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Meet Our Team

Our Project Coordination Team

Fred Shoken, a Baltimore native, is a historian and historic preservation professional.  He has worked in  the field of historic preservation for over 40 years and served as President of Baltimore Heritage, a non-  profit city-wide historic preservation organization.

Mr. Shoken has written numerous articles on Baltimore history and historic preservation for local publications including the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Jewish Times and Urbanite magazine, as well as web-based neighborhood and synagogue histories. 

As a member of B'nai Israel for twenty years, he is interested in not only preserving the historic character of the synagogue, but maintaining its use as Baltimore’s last functioning synagogue serving waterfront and downtown communities.

C. Wendy Harp is a passionate genealogist who also happens to be a real estate investor, destination wedding company owner, and retired pharmaceutical representative with over 30 years experience in the Unites States and the Caribbean. 

Her joy for the last seven years has been helping family, adoptees and friends trace descendants. Reuniting families and relatives for the first time is a rewarding experience for Wendy. She likes to stay busy! In her free time, she loves to travel with over 100 countries visited. 

"When the B’nai Israel Descendants project was presented to me, I jumped at the chance to be the committee chair! This was right up my alley! The descendants of the founders will be excited to know about their ancestors from the early days of the synagogue."

Trillion Attwood, Director of Programs & Visitor Experience, Jewish Museum of Maryland - Trillion represents the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) on the Project Team, and coordinates the project's relationship with JMM.

Susan Steeble, The Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, Lead Genealogist Project Coordinator

Susan has been conducting genealogical research on her family for more than 25 years and has performed surname studies on several family lines, including the Freedhand/Fridgant family. She is a sixth-generation descendant of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad, who was a disciple of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, a spiritual leader in the early days of Chassidism. In 2008, Susan created a web site, Two Tzaddiks, to present their lives and teachings to the English-speaking world: In 2012, she published a family scrapbook, “Charting Our Past: Roots and Routes of the Freedhand-Kesselman and Kahan-Slutsky Families,” which traces the paths of her family from Russia to the United States. Susan is the editor of L’dor V’dor, the quarterly newsletter of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland. In 2015, the publication won the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ award for Outstanding Publication. 


Richard Gwynallen is by career a non-profit professional and community organizer.  Most recently, he spent thirteen years working in community development in West Baltimore. He has also worked in land conservation, social justice issues, and developing community-based leadership, and has produced a wide range of events including conferences, concerts, and cultural gatherings. 

He writes essays on his own family’s history and has done extensive genealogical research as a passion.

Richard is B'nai Israel's project manager on the Descendants' Day Project.

Our Interns

Lia Dankowicz is an undergraduate student at Brandeis University majoring in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. She loves studying history and learning languages like Swedish, Yiddish, German, and Hebrew.

She sparked a passion for genealogy in 2020 while researching her father’s family. This interest expanded when she went all out for a class project by creating a 2,700 person genealogy of the extended Swedish royal family. She explored various ways of displaying her research during this project, finally coding an HTML website to represent monarchs and their families over the past thousand years. Lia immediately returned to her own family history with renewed enthusiasm and has, over several months, expanded her family genealogy to include 2,887 people. For Lia, it has been meaningful to connect with the descendants of many formerly lost relatives who had immigrated to the U.S. before the Shoah or who survived the Shoah. She is looking forward to exploring B’nai Israel’s history and the broader Jewish history of Baltimore. 

Rebecca Dobbs recently started volunteering with B’nai Israel conducting genealogical research in December of 2019. She has developed an interest in family history at a young age, and most recently, worked as a Summer Intern (2018) at AncestryProGenealogists in Salt Lake City, UT. Though Becca does not have deep roots with the congregation, through her research she recently made a remarkable discovery. 

Talia Smith  graduated from Drew University with a degree in History where she was published in The Drew Review with her piece “The Chesapeake Bay Oyster Wars: The Nineteenth Century.”  In addition, she completed internships with Eisenhower National Historic Site, Maryland Public Television, and WNET for the PBS show American Masters. She is excited to be involved in this genealogy project and discover unique aspects of Baltimore history.

