Breaking Barriers


This week, the JT celebrates Elaine Mintzes, the 91-year-old philanthropist with a deeply humble streak. Mintzes grew up Orthodox in Upper Park Heights and went to college at the University of Wisconsin. She earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and followed that up with law school at New York University.

Despite this pathbreaking history — she was one of just seven women in a class of more than 700 at NYU – Mintzes downplays her own achievements, giving credit, instead, to her late husband, Alvin.

“I’m not interested in necessarily what you are going to say about me,” she told a JT reporter. “My success, whatever it is or has been, was the result of my husband’s guidance, mentoring, friendship, etc. Because I feel that if I had any other man in my life, I would have succumbed and not done anything enviable.”

It’s a romantic inclination, of course, to give credit for one’s good deeds to one’s beloved spouse. But as the voluble, deeply thoughtful Elaine proves in her conversation with the JT, she powerfully holds her own even as she pays tribute to her husband’s memory.

In their life together, the couple contributed to a staggering number of organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. In our cover story, Elaine talks about what it feels like to give so much while you’re still alive and can see the good that it does. We also hear from friends and community partners who speak eloquently about Elaine’s generosity and her ecumenical approach to giving, including Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s the Rev. J. Joseph Hart, who talks about learning about Judaism from Elaine.

Speaking of bridging cultural divides, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Jan. 15, and reporter Andy Belt not only has a breakdown of what some Jewish organizations are doing to mark the occasion, he also provides details on a remarkable concert at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts that will bring together blues, jazz and klezmer with Yiddish in a truly diverse presentation.

The artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre- Folksbeine in New York City, Zalmen Mlotek, told the JT that the idea for “Soul to Soul” was born when opera and Broadway performer Elmore James came to him to talk about the Yiddish repertoire of African-American singer Paul Robeson. From that interchange comes a concert with two African-American performers and two Jewish performers, together onstage in a celebration of shared influences.

Sometimes barriers are broken because of a couple’s love, while others are broken because of shared musical traditions. However it happens, it’s inspiring.

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