Annapolis Tour Weaves Jewish History Into City Fabric

Winners And Sinners Get Equal Coverage

July 16, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The history of Jewish people in Annapolis is like all history -- people famous and ordinary, noble and notorious, saintly and sinful.

The pantheon of Annapolis Jews includes Albert Abraham Michelson, a Naval Academy midshipman who returned to the academy as a physics professor and became the first person to measure the speed of light.

But there also was Jacob Lumbrozo, the first Jew in the colony, an unsavory doctor who became infamous for his numerous adulterous affairs and questionable medical procedures.

The full spectrum of humanity is precisely the point college student Eric Goldstein hopes to emphasize with the Annapolis Jewish Heritage walking tours he's designed: Jewish history is simply Annapolis history.

Goldstein, a citynative, spent last year at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew Studies in England, doing original research on Jewish Colonial history.

"My focus is not to extol the contributions of Jews. More, I wouldlike to see things integrated into regular history," Goldstein says.

"If a Jewish person opened the first department store in Annapolis, it's not a particularly Jewish fact. These people were not contributors as Jews. They were contributors to the city as citizens.

"Whether the person was Jewish or black or whatever, we need to look at Annapolis history. . . . (Annapolis founding fathers) were not all WASP males."

Indeed not. The tours touch on the lives of Jewish merchants, civil rights activists, doctors and politicians.

Goldstein,a college senior at Emory University in Atlanta, compiled information for two tours last summer and has added information to the tour this summer. Sponsored by Historic Annapolis, the $7 tour is being held Aug. 11 and 18 at 11 a.m. Reservations are required (267-8149).

Anexhibit of Jewish photos and artifacts will be set up in the old treasury building for an in-depth explanation of the tours. Old prayer books, wedding portraits of Main Street merchants, pictures of a "Jewish Church Party," the rather un-Jewish name for the Jewish mids permitted to leave the Naval Academy to attend synagogues on Sunday mornings.

From St. John's College to the Naval Academy back to Main Street, Goldstein pulls fascinating tidbits from his wealth of collected information.

For instance, many of the first Jewish merchants, whoweren't especially welcomed by the community, opened shops and saloons in black neighborhoods of Annapolis. The new immigrants found customers; the black community benefited from having services and merchandise readily available, Goldstein says.

There were few Jews in this country before the 1800s. About that time, families fleeing pogromsin Russia and Eastern Europe began arriving in Maryland. By 1819, 150 Jews lived in Maryland, most in larger cities such as Baltimore, where it was easy to find work.

By 1900, Jewish merchants and craftsmen were setting up shop in Annapolis -- shoemakers, tailors, grocers, clothing store owners.

On Main Street, the tour guide will stop to point out the location of the first department store in Annapolis,opened by Leon Gott

lieb in 1899.

Before the store opened, residents had to go to Baltimore or Washington to find basic goods. A newspaper account of the grand opening reports that 4,000 people turnedout just to survey the goods. Nothing was sold; the store opened first just so people could walk through and marvel at an establishment that sold everything from tin whistles to a suit of clothes.

By 1910, about 50 Jewish families had moved to Annapolis, and by 1918 the first real synagogue was established, Kneseth Israel.

Eventually, amajority of stores on Main Street were Jewish-owned.

Achieving religious and social equality took longer than commercial success.

The history was similar to Jewish history elsewhere, with Lumbrozo, the physician, charged with blasphemy in 1658 after expressing his opinion to a Quaker that Jesus was simply a man who performed miracles bymagic.

The doctor could have suffered death penalty had not amnesty for all criminals been proclaimed when Richard Cromwell became Lord Protector in England.

A century later, religious freedom for Jews had progressed little. According to the Maryland Constitution of 1776, a Jewish person -- anyone who would not submit to a Christian oath -- could not hold public office in the state.

In 1826, after 10 years of lobbying by several prominent Baltimore Jews, with the help of a Roman Catholic delegate, the Bill for the Relief of the Jews of Maryland passed the legislature.

The Naval Academy, which figures prominently in the tour, had an official policy of non-discriminationsince its founding in 1845. As early as 1849, a Jewish professor taught at the school.

But as late as the 1950s, signs at some Annapolis beaches still read: Gentiles only.

So Morris D. Rosenblatt, rabbi of the Kneseth Israel Synagogue, went to talk to the owner of Beverly Beach. At first, the man wasn't receptive, threatening to sue therabbi if he didn't get off the property.

But by the time the rabbi left, as the story goes, he'd persuaded the fellow not only to remove the sign, but also to buy Israeli bonds.

Says Goldstein, "A lotof Jewish young people may be struggling for their identity in future years. This lets us see where we have come from."

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