Preserving Jewish past at museum History: After 20 months of construction, the $2.3 million expansion of the Jewish Museum of Maryland opens with art, artifacts and archives celebrating Jewish life in the state.

March 09, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Lillian Braiterman Crane took one look yesterday at a photo on display in the newly expanded Jewish Museum of Maryland, and the memories came flooding back.

The photo depicted a teen-ager who secretly left his home in Maryland to enlist in the Jewish Legion, an all-Jewish fighting force organized by the British army during World War I to free Palestine from Turkish control. It was her brother, William Braiterman, who enlisted under an alias so he wouldn't be rejected from service.

"He didn't tell my mother where he was going, and he lied about his age because he was only 17, and he had to eat a lot of bananas so he would weigh enough, but he got in," Crane said. "He was an ardent Zionist. It meant a lot to him."

Crane, now 80, said she was pleased to see her brother's photo and other belongings included in an exhibit titled "Bridges to Zion: The People of Maryland and the Land of Israel."

"I'm thrilled with it," she said. "This is my first visit to the museum, and I think it's just beautiful. There's a lot of history here."

Crane is one of more than 400 people who visited the museum yesterday to mark its reopening after a $2.3 million expansion.

The two-level Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, designed by RCG Inc., was constructed at 15 Lloyd St. in East Baltimore to give the museum more room to house art, artifacts and archives celebrating Jewish life in the region.

During dedication ceremonies at the adjacent Lloyd Street Synagogue, dignitaries said the expansion will enable the museum to showcase Jewish art and history in ways it never could before.

The reopening, after a 20-month construction period, "is a signal event in the life of our Jewish community, in the history of Baltimore, and in the cultural heritage of our region and state," said Barbara L. Himmelrich, chairman of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the museum's parent organization.

"For our Jewish community, this event reaffirms our commitment to ensuring the future by preserving the past," Himmelrich said. "We are a people who have always defined ourselves by our history. Remembering the past, and making it a living reality in our lives, is the Jewish way of looking toward the future."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said the expanded museum is an asset not just to the Jewish community but to all of Maryland. "It's wonderful that everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, will have a chance to learn about Jewish history," he said.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke expressed gratitude to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which has helped fund many city buildings in honor of the late businessman and his wife.

"We've got Harry and Jeanette Weinberg buildings coming up all over, but this is a wonderful contribution," Schmoke said. "The selective investments made in this community by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation have been a tremendous lift for us."

Schmoke said he is aware that there was "a great debate" about where the museum should be, and believes Jewish leaders made "absolutely the right decision" to stay in East Baltimore, the original center of Jewish life in Maryland.

The mayor added that the city intends to support the museum's work by razing the nearby Flag House Courts public housing towers within two years and replacing them with low-rise residences. "We'll have a completely new neighborhood by 2002," he said.

The expanded museum will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Directors expect 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a year.

Executive Director Bernard Fishman said yesterday's turnout was the largest in the museum's history. He said he was grateful for the assistance of Larry Rosenberg, chairman of the museum's building committee.

"I feel almost that we have a palace here, it is so much larger and so much more appropriate," Fishman said. "It will bring us to a whole new level of community service."

Baltimore real estate developer David Kornblatt is one of many visitors who was impressed.

"This is an outstanding addition to the city's quality of life," he said. "It bridges the present with the future and the past. It's good for this part of the city."

One visitor who received nearly as much attention yesterday as the art and artifacts on display was Sadie Feldman, an 88-year-old former fine arts teacher who donated money for a 2,000-square-foot gallery at the front of the museum. It's named the Samson, Rossetta A. and Sadie B. Feldman Exhibit Gallery, after Feldman and her late brother and sister. The first exhibit is The Eighteen, a series of paintings by contemporary artist Archie Rand.

Sitting in the center of the gallery as hundreds of visitors wandered by, many of them stopping to congratulate her, Feldman lamented that her sister and brother did not live to see the expansion completed.

Her brother, she said, was an artist, and her sister was instrumental in preliminary planning for the addition. She said they had an interest in promoting art and history in a setting that would appeal to the public.

"I thought it was my duty, as the last one of my family, to make sure I gave a sizable gift," she said. "This was a golden opportunity to do that."

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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