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In the Shadows of Statues

Posted on May 28th, 2020 by

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


In May of 2019, I attended the annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums in New Orleans. One of the keynote speakers was Mitch Landrieu, the city’s mayor. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what he spoke about, but I must have been impressed, because I bought his book, In the Shadows of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History. I finally got around to reading it.

The book is part memoir, part manifesto.

Landrieu’s purposes is supposedly to recount the experience of deciding to and then executing the removal of Confederate statues in New Orleans on his watch. In the end, he writes on considerably more: He writes of his childhood and adolescence as the son of New Orleans’ Mayor, Moon Landrieu, a staunch fighter for civil rights. He recounts his time as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, and as mayor of New Orleans during the surge in gun violence that has overtaken the whole nation in the past five years. There is even a chapter devoted to tracing the parallels between David Duke’s rise to state-level office in Louisiana and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

Landrieu’s writing style is clear and digestible, and I found the text to be a pleasant read. He seems to have written the book to help convince other white southerners like himself that he made the right call in removing the statues. Regular readers of mine will not be surprised to learn that I am squarely in the choir for Landrieu’s sermonizing. Of course, DeRay McKesson (next on my TBR shelf) reminded me at the first annual Anti-Racism Book Festival last year that the best choir directors can teach you how to use your voice in ways you never thought possible.

I was surprised to find considerable time spent on the issue of gun violence and the disproportionate toll it takes in the African American community. Landrieu seems to come at the issue from a place of deep humanity–and with words that resonate with Jewish texts close to my heart. On page 144 Landrieu talks of “lives that deserved America’s promise.” Of those souls, cut short by gun violence, Landrieu echoes the verse that instructs “whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture accounts it as if he destroyed a whole world” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5) when he writes, “If it is true that one person can change the world, it must be true that the absence of so many must change it as well.” He goes on to tell stories of specific victims of violence during his tenure as mayor. The stories are heartbreaking, and as a reader I believe that Landrieu is heartbroken.

After the heartbreak, he goes on to tell us, “I firmly believe that this is a solvable problem if we treat gun violence as both a public safety issue and a public health crisis. We vaccinate people to thwart disease. Against gun violence, society is passive.” (p 148) And later, “This is a mental health issue, and the greatest moral issue in America today” (150). Landrieu does not avoid the racial reality of the epidemic of gun violence: “In most major cities, someone dies each day from a gunshot. The weapon of choice, most often a handgun; the victims and perpetrators disproportionately young African American men.” (150) He goes further, recognize the racism behind the racial reality:

“As former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter has so forcefully said, if a foreign enemy killed fifteen thousand American citizens, there would be hell to pay. If the Ku Klux Klan murdered thousands of young black men, this nation would be in an uproar. But for some reason we are hardened to domestic gun deaths and remain eerily silent. Maybe it is in slow motion–we refuse to hear it or see it because we place too little value on the lives of young, black men.” (150).

Lest we believe Landrieu’s words on gun violence and racism have nothing to do with his overarching story, Landrieu reminds us, “We must press on, share the agenda that the culture of homicides is evil and unacceptable, and resolve ourselves to changing it, however long it may take or incremental it may be. But to do so requires us to value every life. The monuments hover and tell a different story. The shadow these symbols cast is oppressive. It is in this broad context that people must now understand that the monuments and the reasons they were erected were intended not to affirm life but to deny life. And in that sense, the monuments in a way are murder.” (160).

