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Preserving Baltimore’s First Synagogue (Part II)

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Building

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Building

“At the same time that the Lloyd Street Synagogue situation was being discussed, Dr. Isaac Fein was also trying to interest leaders of the community in founding a Jewish Historical Society of Maryland to collect records and papers of important early institutions and organizations before they were lost or destroyed. The group of community leaders which met considered, simultaneously, both subjects, and at that meeting organized the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland and turned over to that organization, in addition to the objectives outlined by Dr. Fein, the consideration of the acquisition of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.”

On July 23, 1968 the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland purchased the Lloyd Street Synagogue building. There were a number of conditions the board of Shomrei Mishmeres insisted upon as part of the purchase agreement. These included the stipulation that the building be kept closed on Shabbos and Yom Tov and never be used as a place of worship. These conditions were imposed to make sure the building would never be used for any purposes that were not in strict accord with the Orthodox traditions of the congregation.

“[Synagogue] repairs involved a new roof and the bracing of supporting timbers, some of which had to be replaced. The walls were shored up and repainted so that no trace of the cracks was visible. The concrete pillars had to be completely restored and the beautiful old brick of the exteriors of the building was sandblasted and repaired. The interior was likewise redecorated and refurbished; even the stained-glass window with the Star of David design, which had been broken, was restored from shards of the broken glass and remaining lead molding. The pews on the main floor and the balcony, dating from 1845, were still in good enough condition to be retained.”

A replica of the ark was reconstructed as part of the renovation of the beis hamedrash. (A special area on this level is set aside to serve as a museum.)

“It took more than five years of diligent work by a group of dedicated men and women to bring this project to fruition. The total cost, including the purchase of the property and the other expenditures, amounted to $95,508, all of which was contributed by generous and civic-minded members of the Jewish community of Baltimore.

“On April 15, 1965, the City of Baltimore presented the Jewish community with a Bronze Plaque, which was affixed to the wall at the southwest corner of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Special dedication ceremonies were held in honor of this occasion with Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, representing the City of Baltimore, and Professor Jacob R. Marcus of Cincinnati, Ohio, representing the American Jewish Historical Society.”

In 2008, the Jewish Museum began an ambitious $1 million restoration project with the help of the prestigious Save America’s Treasure’s Program. The work modernized the physical plant of the building, restored it to its 1864 appearance and created a multimedia exhibit, The Building Speaks, to interpret this rich history.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue now stands as a proud and sacred monument to the Jewish religious history of Maryland.

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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