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Descendants' Day - That you might recount it for a future generation (Psalms 48:14)

Learning Our Past, Shaping the Future, and Fostering Community

Descendants’ Day at B’nai Israel is simultaneously an extensive genealogical and history project, and a unique community building initiative, connecting people to their heritage and drawing fresh attention and energy to the historic Jewish community of Jonestown.  In 2018, B’nai Israel Congregation began planning the Descendants’ Day Project, partnering with The Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland and The Jewish Museum of Maryland. The project is researching the living descendants of those Jewish families involved in B’nai Israel and the Jonestown community going back into the late 19th century.

Descendants' Day will update the existing historic record of B'nai Israel and the Jewish community of Jonestown with new and inclusive information about the people who lived, worked, and worshipped here, and build an online archive open to the public.

Exploring the B'nai Israel and Jonestown Story

Primarily, we at Descendants' Day are storytellers.  Every person in the historic B'nai Israel cemetery is a story of a life that should be remembered and recounted by their synagogue and community. Every person who devoted themselves to B'nai Israel and the community left their mark as a spiritual heritage for their descendants.  Stories weave together our history, culture, and lives, and give meaning to those lives and our times. At B'nai Israel, we work hard to mine, interpret, and convey the the stories of the original Baltimore City Jewish neighborhood in southeast Baltimore and the meaning behind those stories. More than a nostalgic stroll through yesteryear, those stories can convey meaning to our present day and the stories we are all creating right now.

The story of the Jewish community intersects with the stories of other communities that shaped the part of the city that is Jonestown and its neighbors.  The historic Jewish community abutted the historic Italian community of Little Italy.  The growing African American community in southeast Baltimore also transformed Jonestown.  These cultures and neighbors intersected in complex ways, all shaping the Jonestown we know today. Descendants' Day honors that interwoven narrative in its program and partnerships.

You Can Help!  Does your family have a multi-generational connection to B'nai Israel? We need the input of community members.  Do you have information on your ancestors who davened at B'nai Israel or lived in the Jonestown neighborhood? Do you have photos or other material about the shul or the old neighborhood?  Do you have other family members who could be invited to take part in Descendants' Day activities? For a Family Group Sheet where you can fill in your family information click hereYou can also submit the information, photos, etc. in any format you want. We just want to hear from you. Contact the office at 410.732.5454 or by email at office@jewishdowntown.org


B’nai Israel Congregation is now 145 years old.  One hundred and forty-five years of serving the Jewish community of downtown Baltimore, and 145 years of births, marriages, deaths, and celebrations. This building at 27 Lloyd Street has been the home of B’nai Israel for 123 years, taking it over from a previous congregation in 1895.  Those who founded and built this congregation, and those who davened in this building before B’nai Israel, had gone through the Civil War and their descendants would be at the center of the waves of immigration, change, and struggles that shaped Baltimore City.

To honor that history of our congregation and synagogue, and its place in Jewish Baltimore, B’nai Israel Congregation is planning a series of online events and a weekend-long Descendants’ Day Shabbaton.  We intend to gather the descendants of as many of the founding families as we can.

The weekend will consist of a Homecoming like celebration, replete with a walk down memory lane, lots of Jewish geography, memories from the “alta haim” (Yiddish for old home) and an action packed weekend of lectures from world class educators and historians with ties to Old Jewish Baltimore, symposiums, panel moderated discussions, historic walking tours, learning, praying and socializing. It will also include workshops on genealogical research and opportunities for families to share their genealogical own family stories from Southeast Baltimore, and many opportunities for everyone to remember, share, eat, daven, and think about the future together.  

  • What was life like for our genetic or spiritual ancestors in Jonestown over the generations?
  • What did our ancestors experience over the generations? The Civil War, Waves of Immigration, Civil Rights.
  • How do we rebuild Jewish community in Baltimore?

We know this event will be inspiring for the far flung B’nai Israel family, many of whose descendants may well be unaware of their connection to the old Jewish community of downtown Baltimore.  We know it will be a magnet for the Jewish community around Baltimore as it offers a unique opportunity to look through the lens of history to our past, and at the same time to consider what a renewed downtown Jewish community could look like.  We hope also for this to be a celebration of the old and the new downtown Baltimore and the pivotal role of the Jewish community in both.

 

This program is generously supported
by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated

 

 

 

 

Ann Shinnar
Marc & Debbie Attman
Michael Stein
Ellen Kahan Zager,
The B'nai Israel Historical Preservation Society,
Dr. Bruce Coopersmith, Chair
and an anonymous donor

Fri, September 24 2021 18 Tishrei 5782