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B'nai Spotlight - Shraga Caplan

Shraga Caplan lives in Israel now.  He is a descendant of David Caplan, a former President of B'nai Israel Congregation.  Shraga grew up in a Conservative home. His family was active in the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he remembers seeing the portraits of his family members on the walls. His family has had a connection to Conservative Judaism and Adath Jeshuran that spanned generations. When Shraga Caplan’s Great Grandfather moved to Philadelphia from Baltimore, he adopted Conservative Judaism and eventually became the fourth president of Adath Jeshuran and his descendants were active in Synagogue life. Shraga's discovery of his Baltimore spiritual roots had a profound effect on his own life.

But who is David Caplan? 

David Caplan was born on 19 August 1847 in Lithuania, then a province of Russia. At age 23, David married Ruth, two years his junior. The couple would go on to raise a large family in Baltimore City and become prominent members of the Baltimore Jewish community, but before they got to Maryland, the Caplan family would have to make multiple difficult decisions. 

After the birth of their daughter, Annie, in 1872, the small family moved to England from Lithuania. There are many reasons why Lithuanian Jews escaped Russia in the 19th century. After centuries of war and persecution, many Jewish people made the decision to leave and start a better life. One reason that David Caplan might have decided to leave in 1872 was the Pogrom of Odessa just a year earlier. While the Pogrom of Odessa was certainly not the first massacre of the Jewish People in Russia during this time period, it was one of the first to really capture national attention in Russia, and, for many, was the push to emigrate. In England, the Pogrom of Odessa resulted in an increase of Russian immigration. 

While in England, the Caplan family expanded to include six more children, including Shraga’s Great Grandfather, Joseph. While we don’t know much about the Caplan’s time in England, we know that by the time they moved to America, around 1890, they were, again, part of a great migration of Jewish Europeans this time to the United States. 

David Caplan made his home at 1008 East Fayette Street. It was there that he and Ruth would raise their children and live for the rest of their lives. The Caplan family, like others of Lithuanian descent, became members of B’nai Israel. David took no time to get actively involved in Synagogue life, eventually becoming the second President of the congregation.

In an ode to David in the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of B’nai Israel, it is noted that he was involved in virtually every aspect of Baltimore Jewry, including; the Hebrew Free Loan Society, Hebrew Friendly Inn, Immigrant Aid Society,  and Talmud Torah Society. His kindness and devotedness to the shul and its members are remembered in letters sent to the synagogue during the time of the Diamond Jubilee. 

A biographical note about David Caplan in The Jewish Museum of Maryland's "Biographical Vertical Files" states his arrival in Baltimore as 1891 and notes that he remained highly active in the Jewish community over the next 35 years, including serving as "President for many years (off and on) at B’nai Israel Congregation between 1898 and 1930" as well as founding " . . . the Hebrew Free Loan Society and the institution that became Levindale."

Of his seven children, five of them stayed in Baltimore and his son Hyman David remained active in B’nai Israel. His eldest child, Annie, married Joel Isaac Micah Fine in 1893 and soon after moved to Pocomoke, Maryland to raise their eight children. Joseph Caplan married in 1906 and moved to Philadelphia to raise their two sons, where he eventually followed his father’s footprints by becoming president of a shul himself. 

Unfortunately, David and Ruth also saw the deaths of two of their adult children, Harry Caplan in 1917, and Rachel Caplan Markel in 1919. Both of them left behind spouses and children. When David Caplan passed away in 1932, 11 years after the death of his wife, he left behind five children, 24 grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren. His obituaries fondly praised his work in the Jewish community and his memory was not to be forgotten by his many descendants and B’nai Israel, all of to which he devoted his life. 

Roots & Belonging

From Lithuania, to England, to Baltimore and beyond, the Caplan family’s history of devotion and dedication to synagogue life is one to be remembered and has been passed on from generation to generation. 

When Shraga was going on his own spiritual journey, including coming to Orthodox Judaism, he discovered that his religious roots, preceding Joseph, were 100 miles south of his childhood shul, in Baltimore. Shraga decided to follow Orthodox Judaism and learned about his Great Great Grandfather, David Caplan. He would go on to name his first born son after his  B'nai Israel ancestor.



ROLLIN, A. R. “Russo-Jewish Immigrants in England before 1881.” Transactions (Jewish Historical Society of England), vol. 21, 1962, pp. 202–213. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.


Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784