The Jewish Museum of Maryland, since its founding more than 40 years ago as the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland, has served as a regional repository of histories and artifacts from congregations throughout the state. Many articles from B’er Chayim and Beth Jacob congregations are on permanent loan to the Museum, as well as numerous photographs and interviews with congregants.
“Cornerstones of Community: the Historic Synagogues of Maryland, 1845-1945,”
In 1999, a traveling exhibit from the Jewish Museum of Maryland was placed on display at B’er Chayim and Frostburg State University. This exhibit, entitled “Cornerstones of Community: the Historic Synagogues of Maryland, 1845-1945,” was a broadly based exploration of both the architecture of houses of worship and the historical perspective of the communities in which they exist. B’er Chayim, as one of the oldest buildings and congregations in the state, was a part of this exhibit and had several mentions in the exhibit catalog as well.
Excerpted from catalog: “Though Baltimore’s Jews would not build another synagogue for 25 years, a Jewish community far to the west managed to build what is today the second oldest synagogue in the state. …..The link of western Maryland Jews to the larger community in Baltimore is preserved in the architecture of B’er Chayim. Like the Eden Street Synagogue, the Cumberland synagogue was built in a modified Greek Revival style, perhaps referring to the precedent of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.”
“We Call This Place Home: Jewish Life in Maryland’s Small Towns”
On October 13, 2002, the Jewish Museum of Maryland opened a new exhibit entitled “We Call This Place Home: Jewish Life in Maryland’s Small Towns.” As the forward to the exhibit catalog explains, “Previous explorations of Jewish life have focused primarily on metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, an obvious emphasis since these were the places where the majority of American Jews settled. Yet, all the while, a small but significant number of Jews made the conscious decision to settle in small towns and villages, here in Maryland and across the United States. Why did they…choose to settle far from the urban centers of Jewish culture, how did they lead their lives, and how did they confront and deal with the tensions of being different?”
Cumberland and Western Maryland are prominently featured in both the exhibit and catalog, with many photographs and artifacts from B’er Chayim and Beth Jacob Congregations prominently displayed. One of the notable inclusions in the exhibit is a trophy won by the 1995 Maccabee Basketball team in the YMCA League, which is awarded as the “Christian Spirit Award”. Photos of memorable occasions in the histories of both congregations are also featured, such as a Bar Mitzvah photo of Howard Feldstein and another photo recording the burning of the mortgage of Beth Jacob, then located on Centre Street. Torah crowns, a wimpel from the early 1900’s and prayer books round out the items on permanent loan to the museum which are on display.
Many individuals were interviewed for the exhibit, and research by Karen Falk, Project Director and Curator included visiting the Allegany County Historical Society Museum and the Frostburg Museum. Cumberland was one of six congregations which were the focus of a video which is part of the exhibit, with various congregants being interviewed about history, religious school, services, and so on.