Celebrating Students, Finding Their Stories

Posted on March 16th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights comes to us from Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Learning and Visitor Experience.

At the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are storytellers.

It’s one of the things we do best. Whether the stories of the “old neighborhood, Jonestown,” the voices of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, or one of the thousands of stories of individual Jewish Marylanders, we use story to connect our visitors and audiences to others and themselves. We also help others tell stories. We’re especially interested in helping students and families living in their own communities find and tell their stories. To make that happen, we have been developing partnerships with area schools for years.

Why do we do what we do? How does telling our stories benefit future generations?

Research has shown children who know more about their families display more confidence and are more resilient. Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist of Emory University, has conducted research that shows family stories are a critical part of adolescents’ emerging identity and well-being. Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.  Research shows children who know their family and community stories have a strong “intergenerational self;” they know that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

In other words, stories connect the past and present to the future.

The month of March is extremely exciting for JMM storytelling. The JMM’s Education department is working on two programs in partnership with area schools and institutions: My Family Story and Morrell Park: PROJECTED. Each helps students develop their own family narrative, through a different medium. Through these partnerships, the JMM has been able to reach to a wider audience. We are a valuable education partner and resource to the larger community. Keep reading for more on both of them.

Earlier this year, area students from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Beth Israel Congregation and Bolton Street Synagogue embarked on an exploration of their own heritage with a project that goes beyond the usual family tree.

Through rigorous research and inspiring creativity, these students have produced beautiful art pieces illustrating their personal exploration into their family roots, and connections to the greater story of the Jewish People.  On March 8th, we held a special opening for My Family Story, celebrating this education initiative in partnership with Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Thousands of other students from around the world are also on their own My Family Story explorations, with the best projects from each school to be entered in Beit Hatfutsot’s international competition later in June.

Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to visit students in their classrooms as they created art to represent their family stories. I loved seeing them point out specific elements to illustrate the research they have done. Their faces shone as they shared their family stories.

I invite you to come celebrate with us the creativity, hard work, and beauty represented in these student-created works of art. The My Family Story exhibition will be on display through March 25th. My Family Story here at the Museum is generously supported by the Ronnie and Alli Russel Charitable Foundation.

Baltimore City Public Schools

In addition to our partnerships with religious schools and day schools, JMM has strong partnerships with five area Baltimore City Public Schools, where we provide a more customized and intensive educational enrichment for students and teachers.

All these programs are offered at no charge to  our partner schools, thanks in part to generous education program donors like the Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation, the Maryland State Department of Education, Larry Boltansky, and many of our Museum members.

Through our partnerships, we help students become active learners for the 21st century. As a museum, one of our most critical roles is in helping students build 21st-century skills in the areas of information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy, and global awareness.

Over the fall semester, JMM staff, with the guidance of J. Scott Fuqua (an award-winning young adult author), and Johns Hopkins University film students, have been working with the 8th grade students at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle school on a new, innovative program.Morrell Park: PROJECTED is a year-long storytelling initiative that has helped students gain insight into their personal family stories. Students learned storytelling and interviewing techniques, gaining the skills to interview family and community members. They used what they learned to tell their own stories, creating short film clips using their smartphones. The resulting films will be screened for the public as a way of celebrating the diversity, culture and roots of the Morrell Park community. Morrell Park: PROJECTED is supported by an Excellence Grant from Wells Fargo.

This project has been a transformative experience for many students.In the beginning, many students expressed a hesitancy to speak to their parents. Just a few months later, some of those same students shared that this project has enabled them to talk to family members in ways that they never had before. All of the participating students expressed an appreciation for the family members that shared personal stories of their past. The students are also rightly proud of the short films they have created, of their own learning, and of mastering a new skill on their smartphones.

You can listen to more about Morrell Park: PROJECTED over at WYPR’s “On The Record” here.

I hope you will join us on March 22 at 7:00 p.m., as these eighth graders from Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School walk the red carpet at the Jewish Museum of Maryland to celebrate the premiere of the autobiographical films they’ve created. This premiere is the first component in a two-part series, and we look forward to sharing news of the second part with you in the future.

We hope that you will visit JMM during the month of March to celebrate area students as they share their family and community stories!


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History Can Inform Contemporary Family Life

Posted on March 15th, 2018 by

A blog post by JMM’s new Director of Development, Tracey E. Dorfmann.

While reading On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews in Baltimore, I realized that 21st century families face some similar challenges to those of 19th immigrant families.

The Industrial Revolution was underway when many Eastern Europeans moved to Baltimore. America provided many new opportunities, but new freedoms created new challenges.  Family structure often crumbled under the weight of earning an adequate living in a capitalist society.  Families began to spend more “hours away from the security of family” due to work. Even children were expected to support the household by working. Families began to grow apart as independence and individuality flourished. Jewish communal organizations, Hebrew schools, and Yiddish theatre became part of the functional glue that held people together in a new way.

Louis Israelson (behind the counter) and his son Reuben and daughter Annetta in their family grocery store on Pennsylvania Avenue, c. 1929. Theirs was a typical small business, with all family members expected to pitch in. Courtesy of Glenda Goldberg and Susan Grott, CP 5.2012.1.

The Technology Revolution provides us with opportunities for business, employment, communication, improved health care and more.  Today’s definition of what constitutes a family has broadened to mean family by marriage or family by choice. Thankfully, children in America are now protected under child labor laws and educational requirements.  Even with all these advances we face new demands on our lives and time.