“I am interested in this project because of its emphasis on family and connection! Having one location that connects hundreds, near and far, is something beautiful. I hope that through this project, people will be able to reunite with loved ones and learn how their family was involved with the Jewish community in downtown Baltimore!” 

Helyn Steppa is a Baltimore native currently working towards a B.A. in Jewish History. She has volunteered with the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Education and Programming departments for the past three years and is excited to move next door to learn more about Bnai Israel’s culture and history.

"I have a passion for research of all kinds and am enjoying exploring genealogical methods for the first time. When not falling down research rabbit holes or catching up on gossip from 100 years ago, I can be found checking out too many books from my local public library and advocating for mental health, women’s rights, and finding the humanness in history. 

"This sort of reverse genealogical project is a fascinating introduction to the field. It’s especially fun because I grew up in this community and often recognize names of descendants I grew up with or generally know through Jewish geography. 

"I’ve particularly enjoyed digging through B’nai’s old ledgers and notebooks. When you spend so much time researching these individuals it feels special to connect with them by reading words in their handwriting and touching books that they held."

Alexandra Rodriguez holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from the University of Texas at El Paso, and is completing a second B.A. at University of Maryland Baltimore C9ounty in American Studies. Alexandra is a bilingual native in English and Spanish. She comes to the project with considerable experience in graphic design and a passion for genealogy.

Our Volunteers

Claudia  Andorsky has been a member of B’nai Israel Congregation since 2010.  She has been active in the shul, a regular attendee of services, and volunteers her time for various projects. She currently sits on the executive board of B'nai Israel as Secretary of the Board of Trustees. Claudia  is a nurse by profession, and the mother of three “wonderful children (and daughter-in-law)".

“I became interested in this project because of my commitment to this small but intimate congregation.” As a  daughter and niece of Holocaust survivors, she notes that “ a Jew’s connection to their past is vital to our future.” 

Claudia recalls a family heritage trip with her husband and children back to Europe a few years ago. “The power of taking my children back to Vienna to see where my father grew up, had a profound impact on their appreciation of their heritage, and to this day influences their personal and cultural perspectives.  Likewise, the idea to bring together families and descendants of congregants of this historic and enduring congregation was an opportunity I felt the need to be a part of.”

Karen Rubin was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her family belonged to Kesher Israel Congregation (her great grandfather was one of the founders, and family members still attend), and attended a Jewish Day School there. She was employed for almost 50 years as a social worker, but has been retired since 2014. In addition to Harrisburg, Karen has lived in Philadelphia, where she attended graduate school, and Honolulu, Hawaii, where she was a medical social worker and a member of Temple Emanu-El. She came to Baltimore in 1981 for additional post graduate training.

She has been an active member of B’nai Israel since 2001 and currently serves on the Board and is Chair of the Cultural Committee. She is also a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

She loves historical synagogues, also belongs to Shaarei Tfiloh in Baltimore, and tries to visit others whenever she travels. Her interest in history, Judaism, and people made the Descendants Day project intriguing.

Karen will have been married to Steve Rubin for 25 years in August 2019. They share an interest in Jewish history and travel. She is very proud of her three beautiful and accomplished stepdaughters and two adorable grandchildren.

Steven Rubin was born in Dayton, Ohio and had a good Midwest upbringing with strong Jewish identification, but no active religious participation.  He married Karen Horwitz 25 years ago and due to her stronger religious beliefs, became more religious and got involved with both the Shaarei Tfiloh and the B’nai Israel congregations.

When he retired over a year ago from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after 46 years, Karen decided that Steve needed an activity to occupy his time.  Since he had been involved with a cousin researching the Rubin ancestry for a family reunion, Karen thought working on the Descendants’ Day project would be good for him and he agreed.  Because of his interest in Jewish history, Steve is also a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (again, a great Karen idea).

Steve has three daughters (two married) and two adorable grandchildren (grandson, 5 and granddaughter, 2).

One of Steve’s philosophies in life is that “G_d looks after fools and idiots”.  He doesn’t know if this is a quote from someone, but he feels it applies to his life because good things just “fall into place” for him like meeting and marrying Karen.




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

Mon, May 20 2024 12 Iyyar 5784