City. No one knows Baltimore—and Baltimore's Jewish community—better than Gil Sandler. He's an extraordinary spokesman for an extraordinary community."
"At last we have a book that captures the rich texture of Jewish life here in Baltimore. This is a great read, filled with energy and animation. Gil Sandler's stories, profiles, and anecdotes capture the spirit of earlier generations and are superbly complemented by a wonderful array of photographs. I recommend Jewish Baltimore to everyone interested in the history of a great ethnic community."
"Gil Sandler has successfully—and delightfully—attacked a venerable fortress of fact, fiction, and sentimental memories. The entertaining reportage of his research will evoke admiration and some argument. He will arouse in others a host of additional mental gymnastics that will be a rich mixture of truth and applied imagination. He owes his audience a subsequent volume of explorations into that arena, where he exhibits such formidable skills."
"Gil Sandler has given us an important work of ambitious scope. It's a classic saga of an extraordinary community's social, economic, and religious experience. It's all here in one amazing reading."
"In his latest book on Baltimore history, Gil Sandler chronicles the ventures and adventures of the city's Jewish community. Told with wry humor and unabashed affection for his subject matter, he offers reflections on a history deeply entwined with that of all its citizens; for the remarkable legacy of that community is to be found throughout Baltimore's major political, social and cultural institutions. It is a book for everyone to savor."
"Those weary refugees from Eastern Europe, peering at the skyline of Locust Point and full of dread for the future, might have had their fears softened if they knew they were not coming into America as 'strangers in a strange land' but into a Jewish America holding out receptive arms. Baltimore's Jewish community by 1910 was over half a century old and offered a rich cultural and religious life, the largess of men of wealth, power, and influence, and an infrastructure built to take care of their own. These earlier arriving Jews were already well settled in developing neighborhoods, with both German and Russian Jews energetically working their way up the ladder of the American dream."
Other Titles by Gilbert Sandler
Other Titles in Local history