Did Mendes Play Tennis with Dragons? Read On To Find Out!

Posted on April 6th, 2015 by

Through our visitor’s thoughtful (and sometimes playful) questions, we are all learning more and more about Mendes, as an individual and as a representative of what life was like for the early Jewish Americans.


1) Did Mendes like sports?

Not that we know of…there’s no mention of sports in his letters.


2) Is there a connection between Mendes Cohen and the McKim Center of Baltimore? (Since the McKim Free School opened around the time of his childhood.)

The McKim Free School was a Quaker institution that was begun in 1821, by which time Mendes was 24 years old and not at all a child. We have no record of him being involved as a donor either.

If you want to learn more about the McKim Community Center or Free School, visit their website: http://www.mckimcenter.org.

The McKim School

The McKim School


3) How old was Mendes when he died?

Mendes Cohen was 84 years old when he died 1879.


4) Did Mendes keep kosher?

We believe that the family observed religious traditions in their home in Baltimore, but we don’t have actual confirmation that they kept kosher (which would have been difficult but not impossible during the early 1800s). There is some debate about whether kosher food provisions were provided during his service at Fort McHenry. Again, this is not something we can confirm, but it is possible since the father of another Jewish member of his militia was a shochet. During his travels, Mendes most likely did not eat kosher as that would have been quite difficult.


5) What were his siblings’ names?

  • Joshua (died as a baby at 3 months)
  • Jacob (1789-1869)
  • Solomon (died as a baby)
  • Philip (1793-1852)
  • Maria (1794-1821)
  • Benjamin (1797-1845)
  • David (1800-1847)
  • Joshua (1801-1870)
  • Edward (died as a baby at 8 months)


6) Did Mendes know any dragons? (asked by Elliot the Dragon)

Sadly, no letters mention dragon encounters (but maybe that letter got lost and we can hope!)

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?


What questions are on your mind?

Let us know!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Program Wrap Up: Dr. Betsy Bryan on Egyptian Funerary Beliefs

Posted on April 2nd, 2015 by

This Sunday we welcomed Dr. Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins University to the JMM to offer a little more insight into Mendes Cohen’s collection of antiquities. Dr. Bryan’s fascinating presentation  discussed both the collection as a whole and the way in which it represents ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs.

The Program

The Program

The collection, originally consisting of nearly 700 objects, formed the basis of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, and was donated shortly after Mendes’ death by his nephew also named Mendes Cohen. Most of the pieces were acquired during his time in modern Luxor during his three month voyage down the Nile.

Dr. Bryan explained that the ancient Egyptians believed the afterlife to be similar to life, as such requiring many of the same possessions. These requirements ranged from the body, hence the need for mummification, to smaller items such as cosmetic containers, jewelry and food. Some items such as jewelry provided a dual function having protective powers, often associated with the preservation of the body.

Selections from Mendes' archaeological collection.

Selections from Mendes’ archaeological collection.

The talk predominantly  focused upon standards within wealthier members of the community especially Tutankhamun. However there was a particularly interesting discussion regarding ordinary members of society and the simpler grave goods that can be found in their burials based upon Dr. Bryans current work in Egypt.

Please enjoy this recording of Dr. Brayns presentation and share with friends and family!

Trillion BremenA blog post by Programs Manager Trillion Attwood. To read more posts from Trillion click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Just Discovered:  The Plotnick Diamond

Posted on April 1st, 2015 by

Album Cover

Album Cover

Yes, this is an April Fool’s Day headline.  But it’s also true.  At a recent JMM staff meeting the conversation turned to classic Jewish comedy sketches.  I learned that morning that many of the younger members of the team were unfamiliar with the Plotnick Diamond and the Grammy-nominated comedy album “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” which is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year.

The album was the product of a golden age of comedy records in the early 1960s.  The first Grammy award for best (spoken) comedy album is in 1960 and went to actor/comedian Shelley Berman.  In these years, Jewish performers dominated nominations for this category – including the 1960 albums “Sick Humor” by Lenny Bruce, “Look Forward in Anger” by Mort Sahl, the 1961 album “The 2000 Year Old Man” and the 1962 album “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May”.  And on the comedy musical side of the ledger were the classic albums by Tom Leher and Allen Sherman.

Jewish Comedic Performers

Jewish Comedic Performers

But even in this glittering array of talent, “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” stands out for it’s quick memorable punch lines delivered with exceptional skill by great voice talents.  I noticed one reviewer on line referred to this album as “the I ching of Jewish humor”, and who am I to dispute that.  Performers on the album include Jack Gilford (the Hollywood blacklisted actor who many kids of my generation associate with Cracker Jack), Lou Jacobi, Arlene Golonka and the sonorous voice of Kraft Music Hall announcer Frank Gallop.

The album was the brainchild of the writing team of Bob Booker and George Foster.  At the time they made “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” they had already won a Grammy award for the comedy album The First Family – an amazing, good humored send-up of the Kennedy administration – a milestone in political comedy.

Album Cover

Album Cover

In 2013, Seinfeld star, Jason Alexander turned the album (and its sequel) into a theater production in Los Angeles.  Thanks to that production I was able to find an LA Jewish Journal interview with Bob Booker (at age 87).

I learned that while his collaborator was Jewish, Booker himself was not.  He reports that growing up in Miami he was influenced by all the Jewish comedians who would come to local clubs and theaters (Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, and Don Rickles among others).  His success in crafting the Jewish humor on this album is the real proof that “you don’t have to be Jewish” to appreciate the ironic wit that emerges from Jewish culture.

As for the Plotnick Diamond, I did find a source for a partial script of the routine.  Click HERE and scroll down the page.  But do yourself a favor and download the audio from iTunes instead.  The routine “The Diamond” is much funnier with the actors.

Scrolling down this Jewish magazine website I did see a few jokes that really made me groan.  Here is the most painful of the bunch:

It seems a group of leading medical people have published data that indicates that seder participants should NOT partake of both chopped liver and charoses. It is indicated that this combination can lead to Charoses of the Liver.

Happy April Fool’s Day!


Marvin PinkertA blog post by Museum Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

« Previous PageNext Page »