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JMM Insights: What’s A Wondernaut?

Posted on March 27th, 2020 by

It’s hard to believe, but it was less than three weeks ago (March 5) when the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Maryland. That very afternoon I held an impromptu meeting with Paige and Rachel to start working on a digital companion to our upcoming Jews in Space exhibit, to be prepared to serve the families and school children who rely on JMM as a resource for informal learning. With the support of the whole JMM team, they have come up with an outstanding concept and prepped it for initial roll-out in just 20 days!

And the best part is that there is no age limit on these activities. So even if you can barely remember 4th grade, you might take a stab at a few of these activities and even earn a badge or two of your own. We won’t judge.

~Marvin


THE DIGITAL MUSEUM: WONDERNAUTS 2020

The Jewish Museum of Maryland invites you on a grand adventure: Wondernauts 2020!

Wondernauts 2020 explores the Wonders of Space. Inspired by Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit exhibit, we will dive into challenges about everything from ancient star patterns to famous firsts in space science, to the imaginings of writers and artists picturing a distant future. We’ll even be observing our own skies!

Throughout our journey we will face challenges and tasks that will ask us to think hard, think creatively, and consult the world around us. As we complete these challenges, we’ll earn badges to mark our success.

Our Wondernaut activities are perfect for a variety of ages and a whole lot of fun for the whole family – not just those in the house with you, but those you’re hanging out with across the digital divide! We’ve made sure to include activities at all different skill levels and needing a minimal amount of materials.

And don’t worry, not all the activities require you to sit in front of a computer! We’re making all the activities available as pdf downloads and will mark the ones that don’t require a computer or electricity, to make them easy to find.

A science fiction lover? You might like to try our Design a Sci-Fi Cover and Create a New Planet activities!

More of a history buff? Check out the Mapping Historic Skies activity!

Perhaps you’ve got a small astronaut-in-training at home – check out our Build a Space Probe and Searching for Galaxies activities! (And don’t forget to Design Your Own Space Helmet.)

We’ll be posting activities and badges on a weekly (and sometimes daily!) basis, so we’ll be adding a section to this weekly JMM Insights newsletter highlighting what’s new for our Wondernauts.

And of course we’ll share these new additions on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr) as well.


ON OUR BLOG: WITH PASSION

In the last week, we have all used some of our time for passionate reflection. In yesterday’s post, Tracie’s passion for social justice comes through in her very thoughtful review of a book I mentioned last week (Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness).

Flip back to Monday, and you’ll see my post about passion for Passover. Go back to last Friday and there’s a summary post about last December’s Great Jewish Bake Off likely that’s likely to bring out a passion for cookies even among the most disciplined of us.


ESTHER’S PLACE: ONLINE!

That’s right, Esther’s Place: The JMM Shop is now selling online.

We’ve got a limited inventory of some of our favorite products, including our JMM branded swag and items perfect for Passover.

Don’t see something you’re interested in? Contact Shop Manager Chris Sniezek at csniezek@jewishmuseummd.org and let us know.


ONLINE EVENTS OF INTEREST

Remembering the Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement
Friday, March 27, 2020 at 12:00pm

Maryland women played an important role in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Kacy Rohn will discuss her research providing new insight into the statewide suffrage movement.

Once Upon a Boy
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at 7:00pm

Ron is intelligent, charming and full of life, but every day, his movements are increasingly limited by cerebral palsy. The film follows this remarkable family’s struggles as the parents do everything in their power to raise three children who are happy with their lot, despite the unfathomable gap between them.

I Want You To Know We’re Still Here
Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 8:00pm

Join author Esther Safran Foer for a virtual discussion on her memoir I Want You To Know We’re Still Here.


WHAT WE’RE READING

Development Director Tracey Dorfmann is finishing up Wild Ones: a Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in AmericaJon Mooallem explores the relationship Americans have with indigenous animals in our natural habitats.

This straightforward exploration of the wildlife conservation movement in America is a must-read for animal lovers. A different perspective on the wild species that reside in the United States of America along with humans. You will look at animals as diverse as the Polar bear and the Butterfly through brand new optics. Truly an eye-opener and an important read.

Next up for Tracey? The 1952 masterpiece about the nature of bigotry, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

What are you reading this week? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Adventures at Home

Posted on March 26th, 2020 by

Blog post by JMM archivist Lorie Rombro. You can read more posts by Lorie HERE.


