Community members can take a stroll through 100 years of Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s history with the synagogue’s Centennial Timeline, which will be publicly unveiled in a grand opening on Nov. 10.
“We will be unveiling a timeline, which is a hallway-length, ceiling to floor, multimedia display of our hundred-year history,” Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg said. “You’ve got to see it to really know what it is.
“Believe me when I tell you, this is very, very, very unique,” Wohlberg continued. “Everyone who has seen it is absolutely blown away by it.”
Joan Feldman, the director of strategic initiatives at Beth Tfiloh congregation and school, described the timeline as a permanent, physical, museum-caliber display that takes visitors on a journey through the different eras of the synagogue’s history. In addition to its 35 different panels, the display also makes use of two monitors, an iPad and large background images to explore the shul’s past.
“It references historical events in the larger world, Jewish community and American community, going back to 1921,” said Feldman, a resident of Pikesville. “It’s a chronological flow that is sort of anchored by what was happening in the real word, from the flu pandemic that preceded the 1920s, World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, founding of the state of Israel, and how Beth Tfiloh intersected with what was going on in the world at large.”
The idea for the timeline originally came from Beth Tfiloh’s centennial committee, Feldman said. The planning phase began around January of 2020, before the pandemic put everything on hold until December of that year, when it was reactivated. The work of putting the timeline together started between February and March of this year.
In creating the timeline, Beth Tfiloh received guidance from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, said Feldman, as well as others who have worked with the Museum such as archivists and curators, to help the synagogue capture Beth Tfiloh’s story.
The timeline also benefited from the work of an archives committee, which compiled archival material including photographs, bulletins and newsletters that went as far back as the 1920s, Feldman said. This was in addition to record albums by past Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Samuel Rosenblatt, and two separate books that had been written on the synagogue’s history, one from the 1940s and the other from the 1980s.
“There has always been a sense of pride in Beth Tfiloh’s accomplishments and an effort to tell the stories of what Beth Tfiloh has done in the Baltimore Jewish community,” Feldman said.
Highlights of the timeline include the opening of Beth Tfiloh’s adult education program, how Beth Tfiloh has engendered a love of Israel within its community and the various VIPs that have visited the shul, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, comedian Jay Leno and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet.
One of the more insightful things Feldman learned while conducting research for the timeline was how the synagogue, aside from a minor interruption, has largely only had two rabbis for the majority of its 100-year history, namely Rosenblatt and Wohlberg, she said.
“In terms of personality, they couldn’t be more different,” Feldman said.
She described Rosenblatt as a professorial scholar with a distinctive, deep voice and said that Wohlberg “brought a new youth and vigor, humor, personality, connection to people and a warmth and a joy that was really unprecedented.”
Feldman noted times when Wohlberg participated in humorous videos for the holidays. She recalled occasions when he dressed up as Esther or jumped around as though avoiding frogs during Passover, things Rosenblatt never would have done.
“But in terms of their vision and their philosophy,” Feldman continued, “the consistency remains true over that 100 years. And the things that Rabbi Rosenblatt set as his goals and priorities continue to this very day under Rabbi Wohlberg’s leadership.”