Second graders in Lisa Shapiro’s class got a virtual visit from the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Wednesday, February 9. (The other second grade classes were visited the following day.) The focus of the presentation by Marisa Shultz, school program coordinator at the museum, was immigration, a topic the boys recently began studying in their social studies unit.
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is located inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue in Baltimore, which the boys learned is the oldest synagogue in Maryland and the third oldest in the United States. After a few students took guesses ranging from 1776 to 1995, it was revealed that the synagogue was built in 1845. Because of limited photography from that time period, the oldest photo Shultz had to show the boys was from 1864. It was shared alongside a more recent one, and the boys identified what looked different and what looked the same.
Shultz talked about the three different communities that have gathered in the Lloyd Street Synagogue over all those years: Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, followed by St. John the Baptist Lithuanian Catholic Church, and then Shomrei Mishmeres Ha-Kodesh. Many of the people from those congregations were immigrants. “What does it mean to immigrate?” she asked. Jack’s answer, “when you travel to a different country,” elicited a request for more detail. “To live there,” he clarified.
“Why might people immigrate?” Shultz wondered aloud. Benjamin, whose parents were born in China, said they came here for “a better life.” Malcolm, whose ancestors are from Ghana, shared “for better schools.”
Reid brought up how some people are forced to immigrate. Shapiro chimed in to say that the class had learned how slavery forced people to come to the United States while other people chose to come to here for reasons like religious freedom; in fact, her husband’s grandfather left Russia because of the pogroms. Shultz appreciated everyone’s answers, adding that people may immigrate to flee violence, seek freedom, or look for better jobs. “These are hard conversations to have,” she said.
By the 1940s, the last congregation’s members had begun to move out of the neighborhood, and the building fell into disrepair. The Jewish Historical Society purchased the building in 1960, and in the 1980s, the organization changed its name to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Shultz showed the boys a photo of the sanctuary and talked about different elements in it like the bimah, which is a raised platform where someone stands to read aloud from the Torah scroll.
Jon raised his hand to share something he had heard about Torahs. “When some people studied the Torah, they hid it because some people didn't like Jews, and they pretended to play dreidel.”
“Yes!” Shultz agreed. “That is a story often told at Hanukkah.”
“One of the things we love about Gilman,” Shapiro said, “is that we have boys who celebrate all different holidays and we try to learn about each other.”