In his crusade to wrest the Confederacy from the Cult of the Lost Cause (those who promoted the message “the South had fought a noble war, for honor and independence, and it would rise from defeat to rule by white supremacy” (40)), Landrieu asks the reader to think about the number six million. “Six million is the approximate number of human beings who were enslaved in our exceptional country until 1865. Six million. Look at it and say it again. You can see it. You can see them. These six million included men, women, children. Many of whom were beaten, raped, tortured.” (177)

I have read and written before about the analogy that asserts the Middle Passage and the institution of slavery is to people of African descent what the Holocaust is to Jews. Landrieu’s focus on the 6 million, especially as I read it in the season of Yom HaShoah, cemented that analogy for me. A few pages later Landrieu further underscored the comparison when he quotes “Richard Westmoreland, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, who said that Robert E. Lee was a great general but compared him to Erwin Rommel, the World War II German tank commander. There are no statues of Rommel in Germany, he continued, ‘They are ashamed. The question is, why aren’t we?’ Westmoreland said, ‘Make no mistake, slavery was the great sin of this nation.’” (185)

The strength of that comparison makes me wonder if antisemitism in Europe today is moving in the same way anti-black racism pervades the U.S., as what Landrieu calls “the ho-hum racism that eats through our country every day.” (187) If the two historical events are comparable, and I believe they are, one of the biggest differences is in their recency. Obviously the two are not apples-to-apples historical moments. Nevertheless, I find it chilling to think about the parallels. We are seven decades into a post-Holocaust world. The Cult of the Lost Cause began erecting monuments to the Confederacy between 50 and 75 years after the Civil War ended. Just as the Cult of the Lost Cause sought to re-write history, to sanitize the actions of the Confederacy.

In many ways, the cult succeeded. There are large numbers of people today who genuinely believe the Civil War was not fought over slavery (it was), or that slavery wasn’t “that bad” (slavery was and always will be inhuman, full stop). It took about the same amount of time for us to face those who would sanitize WWII, claiming the death camps didn’t exist, that the six million souls we lost are somehow fictions. Those deniers–of the Holocaust and of the sins of slavery and the Confederacy–they are still out there. They are actively spewing their hatred and using forms of terror to help propagate their evil. (If you doubt this truth, I ask you to think hard about the flags we saw displayed at some of the recent protests against COVID19 shelter in place orders: confederate flags with the silhouette of an automatic rifle and the words “Come and Take it.” If the symbolism in that image doesn’t frighten you, I guarantee you are neither of color, nor Jewish.)

As in most of the books that I read, in this text, I often underlined passages or made notes in the margin where there were moments I wanted to remember. After my chilling conclusions above, I want to close with one of those moments, that gives me some hope. Early in the book, Landrieu articulates one of those transformational moments that sets a person on an antiracist path: “I have often heard it said by elders that you can’t know how a man feels until you walk in his shoes. It has taken me the better part of forty years to find those shoes. This is what I have come to call transformative awareness. We are all capable of it; but we come kicking and screaming to a sudden shift in thinking about the past. To get there we have to acknowledge that we were inattentive, insensitive, myopic, or God forbid, hateful in our earlier view” (40).

This passage resonated with me because I had a similar moment of transformative awareness. That moment came to me–and Mitch Landrieu’s came to him–not because either of us is an exceptional human being. Rather, they came for each of us because, for whatever reason, in a particular place and a particular moment, we were truly open to being transformed. That openness is not easy to achieve. Nor is it predictable. But what Landrieu and I and many others like us prove is that it’s possible. And so long as change is possible, we must continue to strive for it. We must continue to tear down the monuments, both literal and figurative, that no longer represent who we want to be, and this monument-relocation must happen at the individual and at the societal level. Both are difficult. Both are essential. We must keep going.

May the time come soon and in our time when the only monuments we erect or revere in our minds and in our public spaces celebrate the beauty, the value, and the full humanity of all of us. Amen.


This post was originally published at bmoreincremental.com.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Recommendations from our Volunteers

Posted on May 27th, 2020 by

Recommendations from our Volunteers, collected by JMM Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis!


Reading

Maxine G, front desk volunteer, said she has been reading A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Parnell.

“It’s the true story about an American spy that helped win WWII, Virginia Hall. Virginia was born and raised in Baltimore. She went to Roland Park Country School and is buried at Druid Ridge Cemetery. Very interesting story of what one woman could accomplish.”

Rita P., docent, shared: “I am working my way through a 700-page biography of Golda Meir titled Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel by Francine Klagsbrun.”

