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B'nai Spotlight - The Margolis Family

B'nai Spotlight will highlight a range of members of the B'nai Israel family who have a long and deep history with the shul.  Every person has incredible stories. Here you will find a few.  Each profile tells the reader something about the member who heads up the profile and offers interesting stories of their family connection to B'nai Israel or shul history.  The profile also provides their insights on "belonging" to a community - in short, their "My B'nai Story".  We hope you enjoy B'nai Spotlight.

My name is Darren Margolis.  I was born and raised in Pikesville and I now live in Howard County with my wife, Carrie Rich, and our children Hayden and Lily.  I am a graduate of Pikesville High School (‘88), Towson University (‘92) and University of Baltimore School of Law (‘95).  I am a lawyer with a general practice in Pikesville.  Over one hundred years ago, my great grandfather was the cantor at B’nai Israel.


(The following is based on a 1985 Margolis Family genealogy)

Chaim David Margolis was the first of the Margolis name in Baltimore.  Years after his death, his daughter, Ida, would often meet older Jewish people who might have remembered her beloved father. She would stop and ask them, "Did you happen to know Margolis, the shochet?" Their responses were usually similar and pleased her as they answered, “Who didn't know him?” 

She beamed and stated, "That was my father." Chaim David was one of the most respected and beloved denizens of the Baltimore Jewish community in his lifetime. It has been ninety-five years since his death and there are not many now who can say that they knew him. And, so we tell his story.

Who Didn't Know Him?

 Who was this good hearted, kind person for whom many of his grandchildren were named?   Unfortunately we know very little about either Chaim David or his wife, Rose.   However,     sometime in the 1870's or 1880's, Chaim David and his wife, Rose Seidman, and six children decided to   leave Lithuania to search for a better life. They spent some time in England, where they farmed,   an unusual occupation for Jews in the nineteenth century. Although England was hospitable to  the Margolis clan, obviously Chaim David thought about the New World and felt that it was a  better place to raise his growing family. They joined the thousands of other Russian and Eastern  European Jews who had fled to America to escape the Russian pogroms. Sailing from the port of  Liverpool, they arrived in Baltimore, Maryland sometime in the last decade of the nineteenth  century. Chaim David's son, Joseph, was a lad of fourteen or fifteen at the time and had vivid   memories of the twinkling lights of Liverpool receding in the distance as the ship sailed westward  to their new life. 

  In the 1890's, Baltimore was growing by leaps and bounds and had experienced a great  wave   of immigration. The Germans had always been the largest group of immigrants both before and   after the Civil War, but the Russians and other East European Jews continued to pour into the city. By the start of the twentieth century, fully 10,000 Russian Jews lived in Baltimore and a short ten years later the number had grown to nearly 25,000. They settled in East Baltimore, displacing most of the German Jews who were moving uptown to the Eutaw Place area. These Reform and Conservative Jews left their synagogues behind to the newly arrived immigrants, who were strictly Orthodox. In 1894 the Chizuk Amuno Congregation built its new synagogue on McCulloh and Mosher Streets and sold its building to the B'nai Israel or “russische shul," a synagogue which was to play an integral part in Chaim David's life. 

It is not known where the Margolis family settled first, but the last residence is fondly recalled by their grandchildren. For some time prior to Chaim’s death he and Rose lived at the corner of Baltimore and Ann Streets. This neighborhood dated back to 1772, when the Philadelphia Road was re-routed to give access to Baltimore over the new Baltimore Street Bridge spanning the Jones Falls. 

During much of the nineteenth century the practice of slaughtering animals prevailed in the area because it was far from the settled areas of the city and was located on a hill which prevented the noxious odors from reaching the populace farther west. By 1877, the number of butchers doubled as land developers discovered that the hill was an excellent area for development. The newly constructed streetcar lines, the proximity of Patterson Park, and the substantially built homes of the butchers themselves had transformed the hill into a fashionable neighborhood. 

By the time Chaim and Rose moved there, the last of the original Christian butchers had long since vacated the area and the neighborhood was largely Jewish. In 1916 the Tzemach Sedek Nusach Congregation constructed its yellow brick synagogue at 2120 East Fairmount Avenue, and there were 29 "Russian" shuls in the area. 

The general area buzzed with Jewish life and at this time many of the previous mansions housed businesses and institutions closely identified with the Jewish community. The Harry Attman deli was once located in the Rusk home, a former Butcher Hill mansion, In 1919, another mansion, the Bankard-Gunther home, became the Hebrew Mansion for the Incurables, which was later relocated in Levindale. 

