Sixty-five years after their beloved home away from home at 1216 E. Baltimore St. closed, members of the former Jewish Educational Alliance still meet weekly as the JEA Fellowship Association, last month celebrating the organization’s 108th anniversary with a reunion at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center.
Founded in 1909, when the Daughters of Israel and the Maccabeans merged, the JEA was formed as a social, recreational, vocational and educational facility for Jewish youth concentrated in East Baltimore. First housed in the 1100 block of East Baltimore Street, a larger building was donated by the Levy family in 1913 at 1216 E. Baltimore St. It closed in 1952 when the organization merged with the YMHA, YWHA and Camp Woodlands as the new Jewish Community Center and moved to West Monument Street.
But the JEA Fellowship Association marches on, said vice president Jerome Sefert, 84. About 160 people attended the Aug. 27 event that featured Baltimore TV reporter and personality Ron Matz, who introduced honoree Leonard Frier, founder of MET Laboratories, Inc., into the JEA Hall of Fame.
“Each year we pick someone from the JEA who has made a name for themselves, has done something for the Jewish community and for the JEA itself,” Sefret said.
The group, most of whom joined the JEA in the 1940s, numbers about 200 now, down from a peak of about 475. The oldest member is 97. Beyond its weekly get-togethers and annual reunions at the JCC, the group has a philanthropic mission, donating to more than 30 charities. The JCC houses a JEA Room with photos and memorabilia of the organization.
The group, however, holds fast to its East Baltimore roots, and despite its aging membership, has no plans to disband.
“It was a home away from home for all the people that belonged to the JEA,” Sefret said. “In those years, when the Baltimore Street building was open, our parents were immigrants and we were roaming the streets. Kids who belonged to the JEA, when the building was closed for the night they would hang out on the front steps.”
“We’re looking forward to keeping it going as long as we can,” he added. “We have no plans of shutting down. As long as we have members, we’ll keep going.”