Robyn H., docent, shared that she is reading Appalachian Trail hikers’ memoirs, including The Unlikely Thru-Hiker by Derick Lugo. “It’s a great book! And available on Amazon.”

Vera K., archives volunteer shared: “I am reading Abba Eban: A Biography by Asaf Siniver.

I find it very interesting, because it also tells about the early life of Palestine-Israel.”

Sarah L, docent, shared this book recommendation:  “Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. Novel.  A story of growing up in post-World War II York, England. Funny and touching.”

Ted C., docent, shared: “A book I read is Running Breathless by Morey Kogul. It is the true story of his father who barely escaped the Holocaust. He was about 18 when he was separated from his family in Poland and fled east into Russia, where he was conscripted into the Russian army. It is an amazing story of survival.”

Sarah L. docent, recommended reading Becoming Eve by Abby Stein. It is about a Hasidic man transitioning to live as a non-Orthodox woman.

David S., docent – “I’ve been reading Bill Graham Presents. My Life Inside Rock and Roll.

The book documents the life of Bill Graham who founded The Filmore concert halls and launched the careers of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Grateful Dead, and more. The book starts with an extensive account of Graham’s survival as an orphaned Jewish holocaust survivor who through intense determination became the quintessential icon of classic rock promotion.”

Laraine F., museum shop volunteer, shared:  “One book I actually got from the Jewish Museum when they were giving some things to take – The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning. (Amazon describes it as “a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all. A gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII”).  Another one I did like was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (which has been made into a movie).”

Helene G., docent, shared: “I just finished reading The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michigan. It’s nothing earth shattering, but charming, quick and an easy read about Buddhist philosophy.  Many chapters can be applied to how to deal with life at this time.”

Phil S., docent, shared: “I recommend a book that Robert Keehn highly recommended to me – These Truths, a History of the United States by Jill Lepore

It covers cultural and political developments from 1492 to the present that have shaped our current environment. Now that we all have a lot of time on our hands, readers will find getting through this 787-page book to be especially worthwhile.”

Sarah L, docent, shared: “A book that is for history enthusiasts (and World War II buffs in particular) is Appeasement by Tim Bouverie.  It is an account of the diplomatic path the English took of appeasement, led by their Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Also documented are the struggles of the anti-appeasers in government and Parliament including Winston Churchill.”

Bruce L., docent, shared “I read American Dirt (by Jeanine Cummins) a few weeks ago. It’s about a mother and son escaping from the drug cartels of Mexico. They headed at all costs for the safety of the USA. Very gripping, exciting story. Also reading The Hemingses of Monticello (by Annette Gordon-Reed).  Sally was the enslaved woman who bore Thomas Jefferson children. The book is interesting, I would recommend it to anyone with a strong historic interest.”

Bob B., docent shared: “Just finished Bastard Brigade by Sam Kean about our efforts to stop Hitler from getting the A Bomb.

Lots of interesting characters including the Jewish baseball player Moe Berg.  Now reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership In Turbulent Times. Very Needed today and very missed.”

Lola H., archive volunteer shared: “This is truly a fun read if one is interested in the subject: Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Save Me the Plums. The author, a former NY Times restaurant critic took the job and the risk of a lifetime – spending 10 years at Gourmet magazine which had inspired her at a very young age. As a fan of her books and restaurant reviews for many years, I truly enjoy Ruth’s storytelling abilities and how she turned Gourmet around from a stodgy, dying magazine to a more relevant one.  She brought in many interesting characters as staff members which contributed to the book being a fun read!”

Karen R., docent, recommended The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.

“It is a work of historical fiction with a Jewish angle. It is based on the story of a Jewish woman from the Virgin Islands who was the mother of the artist, Camille Pissarro. She also shared “We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. It was written by a woman who discovered that she was a descendant of holocaust survivors. The book tells the story of her family’s “escape.””