Lombard Street west of Central Avenue bustled with stores and shops owned by struggling Jews anxious to escape the poverty of the ghetto. 

Chaim David soon became an integral part of this thriving community and he served as shochet, many times refusing payment for his services. He became a cantor in both the Lloyd Street Shul and the B' Nai Israel synagogue. Although he was not a schooled musician he often composed many of the tunes he chanted.  He was not a rabbi, but he did perform marriages and also offered the congregation free advice both in religious and secular matters.

Their house on Ann Street was a center of activity for all of the children and grandchildren that were to follow. Each year at holiday time, their dining room welcomed as many people as it could accommodate. Their grandchildren remember entering the second floor apartment through a side door on Ann Street and climbing the steps which led to the small kitchen. Next to this was the dining room where they enjoyed the warm and close family atmosphere. At Passover times, the entire service was conducted (in Hebrew, naturally), while the impatient children begged zeyde to "Hurry up, hurry up, when are we going to eat?! 

Chaim David always built a succuah at the rear of the house and the children crowded in the small interior to eat the fruit which their grandfather offered them. 

Long before people understood the harm that sugar and candy can do, Chaim David realized that fruit was more beneficial to the youngsters. When he visited his granddaughter, Ann, in their house on Franklin and Ogston Streets, he brought her apples, pears, and bananas, rather than candy. Sylvia has vivid memories of him strolling down Smallwood Street with his basket of fruit by his side. 

Time passed quickly for the Margolis clan, which, as the 1920's began, had grown to include sixteen grandchildren. They also suffered the double tragedies of their son Jacob's death at age 31 and his infant son Bernard's death in May, 1912, the latter living only eight months. Still there were many happy times for both Chaim and Rose, as they watched their children prosper, moving further uptown. 

As summer turned to autumn in 1924, Chaim David contracted pneumonia which, at that time before the discovery of antibiotics, was a life threatening disease. His condition worsened and he died on Wednesday, October 29, 1924, at the age of 75. 

His funeral was a memorable experience for the many hundreds of people who attended. The simple pine casket was lifted out of the window of his late residence and hoisted high on the shoulders of the bereaved who carried him eastward towards Lloyd Street, a distance of just over one-half mile. People crowded the streets to watch the procession as it passed the open doors of both the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues. 

Now it was time for his wife of more than forty-five years, Rose, to face life alone. After the death of her husband she moved in with her daughters for short periods of time, but being independent, she soon decided that she should live alone and moved to an apartment on Park Heights Avenue. That completed the Margolis migration out of the old neighborhood.

Reflections on "Belonging" by Darren Margolis


A piece of jewelry.  An old photograph.  These are the small items which may connect most people to generations past.  But I have a whole synagogue to connect me to my great-grandfather.


I was present for a Margolis family reunion over thirty years ago when the above story was presented to everyone.   I did not give it much thought until years later, when I attended a young adult event at B’Nai Israel and my father reminded me that this was Chaim David’s synagogue.  Now, every time I am at B’Nai Israel, I feel like I am being transported back in time to the early 1900's.  As I walk up the stairs, I imagine how many times Chaim David walked up those stairs.  As I look around the sanctuary, I feel like I am seeing it through his eyes just as it was a century ago.


When we planned our wedding, Carrie and I knew that getting married at  B’nai Israel by Rabbi Mintz would add a personal connection we could get nowhere else.  And so as we stood at the front of the synagogue before our closest family members, I was very aware of the fact that I was standing on the same bimah where Chaim David helped lead services.  And I wondered if Chaim David, as he stood in that spot a hundred years earlier, could have imagined that his great grandson would get married there.


My father was born after Chaim David died, so my grandfather gave him the Hebrew name Chaim David in his memory.  Our son Hayden’s Hebrew name is Chaim David, in honor of my father, who died before he was born. And so, of course, our Chaim David had his bris at B’Nai Israel and he has already attended several events there.  A few years ago, I visited the B’Nai Israel Cemetery and located Chaim David & Rose’s graves.  I told them how proud they would be of Hayden and his interest in Judaism and how he loves to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays.


More recently, our beautiful daughter Lily had her baby naming ceremony on the same bimah where her parents got married.  While standing before the crowd, I thought of Chaim David and imagined what family simchas he celebrated in that very spot.  And now, I realize that before I know it, the time will come for Hayden and then Lily to have their b’nai mitzvot.  I will make sure they know of their family history at B’Nai Israel so that they will feel the same pride I did at standing on Chaim David’s bimah and continuing his legacy.  L’dor va dor.

Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784