Semitic Cinematics: An Intern’s Discoveries at the JMM

Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by

Hello! Ben Israel here. This winter, I am the Collections intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, but I have another responsibility as well… I am conducting research on a new exhibit coming to the museum this summer called “Cinema Judaica.”

Caption: The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

“Cinema Judaica” is a traveling exhibit that sheds light on how public perceptions of Jewish issues, from American isolationism in World War II to the State of Israel, were impacted by Hollywood movies. So, you might ask, why are you conducting research if the exhibit is already put together? Good question. My job is to connect the films detailed in this exhibit with Jewish life in Maryland.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak's Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

One of the primary sources I have been using is the Baltimore Jewish Times. Luckily for me, the JMM has bound copies of nearly every issue of the newspaper from the 1920s to the present day. I’ve been flipping through these old papers looking for anything I can find that relates to the exhibit. The research is slow going. By the time you read this I will likely have gotten up to the end of WWII. It’s a lot tougher than you might think too. My main problem is that I have three levels of constraint in what I am looking for:

1. Articles and advertisements should relate to Hollywood films.

2. Articles and advertisements should relate to Baltimore, or the greater Maryland area.

3. Articles and advertisements should focus on Jewish reaction to films or highlight Jewish issues.

Even in a Maryland-based Jewish newspaper, this is a very limiting scope when searching for information. Thankfully, I have learned some things about Jewish Maryland, and its reactions to Hollywood. One of the most prominent was the existence of the Schanze (later, the Cinema) theater at 2426 Pennsylvania Ave.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

From what I have come to understand, this theater was a bastion of Yiddish cinema at a time when Jewish films were a relative rarity because of the emphasis on isolationism.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

The theater is also notable for another reason. Soviet film buffs (like myself) will be pleased to learn that the Baltimore premieres of both Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Grigori Aleksandrov’s Volga-Volga, sometimes said to be Stalin’s favorite film. occurred at the Schanze/Cinema theater.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Volga-Volga is of particular note as it was incredibly unusual for a Stalinist musical comedy to reach American soil, let alone at a time before the two countries were officially allied against the Axis. One must wonder why the owners of the Schanze/Cinema chose to present these particular films, but that is work for another research project…

I adore film history, and this opportunity to look into local Maryland film history has been very enlightening. At this point in time, I have no idea how my research will be incorporated into the final exhibit. I can only hope that when you come to see “Cinema Judaica” this summer, you will find the subject matter as engaging as I have.

Ben IsraelThis is Ben Israel, signing off.

You can read more posts from JMM interns HERE.

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JMM Insights: Community Arts at the JMM

Posted on February 20th, 2015 by

ilene

This month’s JMM Insights is brought you by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon and focuses on some exciting upcoming displays and events here at the Museum.

Spring is just around the corner- and soon more people will be “out and about” to see what is going on in their neighborhoods after  a very cold winter.  This spring, the JMM should be one of your first stops to see just what is happening around town when we exhibit some community arts projects done by students and young adults around town.  The JMM is an institution that fosters discovery, community dialogue, discourse and creativity, and our Museum provides a perfect setting to display local community  artwork.

CHAI Photog exhibit Sept 3, 2014-1041

The Girl’s Photography Project

In late February, The Girl’s Diversity Photography Project will be on display at the JMM with a reception taking place on Sunday, March 1st from 2-4:00 p.m.  The exhibit features 33 photos that capture intimate interactions and daily snapshots between 15 African American and Orthodox Jewish girls from Northwest Baltimore.  The exhibition was sponsored by CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., in partnership with Wide Angle Media., The project is part of CHAI’s (Comprehesive Housing Assistance) – Community Conversation Series and the project was designed to destroy stereotypes and foster respect between the two diverse groups. The girls participated in a series of workshops, including photography lessons,  that enabled them to learn about each other’s perspectives and life experiences.

my Family Story

Following the Girl’s Diversity Photography Project, eighth grade students from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School will exhibit their works in connection with an exciting education initiative, My Family Story.   This initiative in partnership with  The International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies (ISJPS) at Beit Hatfutsot – The Diaspora Museum located in Tel Aviv  is intended to be a meaningful, experiential, and multigenerational Jewish heritage program  that has been generating excitement and interest in Jewish family legacies over the past 20 years.