Like most parents around the world this past week, my husband and I have had to learn how to work out of the home together while two boys (a teenager and elementary student) are at home with us. We were somewhat prepared because our children were supposed to be home for spring break. The problem was we had planned to do things with them like visit museums, go to DC for the day, fossil hunt at Calvert Cliffs, and eat out at all the places they like.

Obviously, none of these things happened, but that didn’t mean we had a bad week. It is not easy, but a rhythm of work and family is starting. My husband, who normally works from home most of the week, has had to get used to the rest of us being home too. My children have been lazing about and I let them all week, because it was spring break.

We took walks together, watched movies (I highly recommend Onward for all), played catch, built a Lego tower taller than my 3rd grader, made chalk art in the driveway, worked on numerous art projects, puzzles, and even had my teenager leave the video games for a bit to join us in the activities.

We are constantly cooking and I’m afraid my dishwasher will break soon from being used 2 or 3 times a day. And the one exceptionally happy member of our home is our dog, Bowzer, who is in heaven that we are all home with him.

A little painter’s tape and a box of chalk can take up a huge amount of time.

In the past week I have also received many emails and Facebook posts about online museums and travel experiences. My younger son and I decided to spend some time each day exploring some of the sites and places that we are interested in. I thought I would share some of these with you!

First, we went to France as we are currently reading together Stuart Gibbs’ The Last Musketeer. The book starts in France with the family going for a tour of the Louvre, so that’s where we started too.

We have another wonderful book at home, The Story of Paintings: A History of Art for Children by Mick Manning & Brita Granstrom.

This inspired us to search the Louvre and then the Musee d’Orsay for the artist and paintings we liked. We also took a tour of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and we searched the online database at the Jewish Museum of Maryland for images of France.

This week we have plans to visit Italy and Egypt. Perhaps we’ll follow in the footsteps of the Freidenwald family adventuring through Italy or maybe visit the same places that Lester and Eleanor Levy saw on their honeymoon! In Egypt we will definitely try to see the great pyramid and Sphinx like Harry Greenstein.

Freidenwald family vacation to the Mediterranean in 1911: Harry Friedenwald in Pompeii. JMM 1984.23.48.

Lester and Eleanor Levy in Piazza San Marco on their honeymoon in 1922. JMM 2002.79.228.

Harry Greenstein (2nd from left) on a UNRAA Middle Eat Mission, 1944. JMM 1971.20.163

While we are all learning to work, go to school, and study while being at home, these virtual adventures to other museums have been an enjoyable addition to our life, expanding our limited surroundings. What virtual museums and global adventures are you experiencing?


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Price of Whiteness (Review)

Posted on March 25th, 2020 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


About 2 years ago, I took a course from the curriculum of the Florence Melton School entitled “Jews in America: Insiders and Outsiders.” I was excited to take the course to deepen my understanding of Jews as “insiders and outsiders,” a notion that had strongly emerged during my work on the future core exhibit of the JMM.

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the course. The shortcomings are best illustrated by a disagreement I had with the instructor about Al Jolson. This “text-based” course included clips from various movies or television shows for the session about popular culture. One of the clips was of Al Jolson singing Kol Nidre in his movie The Jazz Singer (1927). The instructor for the class made a big deal of how brave and significant it was for Jolson to perform that holy music in a major motion picture. It signaled that Jews “had arrived.”

When I brought up the fact that Jolson “arrived” while performing in blackface, this instructor looked at me like a deer in the headlights. He countered my objection by suggesting the blackface was “immaterial” to our conversation about Jewish acceptance in American society. Indignant, I responded that not only was it “material,” it was actually core to Jolson’s proposition of Jewish Americanness. At least, that’s what I would have said if I had read The Price of Whiteness. (I think I actually said something like “blackface is never immaterial, and it is and always has been offensive,” which I still stand by.)

In the Price of Whiteness, Eric Goldstein convincingly traces what I was only starting to intuit in that ill-fated Melton session: in America, Ashkenazi (i.e. central or eastern European) Jews “negotiated their place in a complex racial world where Jewishness, whiteness, and blackness have all made significant claims on them.” (5).

