Letters to the Editor: Nov. 13


The legacy of Baltimore’s Lithuanian heritage

I am a native of Baltimore and a decades-long subscriber to the Baltimore Jewish Times. I currently live part of the year in Lithuania and therefore am very grateful to Mid-Atlantic Media for creating a digital version of the BJT for the benefit of your broadly scattered subscribers such as me.

I was inspired to write this note after reading Joyce Wolpert’s article, “The legacy of my Lithuanian heritage” (Oct. 30). As you may know, many in Baltimore’s Jewish community are descended from Jews who once lived in Lithuania, specifically in what was the Kovna Gubernya (province) of the Russian Empire. Even the Yiddish that was spoken in Baltimore was the “Litvish” dialect — “tziken,” “sabos,” “Maishe,” etc. The geography of 19th-century Lithuania is reflected in such Baltimore surnames as Ezrine, Kadin, Kelemer, Kovens, Legum, Pumpian, Rosin, Samet, Taragin, Zager and others.

It has been encouraging to see Lithuanian institutions begin to show an interest in learning about the Jewish communities that once existed in the country. For example, the Samogitian Museum in Telšiai (tel-SHAY) is undertaking the translation of the entire 505-page Hebrew-language yizkor (memorial) book for the Jews of that town into the Lithuanian language and recently raised the funds needed to restore the building that once housed the Telshe yeshiva.

One of Baltimore’s great rabbis, Rabbi Avraham Nachman Schwartz, attended the Telshe Yeshiva in Telšiai, Lithuania, before emigrating to the U.S. In 1917, he founded Baltimore’s Talmudical Academy; his wife assisted in the founding of Baltimore’s Bais Yaakov School for girls. In 1933, Rabbi Schwartz helped to establish Ner Israel. These institutions were based upon the “Lithuanian model” of Jewish education, which was refined and expanded in Telšiai.

Philip Shapiro

St. Petersburg, Fla.

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