Beit Hatfutsot designed My Family Story to counteract the trend of Jewish indifference impacting the younger generation.  This international program was launched as means of encouraging students to research and present their family stories and explore their collective Jewish history.  Students make significant discoveries about who they are and where their families have come from as they learn about historical events that have affected their families and discover how they are connected to a larger community.  Students and their families explore their family roots in depth going beyond the development of the typical family tree.  It connects the younger generation to personal stories, family stories and the story of the Jewish people.  The exploration culminates in an artistic installation created by the student to represent their own family’s personal history.

As part of the installation, each students write artist statements about their creative works based on their independent exploration. Through their participation in the program, students are empowered to creatively “tie together” their new found discoveries using art as the medium of expression.

Support from the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund for Jewish Education has allowed the JMM to bring My Family Story to the Baltimore Jewish community.   In 2014 more than 12,000 students from Israel, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Canada and the United States participated in the program.  Participation in the program is only available through educational institutions and community centers. Beginning this spring, Baltimore Jewish families will be represented for the first time.

With the help of Beth Tfiloh’s creative teachers, Mrs. Liz Shrier, Mrs. Shelly Spector along with the incredibly talented Arts department, students have been working hard throughout the school year.  On the evening of Thursday, March 12, 2015, the students will celebrate their work and the My Family Story exhibition at a private reception. The works will be on display through Monday, March 16th.  Following the evening, two displays will be chosen to represent the school and those projects will be sent to Beit Hatfutsot according to their guidelines.  In mid-May, Beit Hatfutsot will notify the international winners and those students will be flown to Israel to participate in the official My Family Story ceremony and official events that take place later in June.

making art

Creating Braille Art

After celebrating the students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, the JMM will exhibit Learning Your Letters: Braille Art.  This exhibition, presented by the JMM and the Braille Art Gallery, features braille drawings of artists of all ages and all abilities, to promote braille literacy.  The exhibit will be open to the public in the lobby of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, from April 15, 2015, through May 3, 2015.  A reception will be held on Sunday, May 3, 2015 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.

Be sure to make your way to the JMM this spring to see what’s happening in our community and to celebrate the creativity of our youth.  If you have any questions, about any of these exciting programs, please contact the JMM’s Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, idackmanalon@jewishmuseummmd.org or 410.732.6400 x214.

 

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National History Day and the JMM Judge

Posted on February 19th, 2015 by

NHD logoFor the second consecutive year, the JMM education department was invited to participate as judges at various school-level competitions for National History Day. For those of you who don’t know, National History Day (NHD) is a lot like a science fair, but for history. According to its website over half a million elementary and middle school students participate in the competition each year. Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research an historic topic that fits each year’s theme. They can then present that topic in a number of ways: an exhibit (the classic trifold), a poster, a website, or even a theatrical/dance presentation. A winner is chosen from each participating school, who then goes onto regional competitions, and then finally, the national competition, which is held each year at University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

The contest encourages students to develop not just research skills, but also critical thinking and presentation skills. I think it’s a wonderful idea for getting kids excited about history—since they get to choose their own topics—and to practice or be introduced to these crucial skills that are often skimmed over in schools that are strapped for resources and time.

Similar to last year, JMM was invited to judge at several of our partner schools, including Morrell Park and Mount Washington Middle. We are truly honored that these schools consider us to be such an important part of their communities!

Last year, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I both participated as judges in the Mount Washington Middle School contest, but this year, Morrell Park’s conflicted with it, so we divided to conquer. She went to Morrell Park, and I went to Mount Washington.

Being a veteran judge was helpful this time around. I remembered that I’d run out of space to write my notes last year, and so I made sure to have some spare paper to write on. The teachers at Mount Washington also found their experiences from last year to be helpful because they announced some organizational changes this year that definitely helped make things go a bit smoother. For example, this year, instead of being assigned to judge several different types of presentations in different rooms, my team of three judges was assigned to judge only exhibitions which were all housed in the gym.

Theme Book CoverIt was clear that the school had made an effort to reach out to all kinds of community partners for the event, which was great to see. Just in my little team, we had an educator from the Maryland Historical Society as well as the Director of Programs at the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL).

As always, I had a great time seeing what these students could accomplish! The year’s theme was “Leadership & Legacy”, and there were even a few students who decided to be very creative with that theme. One in particular stood out because the group decided to research McDonald’s as an example of bad leadership and legacy! Their project detailed how McDonald’s was a leader in the fast food industry by peddling cheap and very unhealthy food, which in turn was affecting the national childhood obesity rate. I was impressed with their ability to look at varied sources and to create a supportable, but still interesting, argument.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in my duties as a judge (it’s not easy!) that I completely neglected to take pictures!

abby krolik A blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

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