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Preserving Baltimore’s First Synagogue (Part I)


Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Building

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Building

“We will merely state for the information of our readers who doubtlessly feel an interest in the completion of the first house ever erected especially for our worship in Maryland, that its Eastern Front is ornamental with a Doric portico, through which is the entrance into the main building. A flight of steps on each side leads into the gallery which runs along the west, north and south sides. The main body is divided into two aisles, furnished with pews, in place of open seats, which struck us as something unusual in our Synagogues. There is no platform or Teba (Almemar) but merely a reading desk placed close in front of the Ark. This, a decided defect, is owing doubtlessly to the narrowness of the building, a fault which we fear will not be easily remedied.

“The windows also, of which we think there are four on each side, have orange-colored glass which reflects a pleasant and subdued light, and precludes the necessity of blinds, always more or less inappropriate in a place of worship. The usual seats for the officers of the Synagogue consist of two handsome sofas, in perfect keeping with the other arrangements. The center aisle is carpeted, as are also the steps leading to, and the space in front of the Ark. The ceiling is quite plain and well calculated to convey the sound without fatiguing the speaker or reader too much, a fault often discoverable in public buildings. There are, we believe, two hundred and eighty numbered seats down stairs, of which all but eleven were rented the Sunday following the consecration. In the basement are two good school rooms, and a large hall filled up as a temporary Synagogue to be used as occasion may require.”

The basement also housed a mikveh and an oven for the baking of matzah.

Next month: How the building became a church, then once again an Orthodox synagogue, and finally a historic site.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


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