Discoveries and Connections at the Museum

Posted on July 19th, 2017 by

A blog post by Exhibitions Intern Jillie Drutz. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

My first day as an intern with the JMM, we learned about PastPerfect, the (kind of crazy cool to be honest) collections software the museum uses, and were instructed to explore and practice the many ways you can use the software to research objects, archives, and people. Exploring the collections–menus from the Suburban House, Kiddush cups, and old photographs from Pikesville–I could not help but feel as if I were rummaging through my own grandparent’s basement. With Jewish grandparents born and raised in Baltimore, I started searching their names in PastPerfect expecting some interesting results. The only thing I found was that I would need to do more genealogical research on my paternal family to yield any results. One name did catch my eye: “Samson Benderly.” I knew the name Benderly because it was my maternal great grandmother’s maiden name. I never considered looking for my mother’s family in the JMM collection because they immigrated to the United States from Israel recently.

Dr. Samson Benderly 1900 (Age 24). JMM 1974.8.2

Dr. Samson Benderly 1900 (Age 24). JMM 1974.8.2

Looking at a photo of a Happy Birthday certificate Samson Benderly wrote to Rabbi Benjamin Szold from the JMM collection, I quickly texted my grandmother, the true matriarch and keeper of all family knowledge, if she knew of a Samson Benderly in the family. She said she had not but our Benderly’s all came from Tzfat in Israel and that might help. Born in Tzfat, Dr. Samson Benderly (1876-1944) was rapidly gaining my interest. Benderly came to Baltimore in 1898 where he became the revolutionary father of American Jewish education. He guided many people who would later go on to become influential institutional leaders. He even knew the powerhouse that was Henrietta Szold, a Zionist leader, and founder of Hadassah.[1] I looked through a family history book compiled for a three day Benderly family reunion held in 1998 and there I found a Shimshon (or Samson) Benderly, who was recorded as coming to the US in 1898 and became involved in education. My family and I were amazed when we read this. It was just really cool! But it also made me realize that even though I am a Jewish Marylander, it was not until I discovered Samson Benderly did I really feel a connection to the JMM. And I was kind of surprised at how closed I had been as a visitor.

Certificate commemorating Rabbi Benjamin Szold’s 70th birthday from Dr. Samson Benderly (1899) JMM 1995.34.1

Certificate commemorating Rabbi Benjamin Szold’s 70th birthday from Dr. Samson Benderly (1899) JMM 1995.34.1

It is so easy to walk in a nicely air conditioned museum exhibit, gawk at the foreign objects in glass cases adorned with didactic plaques, and forget that they tell our stories. And my discovery reminded me this and that the people exhibited (even if we cannot fully understand them) are real. It would take thousands of blog posts to even begin to describe let alone capture how much emotional, cultural, and social value museums provide to people, in terms of learning and understanding. But, unless you work for a museum, personal connection is the one museum experience that we forget about. Learning and more importantly understanding are not possible without connection, or in other words, the attempt to relate. It certainly helps to have discovered a potential ancestor in the collections of a museum or already relate to the content to connect to it, but that is not really necessary. It all comes down to the openness of the museum visitor. Even with all the painstaking work curators and educators put into designing exhibits and educational strategies that foster connections, without the visitor’s effort, connecting is not possible. And I challenge you to connect; explore a museum (its exhibits, website, resources) with not only a keen eye for understanding, but also an open heart for connecting. While I initially intended this blog post to focus on sharing a cool discovery of mine, I appreciate your patience in letting me take a different turn to remind us all that that museums are beyond interesting and even beyond relevant—they are personal.

All that being said, did you know you do not need Past Perfect to look at the JMM’s collections? Our collections, archives, and photographs are available for your exploration on the JMM website. What will you discover?

 

 

[1] Krasner, Jonathan B. The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education. Brandeis University Press2011.

 

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Once Upon a Time…10.21.2016

Posted on July 18th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 1996.10.69

JMM 1996.10.69

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  October 21, 2016

PastPerfect Accession #:  1996.10.69

Status: Identified! Left to right: Dr. Louis Kaplan, Jane Hirschmann, Jane’s new husband Seymour Rubak, Cantor Abba Weisgal. Photo taken at a wedding in August, 1960.

Thanks To: Maxine Hartman, Jerry Liebowitz, Betty Seidel, Lexi Cohen, Sally Levin, anonymous

 

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Re-thinking the Museum for the 21st Century: My Interview with the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s Executive Director, Zev Moses

Posted on July 17th, 2017 by

Blog post by Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

I lived in the Washington DC area all my life. I remember taking field trips to the many impressive Smithsonian Museums on the Mall in DC when I was in elementary school. Those initial visits shaped my idea of what a museum is: A large impressive sandstone building with exhibits of objects behind glass. That was how museums were to me. It wasn’t until I went to the new “Newseum” (a museum about media) in DC that I got a taste of how museums are evolving and adapting to the 21st century. Multiple interfaces lined the halls, exhibits were interactive, and you could even go up to a chunk of the Berlin Wall and touch it! Few objects are behind glass there! My visit showed me what a museum can be as it transitions to new medians to keep people interested and entertained during their visits. This was the future of museums.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

