JMM Insights: There Were Doctors in the House

Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by

On Thursday, January 22, the JMM, in partnership with the Associated, hosted a special event for medical professionals to learn about our upcoming exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The goal of the event was to spread the word about this landmark exhibit among medical professionals and also as an opportunity for the exhibition team to gain feedback about the exhibition that can help inform its development.

Drs. Ira Papel and Robert Keehn check out the displays.

Drs. Ira Papel and Robert Keehn check out the displays.

Beyond Chicken Soup explores the interplay of cultural beliefs and medical practice and contributes to the contemporary conversation about health and medicine in America by illuminating the social meanings and values intrinsic to medical interactions. While national in scope, the exhibition focuses on many local stories and highlights the central role that our local community has played in the medical arena. To that end, the exhibition team has been actively seeking stories and artifacts to help flesh out exhibit themes. Having so many medical professionals from across the spectrum – including surgeons, pediatricians, pharmacists, orthopedists, ob/gyns, nurses, and even a mohel! – gave JMM staff the chance to learn about the experiences of a diverse group of local professionals.

Marvin shares details of the upcoming exhibit.

Marvin shares details of the upcoming exhibit.

40 people attended the program and enjoyed having the chance to interact with the exhibit team. Curator, Karen Falk and collections manager, Joanna Church, created a temporary display of several fascinating objects and photographs that will be featured in the exhibit.  These included such iconic items as “Mr. Bones”, a model skeleton created by Leon Schlossberg (courtesy of the Chesney Medical Archives), a medical artist, as a teaching tool at Hopkins; historical pharmaceutical tools from the collection of Adolf Ed Baer, a pharmacist who practiced in western Maryland; a doctor’s bag belonging to Dr. Morris Abramowitz who practiced medicine in East Baltimore in the first half of the 20th century; a silver tea set used by Sinai Hospital nurses; and a diploma from Louis Hamburger, who was among the first graduating class at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in 1897. Staff members positioned at each of the display areas were armed with questions to ask guests about their specific experiences. Attendees were encouraged to provide answers to thought provoking questions such as “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” and “Do you ever pray with your patients?” designed to inspire conversation around topics that will be explored in depth in the exhibit.

Trustee Rikki Specter with some doctor friends!

Trustee Rikki Specter with some doctor friends!

The event was hosted by four JMM board members who are also doctors – board president, Ira Papel; board vice president, Robert Keehn; Sheldon Bearman and Crystal Watkins Johannson. Remarks were presented by Ira Papel who thanked exhibition donors and encouraged attendees to spread the word about the exhibit. JMM executive director, Marvin Pinkert, further elaborated on why Beyond Chicken Soup is such an important project of local, national and even international significance.

Researcher Alicia Puglionesi collects stories from attendees.

Researcher Alicia Puglionesi collects stories from attendees.

Thursday evening provided the JMM with our first opportunity to showcase Beyond Chicken Soup to an important constituency. We were delighted by the enthusiastic response we received by everyone in attendance, including several people who had never visited the JMM previously. We look forward to following up on many of the leads provided that will help enrich the exhibit’s content. Please help us continue to spread the word about this exciting project.

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Have something to share? Call or email Curator Karen Falk! 410-732-6402 x227, kfalk@jewishmuseummd.org

 

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Handwriting Samples

Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by

Today, January 23rd, is John Hancock’s birthday – and thus, it is also National Handwriting Day.  Handwriting is near and dear to the hearts of archivists, historians, and curators because we encounter examples of it nearly every day, from centuries-old documents to modern collections folders hand-labeled in pencil.

A sample of archival folders, each labeled by a different JMM staff member or volunteer.

A sample of archival folders, each labeled by a different JMM staff member or volunteer.

However, as computers and tablets and smartphones become more and more prevalent in U.S. culture, the art of penmanship has been dropped from some schools’ course schedules. Educators debate the pros and cons of skipping the cursive lessons, while grandparents bemoan the fact that little Emily and Mason can’t read their birthday cards unless they’re written in print.

From my point of view, the problem with not being able to write in cursive is that then you can’t easily read it. Perhaps the upcoming generation of historians – and, in the more immediate sense, upcoming summers of student interns – will have trouble reading a legal document written in clear, careful Copperplate, let alone something written in a more hurried or idiosyncratic hand.  Yes, deciphering someone’s individual writing style takes time and practice (there’s nothing quite like the revelation that the 19thcentury diary author, whose tiny smudged entries you’ve been struggling with for hours, never crossed her t’s).  It helps, though, if you’re at least familiar with the underlying structure of the writing: two bumps is an n, three bumps is an m, that swoopy thing in the front is a T, etcetera.

Diaries, journals, cookbooks, letters, legal documents, bills, photograph captions, business records, and more: handwritten information is everywhere in our archives.  So, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I urge everyone to brush up on – or start learning – penmanship skills.  Historians of the future need you!  And in celebration of National Handwriting Day, I offer a few examples from our collections.  See if the partial transcriptions included here match what you can decipher . . . then go home and handwrite someone a letter.

Donated by Paul and Rita Gordon.  1995.104.030

Donated by Paul and Rita Gordon. 1995.104.030

Studying the history of organizations and businesses can require a willingness to immerse yourself in the handwriting of the past.  Here’s a page of meeting minutes for the first meeting of the Frederick Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, written by Recording Secretary Mrs. Leo Weinberg. It begins: “March 23rd 1921. Realizing that ‘In union there is strength’ and appreciating the necessity for co-operative and harmonious action, The Jewish Women of Frederick met Wednesday March 23rd 1921 on the second floor of the Masonic Temple for the purpose of organizing The Frederick Section, Council of Jewish Women.”

