Almost 80 Jewish congregations. Two robust Jewish community centers. More than 25 kosher restaurants, 16 Jewish day schools, and 16 congregational Hebrew schools, not including preschool programs.
These numbers from the 2019-2020 Baltimore Guide to Jewish Life help create a snapshot of Jewish Baltimore today. What these numbers fail to illustrate, however, is the network running like a root system through the community that has nourished Jewish life at the institutional, family, and individual level for decades.
The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore marks its centennial this year: 100 years of serving perennial needs while also working to help the community meet each new era’s challenges. Themed parties and launches of new signature programs over the course of the year will remind the community of this milestone for the organization. Yet it is only by looking at The Associated’s origins and its leadership’s vision for the future that one can truly appreciate the scope of its role in Jewish Baltimore.
“It is an honor to lead The Associated at this milestone anniversary,” said President Marc B. Terrill. “Our 100-year history has a remarkable story to tell of heroism and activism. Now it is our obligation to set the course for the next century to ensure that all Jews feel connected and inspired by our rich heritage and the possibilities of a vibrant future built on Jewish values.”
See a Need, Fill a Need
In the early 1900s, Baltimore’s Jewish population was mainly divided into two distinct groups: German Jews, who had immigrated in large numbers during the 1850s and lived predominately uptown; and Eastern European Jews, who arrived during the 1880s and 1890s and lived in immigrant neighborhoods downtown. Community agencies, supported by organizations specific to these enclaves, offered everything from free loans and burials to immigrant aid to care for orphans and the elderly.
As the services overlapped more and more, however, the need to create one fundraising organization became clear to community leaders. In 1920, uptown’s Federated Jewish Charities and downtown’s United Hebrew Charities formally merged into the Associated Jewish Charities.
The AJC was more than just a fundraising agency; it was also a coordination and social planning agency, looking at the whole community to identify and meet needs as they arose. For instance, among the 19 agencies supported by the AJC in 1921 were the Council Milk and Ice Fund, which distributed 42,746 quarts of milk; the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, which distributed 3,649 pieces of clothing to men, women, and children; and the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Baltimore, which offered legal aid, financial support, and even fresh-air vacations at the Jewish Country Home to needy families.
At the outset of World War II, the leaders of the Baltimore Jewish community created the Jewish Welfare Fund to raise money for national and overseas agencies involved with saving and assisting the victims of the Nazi regime. The JWF was a separate organization from AJC, yet was housed in the same building on Monument Street. Both organizations held their campaigns in alternate years so they would not be in competition for funds. But by the end of the 1940s, with conditions worsening in Europe, the AJC hadn’t held a campaign in three years and could no longer balance its budget. The decision to hold a joint campaign in 1950 was unanimous.
By the late 1960s, leaders of both organizations realized it made sense to unite, just as the Federated Jewish Charities and United Hebrew Charities had done more than 40 years before. The organization would have a single set of officers, a board of directors, and a new president. It would also have a new name: The Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore — a name that would last until 1990 when it finally changed to The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, reflecting its entry under the umbrella of the Jewish Federations of North America.
In its original mission statement, leaders outlined The Associated’s responsibility to preserve and enhance Jewish life, “while addressing charitable, educational, religious, humanitarian, health, cultural and social service needs of the Jewish community, locally, nationally, in Israel and throughout the world.”
Today, there are “core Jewish values” powering the organization’s operational foci. These values are am echad (one people), tikkun olam (repairing the world), kavod (respect), chinuch (education), chizuk hakasher (engagement), chadashnut (innovation), and shituf peulah (collaboration). Drawing strength and direction from each other, these values are meant to infuse everything The Associated supports and transmit positive impacts at the individual, family, and communal level.
Looking to the Future
The Associated IMPACT’s Generosity Gala, held Feb. 8 with a Roaring ’20s theme, was one of the first of the year’s centennial festivities. These will include the Centennial Block Party on June 7 and the Birthday Bash on June 17.
In terms of programs, centennial initiatives will be cutting-edge takes on perennial priorities for The Associated. For example, AgeWell Baltimore will launch in the fall to help older adults maintain a high quality of independent life.
“While our tactics and strategies have evolved over our history, a few things have never wavered — including our commitment to those in need, particularly our aging population,” Terrill said. A collaboration between The Associated and agencies Jewish Community Services, CHANA, and CHAI, AgeWell Baltimore will feature a dedicated phone line, website, and coordinated, person-centered community response to facilitate improved access to services available to seniors, their families, and their caregivers.
“We continue to prioritize the needs of the elderly to ensure that everyone is able to age with dignity,” Terrill said.
The Associated’s new Center for Leadership is a Centennial initiative to engage, develop, and inspire lay and professional leaders. Gauging trends and changing needs is critical, and the Centennial Meyerhoff New Jewish Family Innovation Fund, funded by the Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, will aim to spur innovative community programming for families in the future. The SPARK: Richman Jewish Family Innovation Prize will award a $40,000 prize to be used over two years for innovative programming.
“We are trying to retain the attention of teens after b’nai mitzvah … and to develop cohorts of families that experience Jewish life together,” said Elizabeth “Buffy” R. Minkin, who serves as president of the Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. “That may or may not include belonging to a synagogue. There are new things we haven’t thought of yet.”
And The Associated already launched Insight Israel Forum in November of 2019. This forum aims to promote civil discourse and increase connection to the Jewish homeland through education sessions led by high-profile experts. These sessions, called Personal Opinion Dialogue Seminars, consist of lectures, small group conversations, speaker events, and online learning programs.
“Israel is at the heart and soul of Jewish life here in Baltimore and around the world,” observed Terrill. “Over the years, The Associated and many of our devoted leaders have contributed through time and resources to the establishment and vitality of the state of Israel and will always be a cornerstone of our connection to
“What we as a Jewish people did in the last 100 years to ensure Jewish continuity and identity is not what is going to sustain us for the next 100,” he said. “Technology, societal changes are demanding and dictating a market shift in how we connect. We endeavor to be best in class, nimble, and data-driven to offer a continuum of connections to Jewish life — through lifelong education, socialization, and immersive Jewish experiences.”