When I started my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) in June 2017, I began working in a much more traditional brick and mortar museum doing extensive research on a new exhibit. The JMM is getting more modern and interactive, but it still has a long way to go. In late June, I took time off to head up to Montreal, Quebec, initially to go apartment hunting, but then an idea struck me: Why not connect the JMM with the Museum of Jewish Montreal? I had studied abroad at McGill in the Fall 2016 Semester, writing numerous papers on Jewish Montreal while there, and even visiting the city’s Jewish Library. Yet, I never visited the Museum of Jewish Montreal. I knew small details about it, that it was fairly new, and that it did walking tours. Networking between the two museums seemed like a good idea to me, so I asked Rachel and she gave me the go ahead. I arranged to take a walking tour, which you can read about here, and I also scheduled to sit down with the Zev Moses, the Executive Director of the Museum who started it back in 2010.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

When I walked into the Museum on the afternoon of 23 June, I was greeted with a long turquoise colored room with large windows and exposed pipes. It certainly was very modern. I chatted a bit with the walking tour guide who had just given me a very pleasant tour. I ordered some coffee and a slice of coffee cake and was soon greeted by Zev. We sat down at a table and began our conversation.

I asked Zev questions ranging from how he got started with the Museum to how he has gotten to this point. Zev’s story is truly remarkable, he began his the museum with an initial thought to try something new after leaving a former job in 2009. He noticed that many people were getting laid off and that businesses were not hiring. Zev was right, as anyone who lived through it remembers; 2008-2010 was truly a terrible time for the world economy. Also during this time, Zev became curious of his surroundings. Having studied City Planning in Philadelphia, his trained eye noticed that there were many buildings in the Plateau neighborhood of Montreal that looked more or less like synagogues, or had some clues/ traces of their Jewish past. He eventually looked into one building in particular that he lived across the street from and found out it was one of the largest synagogues in the city! It had a massive 40-50 year history that no one knew about. Zev began to collect information about other buildings and places online and created an interactive map. His project eventually would grow into the Museum of Jewish Montreal that exists now, with a permanent space on St. Laurent boulevard in Montreal’s historic Plateau Neighborhood.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

What is so interesting about Zev and his approach to this Museum is that its development and approach to museums is different. This Museum is not like the JMM with artifacts behind glass with placards. This Museum is mostly online and the current presence they have is geared more towards a community aspect. The Museum regularly hosts many events, and Zev told me that the Museum and its staff regularly try to think about what works and what doesn’t. What do people want to see in a 21st century museum? Zev’s answer to that is treating people differently. That has materialized in creating a museum that is much more interactive with walking tours, community events, and use of technology to enhance visitor’s experience. For those looking for extensive histories and exhibits, those still exist, just online. The physical space is much more community-centered with a gift shop, a small photograph exhibition, and a café with Jewish-themed food. Walking tours meet here just before heading out as well. When I think about what my perception of museums are, and what this new museum is, I find that this new approach makes sense. Most people only spend 1-2 hours at museums simply walking around, looking at objects, and then leave and forget about what they saw. Not at the Jewish Museum of Montreal. While there is no permanent exhibition that many people would expect to see at a museum, you still walk away with much more than what you would in a traditional brick and mortar museum. The walking tour I took was much more exciting and memorable than a walkthrough of an exhibition. I did not attend any community events there because of limited time, but I’m sure those are memorable as well. As for the website, I checked out their online exhibits after my visit and they’re impressive. The large range of topics and history available are perfect for anyone who has a smartphone or who simply is curious. And to be honest, we millennials spend much of our time online than actually going to museums to learn, so this online presence is genius!

One question I was particular keen on asking Zev was how he coordinated with the other Jewish organizations in the city, such as the Jewish Archives and the Jewish Public Library, who have supplied his Museum with historical materials he needs. I ask this because at the JMM I am so used to simply walking to the library or downstairs to the archives to fetch an item or photo that I need to look at for my research. How does the Montreal Museum do this? Zev explained to me that at the onset of the Museum’s development that he was able to acquire good deals and prices for rights to photos and other materials. This makes sense for a mostly online museum like this one; there is no need for the Museum to have its own archives either when the City of Montreal clearly has two very good institutions dedicated to that job.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

As I finished up my interview, I asked one more question, which was where did Zev see the Museum going in the future? Zev explained to me that after a good first year in the new permanent space that he first wants to consolidate what he has and expand on that, after all, starting any business, especially a nonprofit organization like a Museum is hard. However, future projects were still on his mind. He explained to me that he hopes that walking tours, which happen in the warm summer months, could possibly continue on in the winter. How that can happen though is unclear, however the current building where the Museum is housed, in and old garment factory with Jewish history could be a potential site.

I finished the interview there, chatted for a bit, finished my food, and then left. As I’m writing this up now a few weeks later, I realize that Zev’s project, while new and developing, is what a 21st century Museum should look like. Gone are the days of traditional brick and mortar museums, the world is becoming more digital and more refined. People want more than just a walk through, they want interaction and involvement. The Museum of Jewish Montreal’s walking tours and their community-centered events are what Museums need to focus on. History and exhibitions are still very much a part of Museums, but they should no longer be the main focus. What the Museum of Jewish Montreal is doing is what Museums need to start incorporating if they want to thrive as society changes around them.

If you find yourself in Montreal, go check out the Museum, take a walking tour. Or better yet, if you don’t have the means to visit, go to their website and check out their exhibits. I’ll definitely go back to the Museum once I move to Montreal permanently, I really want to go on the other walking tours available… and I really want another piece of coffee cake from the café.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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