Efrem M. Potts, the first president and longest-tenured member of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, passed away last Monday, Oct. 23. He was 90.

A Baltimore native, retired businessman and local history buff, Potts was the son-in-law of Dr. Louis L. Kaplan, Beth Am’s first spiritual leader and president of Baltimore Hebrew College.

The following is a tribute and reminiscence of Potts written by his friend and fellow congregant Gilbert Sandler, author of several books on Jewish Baltimore.

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In the spring of 2015, I was asked by the Jewish Museum of Maryland to put together a collection of pieces about Jewish Baltimore drawn from a series of articles I had written earlier. The offer was daunting, but I accepted.

I knew I could call for help from Efrem Potts. As I expected he would, Efrem provided guidance, ideas and was a thoroughly reliable reference for accuracy and authenticity. The book — “Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore” — enjoys popular success to this day.

To know Efrem was to be immersed in and of the world of Jewish Baltimore, in a deep and even emotional way. We worked on many projects together: we were two romantics intoxicated with a love for this community’s special and lustrous history.

Efrem knew a lot about Jewish Baltimore; certainly more than I know. He grew up in its special world; he studied it, read about it, and chased down facts about it.

Once, I called him and asked him to join me on a research trip through East Baltimore. At a point, he stopped the car in front of a particular church. At his invitation, we got out of the car and walked closer to the church. He looked up and pointed to the roof line. There, two or three stories high above the crosses and the stained glass windows that told the story of the Christ child, I saw what Efrem saw, and what he alone seemed to know: up there hidden, under the eaves, was a Mogen David.

At another time in my life, I was asked by the Smithsonian Institution to put together and conduct personally a bus tour of Jewish Baltimore. I called Efrem. While I thought I knew enough to plan an itinerary, I didn’t know enough about synagogue architecture.

Of course I called Efrem. We connected: right away. Together, annually for a few years, we gave bus tours of Jewish Baltimore— I did the “color”; Efrem, the details of synagogue architecture. The team of Potts and Sandler struck again,.

Efrem died peacefully in his sleep on Oct. 23, 2017. I lost a friend and a scholar and a beautiful guy. But deep down I know; I can’t call Efrem any more, I have lost that connection.

So have we all.

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Gilbert Sandler is the author of six books, including “Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album,” “Small Town Baltimore” and “Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore.” He is the host of WYPR-FM’s weekly “Baltimore Stories” segment.

 

Efrem M. Potts is survived by his children, Ruth Potts (Alexandra Carter), Rabbi JoHanna Potts, Elizabeth (Mark) Borris and Amy (Paul) Knapp; his grandchildren, Ari (Joanna) Strait, Elan Strait (Janeace Slifka), Rachel Borris, Michael (Meredith) Borris, Joshua Borris and Daniel Knapp; and many adoring great grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He was predeceased by his wife, Deborah “Debbie” K. Potts.
Contributions in his memory may be sent to Beth Am Synagogue, 2501 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, MD 21217 or HEBCAC Youth Opportunity Center, c/o The Director of Finance, 1212 N Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21213.
 
(Photo of Efrem M.Potts courtesy of Sol Levinson & Bros.)

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