Sign In Forgot Password

B'nai Spotlight - Sollins Family

The Sollins family connection to B’nai Israel goes back five generations. Howard Sollins lives in Baltimore with his wife Dr. Barbara Resnick. Howard is a healthcare lawyer at Baker Donelson and Barbara is a professor and researcher for the University of Maryland as well as a practicing geriatric nurse practitioner. They have four children: Aliza, Eliezer (married to Paige Goldstein), Yael (married to Elliot Zweig), and Jacob (married to Oona Brangam-Snell). The generations continue with Howard and Barbara’s five grandchildren: Caleb Zweig, Naomi Sollins, Leon Zweig, Rafael Sollins, and Ronen Zweig.

 

The Sollins family is grateful to Fred Shoken for his detailed recording of B’nai Israel’s history (https://www.jewishdowntown.org/history.html). We are so proud of Helen and Leonard Sollins for the time, commitment, and love they bestowed on both the building and the community of B’nai Israel. We have celebrated many holidays and simchas in its beautiful and historic sanctuary, including Helen and Leonard’s 50th wedding anniversary and a Pidyon Haben for Howard and Barbara’s first grandchild, Caleb Zweig, shown below with his great-grandfather Leonard Sollins, his mother Yael Zweig and father Elliot Zweig, and Uncle Elie Sollins in the Bnai Israel sanctuary in 2014. 

As Fred recounts: 

A group of people posing for the camera

Description automatically generated

Efforts to restore B'nai Israel began in earnest in 1979. Mrs. Helen Sollins, an oral historian at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (then called the Jewish Historical Society), visited B'nai Israel when her husband, Leonard, had gone to the shul to recite kaddish. She ventured upstairs during the services and was devastated by the condition of the sanctuary. Her family attended B'nai Israel during its glory years and her grandfather, Issac Shuman, was among the many who studied Talmud here.

She tried to convince the Jewish Historical Society to renovate the building, but that organization was still struggling to maintain the Lloyd Street Synagogue up the street. At a reception in 1981 promoting the TV show "Masada," she approached "Mimi" DePietro, a city councilman representing East Baltimore, for help. She pleaded that B'nai Israel was our Masada – the last stand for Jewish East Baltimore. Councilman DePietro helped convince Mayor William Donald Schaefer that city efforts were needed to halt the deterioration of this historic structure and funding was secured for a temporary roof.

Helen and Leonard’s grand-daughter Aliza thinks of her grandmother Helen each time she sitsA person holding a dog

Description automatically generated in services in B’nai Israel and remembers her grandmother by her side.  Life changes, but the spiral-bound page numbers keeping worshippers wordlessly on track at the front of the room and the stunning view of the unique and beautifully gilded Aron Kodesh have remained the same.  Helen was always humble about her dedication to repairing B’nai Israel, but her work lives on, with the quiet reminder of brass donation plaques honoring those who supported the rebirth of the historic building, stories of pigeons and squirrels that once ruled the roost, and a blue square of ceiling paint reminding us of what once was. The current beauty of the building is a testament to Helen and others’ dedication and commitment to honoring history.

Fred Shoken’s history continues: 

While the fate of the building was no longer in jeopardy, the fate of the congregation was still in doubt. On October 20, 1990, the Baltimore Jewish Times featured a cover story on B'nai Israel's struggle to survive.

The neighborhood around the shul was still declining. Hulking high-rise public housing projects loomed over the shul and the few remaining businesses on Lombard Street, East Baltimore's historic Jewish main street, but B'nai Israel refused to die.

Aliza remembers seeing those high-rise public housing projects when visiting B’nai Israel as a young girl, and then seeing the neighborhood change over time as the high-rises were torn down and replaced with renovated townhomes. Her dad, Howard, would tell stories of the neighborhood that existed during his great-grandmother’s lifetime, a time when customers could visit the shochets and pick any live chicken they wanted to bring home for dinner that night. On a recent walk to Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mintz’s home in the neighborhood, Aliza thought of those chickens and of the neighborhood’s former inhabitants, and what a blessing it was to be able to walk the same streets on a Shabbat evening with a rabbi carrying on the legacy of so many generations. 

Fred’s history continues: 

S. Leonard Sollins was elected President of B'nai Israel, taking over the efforts of Albert Hoffman, who kept the synagogue functioning during its darkest of times. Under Mr. Sollins' leadership, Jews with family ties to B'nai Israel returned to attend services. Others who stopped by to see the beautiful building and experience a traditional service were so welcomed by congregants that they stayed on and became members, regularly participating in weekly services.

Aliza remembers seeing the Jewish Times cover photo hanging on the wall of her grandfather’s den alongside other prized artwork. It is wonderful to be able to read about B’nai Israel’s history and to understand more deeply the story and work behind her grandfather’s engagement through conversations with members of the congregation while sharing a meal together in the downstairs sanctuary space.

Photo from cover of the Jewish Times July 20, 1990

      

S. Leonard Sollins conducting a school tour of the restored B'nai Israel in the 1980s

As a former Navy ship captain, Leonard always took pride in his work and ran a tight ship. He paid attention to every detail of the synagogue, even ritually re-tying loose knots on the tallit by hand and ensuring that the brilliant chandelier was regularly lowered and cleaned. It was such a pleasure to see the photos showing him leading a field trip group of young children on a tour of the building. His memory too fills the building and Aliza always thinks of him when looking out at the congregation gathered together in worship. 

B’nai Israel is a deep root of Jewish history in Baltimore. We are lucky to be able to be a small branch on the tree. Thank you so much to Rabbi Mintz and the entire community of the synagogue for hosting Descendants’ Day and for carrying on the tradition.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782