Looking to learn more about Jewish history and culture?

Posted on July 28th, 2015 by

Consider an excursion to the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia. Located in the Old City, near the Liberty Bell, this 100,000-square-foot, glass-and-terra-cotta-cloaked building explores the history of Judaism in the United States from the 1600s until modern day.

NMAJH Exterior

NMAJH Exterior

I visited the Museum last month to explore my Jewish heritage and to see how we can improve our own visitor experience services at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. At the National Museum of American Jewish History there are three floors of interactive state-of-the-art exhibits, focusing on the theme of American Freedom, with each floor offering a historical chapter: “Foundations of Freedom, 1654-1880,” “Dreams of Freedom, 1880-1945” and Choices and Challenges of Freedom, 1945-Today.”

My visit to the Museum gave me an opportunity to learn why Jews immigrated to America, the choices they faced, the challenges they confronted and the ways in which they assimilated into American culture. I was excited that the Baltimore Jewish community and the establishment of our own Lloyd Street Synagogue was included in the “Establishing Communities” exhibit.  As I grew up near Newport, RI, I was fascinated to read more about the Touro Synagogue and learn about how some Jewish merchants were connected to the slave trade.  The Civil War portion of the exhibit mentioned the debate between Rabbi Bernard Illoway of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai Congregation in Baltimore. Throughout the core exhibit, I was impressed by the inclusion of evocative objects such as a Dutch record from 1654, depicting one of the earliest references to Jews in North America, as well as immigrant belongings, Jewish themed movie posters, and expressions of political and social issues ranging from the push of equality for Jewish women within American society and the fight for gay marriage.

Establishing Communities Exhibit

Establishing Communities Exhibit

The exhibit ends in the present day with the opportunity to share your personal views in two high-tech, interactive experiences: Contemporary Issues Forum and It’s Your Story. The Contemporary Issues Forum asks the visitor to respond to questions such as “Should religion play a role in American politics?” There are also video recording stations called, It’s Your Story, where you can respond to questions such as “What is the most valuable thing you learned at summer camp” or “share your favorite holiday tradition.”

The “Only in America” Gallery, located in the lobby area, contains images and artifacts honoring 18 Jewish-Americans selected by voters on the internet. I was honored that they included Louis Brandeis, from my alma mater Brandeis University. The lobby level also contains a small installation on “The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights.” There is also a first rate gift shop (with a fantastic book for sale on the core exhibition which I purchased).

I am happy to report that I developed a stronger connection to Judaism and greater understanding of how the Maryland Jewish story fits into the larger American Jewish experience at NMAJH. I hope that others can have an equally rewarding experience at this museum.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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The Ship That Launched a Nation

Posted on July 24th, 2015 by

The JMM’s current exhibition, Cinema Judaica, has inspired me to spend my evenings watching old movies. Some of these films I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and just never got around to doing so while others caught my interest while studying the film posters on display or learning about them from film scholar and exhibit curator, Ken Sutak.

One film I have always meant to watch is Exodus and despite reading (and loving) the book it is based on by Leon Uris, never seemed to find the time to do so.

Exodus - poster now on view in Cinema Judaica!

Exodus – poster now on view in Cinema Judaica!

The 1961 epic film tells the story of the fight to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine after the tragedy of the Holocaust and is based on a true life event, the attempt to resettle hundreds of Jewish refugees who were living in DP camps by sailing them through the British blockade to Palestine.

Some people might be surprised to learn that the actual story of the Exodus has a Maryland connection. The ship that became known as the Exodus started out in 1928 as the SS President Warfield, a flagship of the “Old Bay Line” and originally served as a luxury overnight steamer that sailed between Baltimore and Norfolk.

