What do a Beth Tfiloh Congregation rabbi, a state judge, a member of the Reagan administration and a producer of “La La Land” all have in common? They are all on this year’s list to be inducted into the Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame.
The JCC of Greater Baltimore will virtually host its biennial Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame induction ceremony on May 13. The 11 inductees include notable personalities such as Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg; Maryland Circuit Court Judge Karen “Chaya” Friedman; David S. Cordish, former head of the Urban Development Action Grant Program under the Carter and Reagan administrations; and Hollywood producer Marc Platt. Several of the inductees are community members who have died and are being honored posthumously.
The ceremony is “really an opportunity to gain the benefit of learning a great deal about Baltimore’s Jewish history,” said Morris “Maury” L. Garten, one of the ceremony’s two co-chairs, who both also served on its selection committee.
According to Garten, a resident of Pikesville and member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, this ceremony recognizes members of the community “in many, many different areas, whether they be clergy, whether they be philanthropists, whether they be individuals who’ve been passionate about projects and who’ve excelled in them, or business people that have had an impact on the greater Baltimore community.”
Elise Rubenstein, also a co-chair of the ceremony and a JCC board member, described the event in similar terms.
The induction ceremony is “an opportunity for our community to honor amazing Jewish Baltimoreans that have made an amazing impact in their own fields on our community,” Rubenstein said. “Whether it’s in the arts, whether it’s in business, whether it’s in philanthropy or whether it’s in medicine, it gives us an opportunity to really express our gratitude and honor them as outstanding members of our Baltimore Jewish community.”
Rubenstein, a resident of Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood and a member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore, said that the most exciting part for her is telling the story of how the honorees achieved their success.
The first Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held in 2008 and the second in 2009, with each subsequent ceremony organized at two-year intervals, said Esther Greenberg, the chief advancement officer at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. Greenberg said that so far more than 60 individuals have been added to the Hall of Fame.
“Initially, people were worried that we’d run out of names, and every year, it’s hard to believe that you can still find such quality people to learn about and discover and put forward,” said Greenberg, an Owings Mills resident and Chizuk Amuno member.
The ceremony originated when former JCC of Greater Baltimore President Louis “Buddy” Sapolsky and then-Chairman of the Board Larry Rosenberg began looking at ways the organization could honor local individuals, Garten said. The initial idea was to focus on achievements in sports, but eventually they decided to go beyond that.
They “realized that the breadth of the community should be reflected in this and came up with the idea of creating a Hall of Fame to not just be about sports, but to be about people who are contributing to Baltimore’s Jewish community historically, and in the present day, in lots of different areas,” Garten said.
While serving as a JCC board member, Garten asked to be part of the committee organizing the 2009 ceremony. He was motivated by his “deep passion for Baltimore’s Jewish history,” and he has continued to be part of it ever since.
The selection committee is normally made up of 20 to 25 people, Greenberg said, and has a multifaceted role. In addition to selecting each year’s list of inductees, some members also work on fundraising or producing the ceremony.
To select the inductees, community members as well as selection committee members nominate people for the Hall of Fame, Garten said. The committee then shortens that list down to a reasonable number, and each committee member is assigned one or two nominees to give a presentation on, Rubenstein said. Afterward, the committee votes on the final list of inductees. The committee makes a conscious effort to ensure that the inductees represent a diversity of careers and community contributions, Garten said.
The committee wanted the ceremony this year to be as similar to those of previous years as was feasible with the pandemic, Garten said. To highlight each nominee, the ceremony will include two- to three-minute videos of interviews with each inductee and their families.
In addition to the ceremony, the JCC is planning on creating a new space to display the names of past inductees, as the current display ran out of room.
“Many of the [inductees] or their families have felt a great honor,” Garten said. “Especially when they are individuals who have passed away, and their legacies continue to remain and are in a place where the family can feel that, ‘Wow, what somebody has done in our family was so impactful that they’ve remembered all these years later.’”