Thursday, January 23, 2020

Maryland’s Jews

While the mid-Atlantic State of Maryland is often associated with un-kosher seafood, Maryland has a vibrant history of Jewish settlement. The state of Maryland’s “Act to Extend to the Sect of People Professing the Jewish Religion the Same Rights and Privileges enjoyed by Christians,” colloquially known as the “Jew Bill,” was passed on January 5, 1826, corresponding to the 26th of Tevet, by the Maryland General Assembly, allowing Jews to hold public office statewide so long as they affirmed their belief in “reward and punishment” and the “hereafter.”

The colony of Maryland was established in 1634 as an asylum for Catholics. Denying the validity of Christianity was a crime punishable by death. While Jews mostly avoided Maryland since its economy was driven by tobacco and Maryland boasted few cities, there were exceptions. David Fereira, a tobacco trader from New Amsterdam (current day New York City) appeared in Maryland in 1657, and Dr. Jacob Lumbrozo, a physician engaged in trade, was recorded to have been in Maryland that very same year. A year later Dr. Lumbrozo, known to be somewhat colorful and provocative, was arrested for blasphemy after offending neighboring Christians during a conversation about religion and theology. He was released before trial as part of a general amnesty. Despite the virtual ban on the practice of Judaism, Jews began moving to Annapolis and Fredericktown (now Frederick) prior to the American Revolution. The practice of Judaism was legalized in 1776, which is also around the time when Baltimore became a significant port city. The existence of a Jewish cemetery in Baltimore in 1786 indicates that a community existed there at that time. The state of Maryland was established on April 28, 1788. By 1825, prior to the passage of the “Jew Bill,” there were about 150 Jews in Maryland.

Between 1830 and 1870, more than 10,000 Jews, mostly from Germany and Central Europe, immigrated to Maryland. Jews from Eastern Europe began settling in Maryland in the 1850s, and those numbers grew exponentially from the 1880s, with most opting to live in Baltimore. Baltimore synagogues were established in the 1820s and 1830s. The first synagogue outside of Baltimore was established in 1853 in Cumberland. When immigration quotas were tightened in the 1920s, synagogues were built in Frederick, Hagerstown, Annapolis, Frostburg, Brunswick and Salisbury. Approximately 65,000 Jews resided in Maryland at that time.

After World War II (Baltimore was a ship-building center during the War), the numbers of Jews in Maryland grew, and many Jews entered the political realm. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Marvin Mandel, a Jewish Baltimore native, elected governor of Maryland. Currently, one of Maryland’s senators, Ben Cardin is Jewish and a known member of a Baltimore synagogue. The late 60s and 70s also saw many of the Jews living in the District of Columbia moving to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, such as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. In 1998, the Jewish population of those two MD counties surrounding Washington D.C. was 104,500. The Baltimore area was home to 94,500 Jews.

As of 2017, Maryland’s Jewish population was approximately 240,000 people.

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