Helene G., docent shared: “I’m rereading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Actually, I’m listening to it from the library. When I read it the first time, years ago, I loved it so I recommend it to my Hadassah Book Group. Since I’ll be leading the group, I figured I’d better reread it. It’s every bit as good the second time around. The story is based on the imagined events surrounding the protagonist and real historical past of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest surviving Jewish illuminated texts. Fascinating. A real page turner.”

Harvey K., docent shared: “I highly recommend a book titled Father, Son, Stone by a local author named Allan H. Goodman.  It is historical fiction but tells a very good story based on very real events and years of research by the author.”


Watching

Volunteers came through with a number of Netflix television series!

Sarah L., docent, shared: “Right now, I’m into Anne with an E on Netflix. Very good, sensitive; a solid period drama with several seasons available.”

Maxine G, front desk volunteer, shared the Kominsky Method. “Very cute and really hits home for us of a certain age!”

Sarah L, docent, shared: “I want to recommend Fauda … basically is about an Israeli undercover unit operating against terrorists. There’s a lot of personal stuff going on, including romantic interests.”

Laraine F., gift shop volunteer, shared: “Just finished watching Black Money Love – 164 episodes!!!! I persevered. My son recommended Kim’s Convenience, a funny show about a Korean man who owns a convenience store and his family.”

Karen R., docent shared: “Steve and I have been watching The Crown.  We are really enjoying it and I would highly recommend it if there is anyone who hasn’t seen it yet (we are a little behind). It makes you almost feel like you “know” the British royal family.”

We’ve got two recommendations for the Amazon Prime series Srugim, from Harvey K., docent, and Roberta G., front desk volunteer and board member.

Roberta describes it as “watching the young adult Orthodox version of Friends without the comedy” and Harvey says it’s “very entertaining and presents some interesting questions at the same time.”

Laraine F., gift shop volunteer, recommended The Last Word, a “really cute movie on HULU with Shirley McLaine.”

Wendy D., volunteer, has two recommendations:

The film “Molly’s Game,”  based on an autobiographical novel by Molly Bloom who was arrested for running high stakes poker games, which she found “entertaining and far different from the who-dun-it and war movies that seem to be proliferating” and ESPN’s The Last Dance series, a 2020 American sports documentary miniseries about the career of Michael Jordan, with particular focus on the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls season.

Ted C., docent, recommend “The Plot Against America” on HBO, an alternative history series that asks what might have happened if Charles Lindbergh, an anti-Semite and admirer of the Nazis, had defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. He found it “very disturbing and thought provoking.”


Local

I love that some of our volunteers have shared a variety of local online arts and culture experiences!

Shelly M., front desk volunteer, shared Chesapeake Shakespeare’s new video series PAST IS PROLOGUE, where each week their Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar highlights stories and reflections from some of the world’s leading Shakespeare artists, educators, and fans, which they are sharing on their YouTube channel.

Shelly M., along with Roberta G. (both front desk volunteers), shared that all three of Baltimore’s independent movie theaters, The Charles, The Senator, and The Parkway, are offering streaming movies!

Wendy D., volunteer coordinator, shared the Baltimore Heritage “Five Minute Histories” series. Her favorites thus far have been on the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the McKim Free School & Old Town Friends’ Meeting House.

You might also want to check out the virtual offerings from our fellow Baltimore museums like the Baltimore Museum of Industry, The Walters Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. (After you’ve explored all of JMM’s virtual offerings, of course!)


Shorties: Beautiful, Funny, and (mostly) Fast

Vera K, archive volunteer, shared this delightful video of birds performing Mozart.  Don’t miss looking at the credits!

Maxine G., front desk volunteer, shared this giggle-worthy “Baltimore Hon” video:

David S., docent, shared that his wife Judith recently retired after a 30-year career of social work with Baltimore County Department of Social Services and that the Baltimore Sun recently published her op-ed thanking child welfare workers stepping up and taking risks during these difficult times.

We’ve got a number of recommendations for Musical-related videos, including two different Fiddler on the Roof parodies!