Goldstein demonstrates how Jews in the nineteenth and even early to mid-twentieth century thought of themselves as a distinct race. As a contemporary Jew (I’m Generation X), I found this whole notion mind-blowing. In 2020, I have completely internalized the American understanding of race as a black-white dichotomy. If I think about my race at all (which my white skin gives me the privilege of not always thinking about), I think of myself as white, plain and simple. Goldstein traces how whiteness was not always so undifferentiated—in the nineteenth century, Irish, German, and Italian whites were not all the same. And Jewishness was often discussed—by Jews and non-Jews alike—as a race.

Though this idea surprised me, as I turned it over in my mind, it also made a lot of sense. We Jews seem to have quite a loose understanding of what “Jewishness” really is. We want it to be a religion, and so a Jew by choice is a Jew. We also want it to be a sort of ethnic identity: someone born Jewish who converts to another religion is still a Jew. (Goldstein mentions one of the most famous of these examples in Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain in the nineteenth century. Though Disraeli lived and worshipped as an Anglican, he “became a favorite hero of American Jews, who saw in him an exemplar of Jewish racial traits.”(20)) This both, and approach to Jewish identity fits neatly with pre-WWII ideas of race, and Jews and non-Jews thought of it that way in America.

This Jewish racial identity caused a problem for non-Jewish white Americans who, especially as time went on, wanted race to be cleanly divided into black and white. Goldstein writes “the black-white dichotomy functioned strategically and was employed by native-born whites to obscure complexity and infuse a sense of order and confidence into the national culture.” (42) The “Jewish Problem” in America was that Jews didn’t fit neatly into either category.

Jews themselves were aware of the discomfort they caused among non-Jewish white Americans. For some Jews, this led to a sense of kinship with African Americans who also caused discomfort among non-Jewish white Americans. In fact, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there is significant evidence of Jewish empathy and identification with African American people and causes. However, their own insecurity in America made many Jews feel unwilling or unable to act on that empathy. Goldstein writes that in the 1920s and 1930s, “although it is true that an increasing number of Jews became active in the struggle for black civil rights during this period, a closer survey of Jewish social patterns and Jewish discourse about African Americans reveals that only a small minority of American Jews felt free enough from the daunting social pressures of white America to engage in consistent high-profile advocacy of black causes.” (147).

In other words, many Jews felt the need to do what they could to assert their whiteness and thereby assuage the uneasiness they caused in white America. This often involved adopting the “racist trappings of American culture in order to relieve doubts about their own uncertain racial status” (139). (Al Jolson, I’m looking at you.) To drive the point home that pressure for acceptance in white America drove much of the anti-black racism of white-skinned American Jews in the 1920s, Goldstein points out, “not surprisingly, it was in Yiddish that the most assertive statements of identification with African Americans were made during the 1920s and 1930s. In their own language, unintelligible to a non-Jewish audience, Jewish writers could afford to express their deeply held emotional identification with blacks.” (153).

The phenomenon of expressions of anti-black racism serving a sociological and economic strategy looks very familiar. It supports the core of Ibram X. Kendi’s hypothesis, expertly explicated in Stamped from the Beginning. (I’ve written about Stamped before, here.) There, Kendi writes “Racially discriminatory policies have usually sprung from economic, political, and cultural self-interests, self-interests that are constantly changing.” And, though Jolson’s blackface was not “policy,” Goldstein shared the exploits of the Jewish Attorney General of Maryland at the turn of the twentieth century, Isidor Raynor, who “made disenfranchisement a central tenet of his political credo, arguing in 1903 that the Declaration of Independence was wrong in proclaiming that all men were created equal.” (58)

The events of the past three years have created a great deal of unease, especially around race, for white-skinned Jews like me. Though we had accepted the pressure (and the privilege) to identify as undifferentiated white Americans, the resurgence of antisemitism and white supremacy have reminded us that our whiteness is contingent on others’ acceptance of it. On top of that, the increasing presence and stories of Jews of color who rightly and righteously push back on the assumed whiteness of Jewish spaces have forced us to look more closely at who we are, who we’ve been, and who we want to be. Knowing the history of my forebearers’ negotiation with whiteness has been truly instructive for me. I find a certain amount of comfort knowing that however unique my particular circumstances, there are comparables in history, role models—and a great many negative role models—on whose experiences I can build.

May the wisdom gained from their history help lead us to a more just and equitable world.


This post was originally published at bmoreincremental.com.


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