Old Bay Line

Old Bay Line

In 1942 the U.S. government requisitioned the vessel and loaned it to England as an amphibious training vessel.  Returned to the U.S. Navy in 1944, it became the command and control ship for the Allied invasion fleet off Normandy Beach and later a troop transport.  The Hagana, a Jewish underground organization, purchased the ship and converted it in Baltimore to a Jewish refugee ship to run the British blockade of Palestine (the events depicted in the film).  Unlike the film, which presents a fictionalized account of the ship’s safe arrival in Palestine (with the approval of the British), in reality, while still in international waters British warships rammed the boat, and royal marines boarded it. These actions resulted in 3 deaths and 149 injuries to the refugees who were returned to Europe.  However, although unsuccessful in its mission, this dramatic final voyage and its aftermath drew world media attention to the plight of European Jewry and helped turn public support in favor of the establishment of Israel. The Warfield/Exodus,1947  became the “ship that launched a nation.” (Click here for more details about the historical events.)

Thanks to the efforts of former JMM staff member and Exodus scholar-extraordinaire, Dr. Barry Lever, we have several related artifacts in our collections. Dr. Lever spearheaded a community-wide commemoration in 1995 which resulted in the creation of a tapestry,

This tapestry was designed by Alex Gelfenboim in 1995 and stitched with the help of community volunteers

This tapestry was designed by Alex Gelfenboim in 1995 and stitched with the help of community volunteers,

a ship model,

a ship model,

the issuing of a commemorative stamp,

the issuing of a commemorative stamp,

and the dedication of a plaque at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (in front of the World Trade Center).

If you have not had a chance to see the film (or have not seen it in a while), I enthusiastically recommend doing so. While it is indeed long (clocking in at about 3 ½ hours), having the chance to watch Paul Newman as hero, Ari Ben Canaan, is definitely an enjoyable way to pass some time!

 

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

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A New Perspective

Posted on July 23rd, 2015 by

On Tuesday, the JMM interns made a trip to the National Federation of the Blind. It was an awesome experience for all of us!

A happy bunch of interns!

A happy bunch of interns!

The first stop on the tour was their room full of technology that can be used to assist blind people. It was amazing how many different options the blind have when it comes to using technology! They showed us different styles of note takers, accessibility options on iPhones, and even calculators that can speak out loud.

These devices speak out loud and allow the blind to listen to newspapers and books.

These devices speak out loud and allow the blind to listen to newspapers and books.

Here the interns are learning about a binder that can read the text on the page out loud.

Here the interns are learning about a binder that can read the text on the page out loud.

The next stop on the tour was their library. There were books in Braille for the blind, and books in print that related to the blind experience for sighted people to read. As well as books, there were also exhibits in the room as well.

Intern Wrangler Rachel and some of her interns look at (and touch!) art displayed in the library. The pieces are tactile so that you don’t need to see the art with your eyes in order to enjoy it.

Intern Wrangler Rachel and some of her interns look at (and touch!) art displayed in the library. The pieces are tactile so that you don’t need to see the art with your eyes in order to enjoy it.

This is a project that was completed at a STEM summer camp for blind high school students. Students worked together to solve a problem—in this case, an asteroid plummeting toward Earth—and built this solution, some sort of spacecraft.

This is a project that was completed at a STEM summer camp for blind high school students. Students worked together to solve a problem—in this case, an asteroid plummeting toward Earth—and built this solution, some sort of spacecraft.

This exhibit, about galaxies, is tactile; it has raised graphics and paragraphs in Braille so that the blind can understand the information that it conveys.

This exhibit, about galaxies, is tactile; it has raised graphics and paragraphs in Braille so that the blind can understand the information that it conveys.

What does this trip mean for the JMM? It has widened our options to make our institution more accessible for those who cannot see, or with other disabilities. For example, this trip has motivated us to make our website more user friendly for those who are not necessarily able to see it and rely on technology to read it for them.

Now that we have gained more insight into how to make our institution more blind-friendly, we can begin to take steps to achieve that.

CarmenA blog post by Marketing Intern Carmen Venable. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

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