Jewish families sought dreams in Ellicott City

Hopes: The availability of stores brought many people seeking new opportunities to the area.

150 Years of Howard History

April 10, 2001

These excerpts are taken from a history of the Howard County Jewish community 1890-1986, a thesis submitted for a master's degree at the Baltimore Hebrew College by retired Air Force Maj. Myer Kuritzky, who died in 1988. Kuritzky, who lived in Columbia, published the manuscript in 1987. Isaac H. Taylor became a philanthropist and with his son Irving owned Taylor Manor. Isaac Taylor died in 1978. Sam Caplan, owner of Caplan's Department Store in Ellicott City, died in 1990.

Most of the Jewish families of Ellicott City came there because a store was available which they felt would enable them to prosper. [The Caplans, Taylors and Holzweigs] came to Ellicott City many years apart, but [all] for the same reason - because they thought there was an opportunity to make a better living. They all borrowed money from relatives in order to make the move.

Noah Caplan had run stores in Richmond, Virginia, and in Washington, D.C., before coming to Ellicott City to stay. Isaac Taylor had worked in a jewelry store during his youth, and when he graduated from the Philadelphia School of Optics and Optometry in 1912, he bought the jewelry store in Ellicott City where he practiced optometry. ... Nathan Holzsweig had operated a grocery in Baltimore, but in 1927, when both the neighborhood and his business were deteriorating, he bought the store in Ellicott City and moved there. ...

In most cases, the family lived above the store because it was more economical than buying a separate home. It made it convenient for the wife and children to be available to work in the store, and it made the store-keeper available to serve customers at all times. This latter situation is best illustrated in Charles Francis Stein's book, "Origin and History of Howard County, Maryland," where he tells about how he fell in the river on a visit to Ellicott City and how Mrs. Caplan opened her store on the Fourth of July so that he might purchase dry clothing.

Life over the store was not easy for the family. It completely disrupted a normal family existence because someone always had to watch the store. ... The family seldom ate together; everyone had to take turns eating and watching the store. The business was open all day and late into the night. It would have been open seven days a week, except that Maryland had Blue Laws that required all stores to be closed on the Christian Sabbath. ...

The Jewish families that lived in Ellicott City did not organize into a Jewish community. Although there were approximately 30 Jewish families in Ellicott City from 1890 to 1945, there were usually only eight to 10 living there at any one time, not enough for a congregation or synagogue.

Taylor organized the Herzl Zionist Club in 1934; it was the only Jewish organization in the city. The members would meet in each others' homes, primarily to discuss Zionism, Palestine and fund-raising. The club lasted for several years and held a charity function for the United Jewish Appeal on Friday, December 1, 1939, in the Ellicott City Elementary School. ... It was called "Harvest Moon Ball" and offered entertainment, a dance band, free refreshments, and many door prizes all for $1 admission. ...

Most of the Jewish families in Ellicott City were in the retail trade. Ellicott City was the center of an agricultural area with many mills nearby; the busy time for retailers was the weekend (Friday night and Saturday), when the farmers and mill workers came to town. ... Since all the family members helped out in the store as needed, there was little time for the family to sit down together for a Sabbath meal. ...

Most of the families had kosher homes, with separate sets of dishes [for milk and meat], and they bought kosher meat on Lombard Street in Baltimore. They also had seders on Passover and lit candles on Hanukkah. The parents would not speak Yiddish in the store because they were afraid the gentile customers would think they were talking about them. Therefore most of the children did not learn Yiddish. The Taylor boys relate that when they went to visit their grandmother, who lived in the Jewish "ghetto" of Baltimore, they could not talk to her, as she could only speak Yiddish. ...[Sam] Caplan remembers his mother collaring religious Jewish travelers that came to Ellicott City to give him some Hebrew lessons. ... In 1911, [his] parents sent him to live with a family in Baltimore for one year for Bar Mitzvah training. He studied with a rabbi and had his Bar Mitzvah in Baltimore.

Rabbis were brought to Ellicott City for weddings. Sam Caplan's sister Rose married Isaac Taylor in Caplan's store. They brought a rabbi from Baltimore and two cooks for a kosher meal. They decorated the store and brought in a band. ... Sam recalls a young Jewish couple whom they didn't know approaching his mother to help them have their wedding, and they were married in Caplan's store. ...

There were over 50 Jewish children who grew up in Ellicott City during the 50 year period from 1890 to 1940, although there were usually only six to 10 living there at any one time. ... At one point in time, Irving Taylor was the only Jewish youngster in the high school.

When the Jewish children reached the dating age, they generally faced the dilemma of there being few or no Jews in their age group to date. They were not allowed to go out with non-Jews, and most non-Jews were not allowed to date Jews. Although as young children they were invited to their Christian friends' homes for birthday parties, etc., as teenagers, they were no longer welcome. ... Some families solved this problem by moving to Baltimore when their children became teenagers and they commuted to Ellicott City to work.

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