Holding a ceremonial key to her city, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon effectively declared that a historic presentation – originally supposed to have included the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory – was better late than never.

Coming almost 80 years to the day after William Frederick Broening, the then-mayor of Maryland’s largest city, presented the visiting Rebbe with a bound history of the city instead of a key – despite press anticipation to the contrary – Dixon summoned Rabbis Zev Gopin, director of Chabad of Johns Hopkins and Central Baltimore, and Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland, to City Hall to set the record straight.

According to a report in the Baltimore Jewish Times, Dixon, who leaves office next week, opened with a joke.

“So I’m told that you’ve been waiting 80 years to receive the key to the city,” she said. “As you know, due to history, the key is probably worth a lot more now, but taxes are higher, too, and this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay them.”

The key will be displayed at the Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kaplan told the paper.

In an interview later, Gopin said that the timing of the event was fortuitous. It came just a couple weeks before the 60th anniversary of the Sixth Rebbe’s passing and the beginning of the leadership of his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. In deference to the date, Dixon released a proclamation proclaiming the 60 days between that day and the anniversary of the Rebbe’s birth as “60 Days of Goodness and Kindness.”

“This is an amazing piece of history,” said Gopin.

After the presentation, the rabbi addressed a City Council meeting, drawing on the Sixth Rebbe’s last prepared Chasidic discourse for his remarks.

“The world is G‑d’s garden, and every individual person is entrusted to work and guard it,” Gopin told the council members. “Our purpose in the world is to plant the seeds of goodness and kindness to help fulfill G‑d’s intention in creating the world.”

Rabbis Shmuel Kaplan and Zev Gopin stand outside City Hall with the ceremonial key to the city of Baltimore.
Rabbis Shmuel Kaplan and Zev Gopin stand outside City Hall with the ceremonial key to the city of Baltimore.

Accounts of the Sixth Rebbe’s visit to Baltimore, which came as part of a larger 1929 to 1930 tour of Jewish communities in the Holy Land and North America, note that his visit with the mayor was among his first orders of business in the city. He had previously met with the mayor of Philadelphia at Independence Hall and would later meet with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in Washington, D.C.

But while the press reported that the mayor would present the key to the city, when he showed up for the meeting, the mayor was without the ceremonial item. He presented the history book instead.

Kaplan noted that the first Lubavitch synagogue in Baltimore was founded in 1889.

“The events of eight decades ago have now come full circle,” said Kaplan. “By all accounts, this presentation, which acknowledged the extended history of Lubavitch in Baltimore, was a very momentous event.”