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Following Tradition: Descendants’ Day is the Fourth of its Kind

 

Following Tradition: Descendants’ Day is the Fourth of its Kind

By Talia Smith
 

“The fathers of many men now distinguished citizens of Baltimore worshipped in Bnai Israel and their descendants, many of whom are leaders in the commercial, medical, legal, and mercantile world, there received their earliest religious training. All retain a fond recollection of the old Shule of their youth, and many of them periodically return there for worship, although it is now far removed geographically from the principal Jewish Community of Baltimore.” –Diamond Jubilee Program, 1948

On 4 April 1948, at 11:00am, B’nai Israel’s Diamond Celebration Committee held their first meeting. The 75th anniversary of B’nai Israel, later referred to as the Diamond Jubilee, was a celebration of religion and community with attendants who could trace their roots back to the shul. At five dollars a ticket, families could attend two days of services, May 21-22, culminating in a large banquet on May 23rd, 1948.  

Following the end of the Second World War, Rabbi Samuel Pliskin passionately wrote how important the Diamond Jubilee was to not only the Shul, but to the Jewish Community in general. “I fervently pray and hope that the same spirit [of the original members of the shul] may prevail amongst their children and descendants forever,” Pliskin wrote. “I hope and pray that perpetuation should be the reward of celebration.” 

The Diamond Jubilee’s program included remarks from Judge Joseph Sherbow, Senator Harry O. Levin, and Rabbi David S. Stern. Moses J. Braude, an original cantor at the shul, presented ‘A Voice from Yesteryear,’ which was much looked forward to. “It was with deep feeling that we read that Chassan Brodie[sic] was to be present at this big simcha,” wrote Rae Wolpert Koenigsberg in her RSVP to the event. “How we loved to hear him; he was a relation of my father.” 

Twenty-five years later, in 1973, many of the same organizers got together for B’nai Israel’s 100th Anniversary. Descendants came from near and far to celebrate family history and Jewish Community. This time, though, the motivation for celebration was not reverently looking at the past, but sustaining the future. The passing years and declining congregant population saw the synagogue go into disrepair. The 100th Anniversary was a fundraising celebration to fix the building.

Held at the Stanley Sagner Auditorium on August 19th, 1973, and at $35 a ticket, guests could attend cocktails at 6pm and a dinner at 7 pm. Many descendants and members of B’nai Israel came out for the event. Special guests were also invited, including Cantor Abraham Denburg of Beth Tfiloh and TV personality Joey Russell. 

“This will be the 100th birthday celebration not of a congregation that is gone and forgotten but one that is still in existence, still holding forth in the old neighborhood that cradled and nurtured us all,” remarked Rabbi Pliskin in a letter addressed to friends of the shul.  “It is a living, breathing, worshipping, studying congregation.

While there is significantly less press in 1978 compared to 1948, it is evident that it was an exciting well-attended gathering, filled with nostalgia and good feeling. “Of all the events that have taken place in recent years,” continued Rabbi Pliskin. “This is the most thrilling for me.” 

B’nai Israel’s Descendants Day Celebration in March 2020 is slowly approaching and it is hard to ignore the historical precedence. As the fourth event in the shul’s history aimed at bringing a community back to their spiritual home, this Descendants Day is a mere update on set traditions. While 1948’s hundreds of descendants has turned into thousands, and technology makes connection easier than ever, the importance of family, religion, and community remain the same through each event.  

Sat, December 7 2019 9 Kislev 5780