Once again, a wedge has been driven into family life. Our current dilemma is preserving time for the family in an age of of 24/7 connection to the work place. Working adults are expected to be available far beyond the traditional nine to five workday. Children are often, by necessity, in child care settings several hours before school starts and several hours after. Adults often spend more time each week interacting with colleagues, and children more time interacting within a composite peer group with few adults around. Once again, we find ourselves spending “hours away from the security of family.” When together, family members regularly sit in silence, with headphones on, focusing on hand-held devices or computer screens ­­–immersed in individual worlds.

In both periods we discover that freedoms can become limitations. We can learn from these 19th century stories the importance of developing a community that is built through meaningful activities, uplifting connections, and cultural events.

Join us, author Deb Weiner, and Baltimore’s own Gil Sandler at the Museum on Tuesday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m. to find out more!

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National Reading Month at Esther’s Place:

Posted on March 14th, 2018 by

Memoirs of a Jewish Baltimore childhood, courageous acts of rescue and escape, trailblazing women, and more!

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.

March is National Reading Month—a  celebration of the joy and importance of reading—and a great opportunity to explore some of the many great titles that we carry at the JMM Gift Shop, Esther’s Place, titles exploring topics ranging from Baltimore local and Jewish history, to Women’s Studies, to Holocaust Studies, as well as reference and general interest. We also carry several beautiful and engaging fiction titles for children that feature themes we celebrate at Esther’s Place such as memory, imagination, and of course, friendship and family in its many forms.

If you haven’t visited in a few months, you’ll find many new and exciting books perfect for gift giving or your personal library. At Esther’s Place, we truly have something for everyone—whether your tastes are historical, poignant, challenging, educational—or whimsical and fun.

One of our newest Baltimore Jewish history title is My Shtetl Baltimore by Eli W. Schlossberg. After reading just the first few lyrical chapters of this book, I was completely immersed in Mr. Schlossberg’s childhood world.

The book reads like a personal love letter to Baltimore and the tight-knit Jewish Orthodox community that made Baltimore feel like home for the author. The book feels like a joyful and nostalgic celebration of Baltimore Jewish life and I look forward to continuing through Mr. Schlossberg’s compilation of fond reminiscences of his upbringing and family in 1950s and 1960s Baltimore.

After journeying through Mr. Schlossberg’s memoirs, celebrate Women’s History Month (also this month) with a copy of Phoebe’s Fantasy: The Story of a Mafia Insider Who Helped Rescue Jazz. Phoebe Jacobs was a prominent publicist and fixer for many of the country’s pre-eminent African-American jazz musicians, including Baltimore’s own Eubie Blake. Jacobs uplifted both the artists and the industry of jazz through her ingenuity, singlemindedness, and empathy; according to author Hugh Wyatt, “she lived and dreamed jazz; [the] musicians were her heroines and heroes.” Pick up your copy to learn more.

After your vivid visit into the world of Phoebe Jacobs and the jazz industry, go on an epic journey of escape and rescue with Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of the beloved children’s book character Curious George.

The Reys were German Jews who fled Paris in 1940 on bicycle, taking with them their children’s book manuscripts. Though technically a young reader publication, The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden, illustrated by Allan Drummond (currently available at Esther’s Place) is a simple, beautiful, and captivating telling of the Reys’ story that effortlessly appeals to readers of all ages. Plus, it’s only $7.99 and filled with illustrations and reproductions of historic photos and documents. As I’m writing this post, we are down to our final copy of this popular title, but don’t worry, we’ll be ordering more soon!

As you continue your historical journey, consider spending time in the dangerous and heroic world of Jan Karski with paperback, Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust. We added this book to our Shop offerings as an accompaniment to the current (ending this month) temporary exhibit highlighting diplomats recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Though Karski’s story is not one of the nine featured in the exhibit by Yad Vashem, his story has a local significance because he spent his later years teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and is well remembered for his teaching work. His earlier years (and the subject of the book) were spent working for the Polish underground movement and undertaking heroic missions to alert the world to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Themes of survival and memory also abound in many of our other book offerings, such as Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt. This book is popular at Esther’s Place, likely due to its moving illustrations of embroidered panels and deeply personal story of author Esther’s Krinitz’s experiences during the Holocaust.

Also known for their beautiful illustrations are our many children’s titles by Baltimore-based author and illustrator Nancy Patz such as Babies Can’t Eat Kimchee (by Patz and Susan L. Roth)—a story about transition, anticipation, and imagination…when a baby sister comes along.

To create your own visual memories, pick up one or more of our new Story Lines books: Amazing Mom, Grandma is a Superhero, and Grandpa is Magical (we’ll soon have one that celebrates Dad too, but it’s currently on back order).

These books contain engaging stories with blank pages for the owner or gift giver to add accompanying illustrations (or even clippings and additional captions as one creative visitor suggested).

Another great option for recording your treasured memories is our new holiday find: No Seder Without You: Passover Past and Future by Joan Goldstein Parker (due into Esther’s Place very soon), which includes, in addition to the illustrations and author’s childhood memories, several blank pages for the owner to journal their own Passover Seder experiences.

If any of these books sound like your perfect National Reading Month project or gift, don’t delay in heading over to Esther’s Place to grab your copy. The books are available until sold—though of course—if you (our valued reading community) love the books we’ll absolutely order more. The books of Esther’s Place are vehicles of memory—both for remembering and elevating the many untold stories—and for finding, connecting, and recording your own.

And don’t forget to keep up to date on our upcoming book signings, including the release of new JMM book On Middle Ground in April, via our Events page.

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