Donated by Mrs. Gerald Heller. 1962.9.1

Donated by Mrs. Gerald Heller. 1962.9.1

Written on a scrap of cardboard from a larger container, this handwritten note commemorates an apparently epic games party near Eutaw Place, Baltimore: “Progressive whist given at the new home of Mrs. Hennie Strouse, 1628 Madison Ave., October 20, 1907.” It’s signed by attendees including Morton Emanuel Hecht, Rosalyn W. Sawyer, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Mann, “Kid” Nusbaum, Phil Rose, and Sadie, Helen, and Joseph Ulman.

Donated by Rose Kushner. 1985.62.2

Donated by Rose Kushner. 1985.62.2

Midwife Lena Barber of Baltimore kept records of all the births she attended, making handwritten notes in pre-printed journals such as this volume from 1892-93. Here are two records from February 1892: on the lefthand page is male baby born to Anna and Louis Glaubenfeld, and on the right is a female baby born to Hana and Samuel Block. Interestingly, comparison of the writing on various pages – such as the two pages pictured here – shows several different writing styles throughout the book, indicating that more than one person was helping Barber keep track of things. Sometimes, a handwritten document reveals more than just the information that’s written down.

Donated by Mrs. Samuel Block.  1971.20.260

Donated by Mrs. Samuel Block. 1971.20.260

It isn’t only paper collections that require some handwriting knowledge; photographs are frequently captioned by hand.  This image of Harry Greenstein (seated in the center) surrounded by well-wishers has this handwritten note on the front: “With affectionate greetings on my 30th Anniversary as Executive Director of Associated Jewish Charities, 5/1/1958, [signed] Harry Greenstein.”

Donated by Mrs. Gerald Heller. 1962.9.2

Donated by Mrs. Gerald Heller. 1962.9.2

In 1865, Isaac Strouse of Baltimore went to Europe. During his travels he kept a journal, written in pencil in a leather-bound, pocket-sized blank book.  The page shown here begins, “I have spend [sic] my time up in [Dek?] from 1/2 after 6 to 8 in walking about & conversation & now I am in the smoking salon …” …and here’s where my handwriting-deciphering skills fail me; I’m not sure about that “Dek.”  (Brackets indicate a word the transcriber is unsure about.) A full reading of the surrounding pages will likely provide some hints, but in the meantime, do any blog readers have any ideas what that word says or means?

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.

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A Successful First Event in Our Sephardic Lecture Series!

Posted on January 21st, 2015 by

Despite the icy weather this past Sunday, Rabbi Ronnie Perelis of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University transported us both back in time and to a much warmer and sunnier place – the Caribbean. Before there were thriving Jewish communities in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Savannah, most Jews in the Americas lived in the Caribbean. They were part of a dynamic Sephardic network of trade and culture which connected major metropolitan centers such as Amsterdam and London to colonial ports such as Curacao and Kingston.

Rabbi Perelis welcomes the crowd.

Rabbi Perelis welcomes the crowd.

Rabbi Perelis began his talk around the turn of the 16th century, in 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World and as the Spanish Inquisition reached its peak. In the “Prologue” of his Diary dedicated to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus writes “And thus after having expelled all of the Jews from your kingdoms and possessions, in the same month of January, Your Royal Highnesses sent me . . . to these parts of the Indies. . .” Then, within 5 years of Spain expelling its Jews, Portugal followed suit. Iberian Jews were forced to either practiced their faith in secret or seek refuge in the cities and towns of Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and even as far as Dutch-ruled Brazil.

Rabbi Perelis shared some great images.

Rabbi Perelis shared some great images.

However, in 1654, Portugal regained control of Brazil and continued the expulsion of its Jewish colonists. As a result, most either returned to Holland or relocated to Caribbean colonies. In hopes of building a new life, a small group of Jewish refugees settled in New Amsterdam. As the Jewish community continued to grow in the subsequent years, they appealed to the government in an effort to gain the rights offered to other settlers, such as the right to engage in civic duties and to own property.

In response, George Washington wrote to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1790 that

“happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support… May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Throughout his talk, Rabbi Perelis shared several intriguing maps, drawings and artifacts. Among my favorites were:

Illuminated Ketuba of Meir Meyerstone and Rebekah De Meza on November 7, 1819 New York

Illuminated Ketuba of Meir Meyerstone and Rebekah De Meza on November 7, 1819 New York 

Solomon Carvalho painted the interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim from memory after the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1838. He offered the canvas to the congregation “for such Compensation as the Board may deem proper to allow.” They judged it to be “neat & accurate” and paid him $50.

Interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim by Carvahlo

Interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim by Carvahlo

John Rubens Smith (1770-1840). Jews Synagogue in Charleston [Beth Elohim], ca. 1812.

John Rubens Smith (1770-1840). Jews Synagogue in Charleston [Beth Elohim], ca. 1812.

Overall, Rabbi Perelis’ talk was incredibly informative and a great first program in our Sephardic Lecture Series.  You definitely don’t want to miss the second, and final talk in this series: Ladino, a Language of the Jewish Diaspora.  Dr. Adriana Brodsky of St. Mary’s College of Maryland will talk about the history and current state of Ladino, a Jewish language that arose in the Iberian Peninsula and spread in the wake of the expulsion of Jews in 1492 as new Jewish communities settled throughout the Mediterranean region.

La Epoca was a Judeo-Spanish newspaper.

La Epoca was a Judeo-Spanish newspaper.

Rabbi Perelis also sent me a list of books that may be of interest!

Continued Reading: 

Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1800, edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan

Jews in the Caribbean, edited by Jane Gerber

A Nation upon the Ocean Sea: Portugal’s Atlantic Diaspora and the Crisis of the Spanish Empire, 1492-1640; Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert

Carolyn BevansA blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE. 

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