From Roberta G, front desk volunteer, we get this clever take on “Tradition:”

And from Howard D. docent, we get a parody on “Matchmaker, Matchmaker:”

Howard also shared this clever musical video variation on Les Misérables:

This one is more of a full-length feature; Phil S., docent, shared this tribute to the works of Sondheim:

Nancy K., docent sent this link for Hativah being song around the world. And a bonus read from Bruce L., docent, about a young violinist playing Hatikvah.

Howard D., docent, shared a sweet video called The Great Realization, a “bedtime story of how it started, and why hindsight’s 2020”:

Lola H., archive volunteer and board member, shared this wonderful video from the Juilliard School:

And from Wendy herself, give yourself a good belly laugh with this comedian talking about his Bubbe’s speeding experience.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




What We’re Reading: Rachel Kassman

Posted on May 27th, 2020 by

Blog post by Development and Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. To read more posts from Rachel, click here.


Y’all – it’s time to come clean: I’m a reader. I read a lot.

From daily blogs (like Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward, Wardrobe Oxygen, and The Financial Diet) to various museum blogs (like Leadership Matters and Collen Dilenschneider) to many random articles posted by friends, family, and colleagues on social media. Frankly, I have a problem when it comes to reading – but especially when it comes to books.

Once I pick up a book or turn on my e-reader, I find it almost impossible to stop until I’ve reached the end (or I’ve quit – sometimes you and a book are just not a match made in library heaven!). This means I have to be very careful about when I pick up a book (case in point: this week’s multiple 2-and-a-half hours-past-my-bedtime bedtimes because I just had to finish Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and Sarah Gailley’s Magic for Liars before turning off the light). I also have a tendency to stick to buying new books from favorite authors (Seanan Mcguire! Neil Gaiman! Lois McMaster Bujold! Tanya Huff!), often re-read the books on my home shelves, and sometimes steal the books my housemates are currently reading (like Tom Rademacher’s It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching. Sorry Brent. At least I didn’t lose your bookmark?) The common factor is ease – tried & true authors who I know I will love, and books that are already at hand. But I’ve been trying to break out of this lazy book selection method and support new authors by acquiring new books.

Which is where the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club comes in.

Remember those blogs I mentioned? One big one is The Bloggess, written by Jenny Lawson (also one of my favorite authors – and be careful with that link, the language isn’t always safe for work!). This spring she was slated to open her very own bookstore in San Antonio, TX. In preparation, she decided to reach out to her online community and start an internet book club. Which was remarkably prescient, as once this pandemic hit, it was clear that the shop’s physical opening would be delayed. Thankfully, enough of us internet weirdos signed up to receive a book (selected by Jenny herself) each month to keep the bills paid – in fact, because so many people joined, a book that was about to have its publication date pushed back got printed in time instead, because it had been chosen for the book club (I think that’s pretty cool, and helps remind me how much of a difference one person can make, when they reach out to other people)!

I’ve honestly been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve gotten so far!

It started with the darkly fantastic Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford, followed by the non-fiction biography of Edward Oscar Heinrich, American Sherlock: Murder Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI (and after reading Paige’s bit about the Nutshell Studies, I’m popping this one in the mail to her!). March’s book was We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, a fictional sports story unlike any I’ve read before (seriously – if you had asked me last year if I would ever read a fictional book about a Massachusetts’s high school girls’ lacrosse team? Seemed unlikely. Then again, once you add a deal with the devil, turns out I’m 100% on board with the story). The tone lightened up in April with Samantha Irby’s autobiographical essays in Wow, No Thank You and this month we were back to the dark and weird with Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas. The club has also started recommending additional books each month, which is how I bought a copy of the creepy, yellow-wallpaper-esque horror book The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (which was quickly followed by borrowing an e-book copy of his newest book Horrorstör- a knock-off Ikea turned haunted house? Yep, I’m in).

What I’m trying to say, is if you like weird, quirky, unexpected books – and the idea of being in a giant, virtual book club where you don’t actually have to talk to anybody unless you want to? You might want to check out the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club. Also, find me on Goodreads! Let’s be book-friends.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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