Compared to What?

Posted on July 13th, 2016 by

It goes without saying that America has had more glorious “4th of July” weeks than in 2016.  Rather than fireworks, our eyes were riveted on gunfire – grisly videos of both citizens and police under attack.  In the midst of this cauldron of hatred and fear we lost two major voices that had railed against silence in the presence of inhumanity: Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist, Sydney Schanberg.  It only compounded our sense of loss.

I noticed that the events of the last ten days have also sent people scrambling for historic comparisons.  I have seen articles in several major media sites comparing current events to those of the late 60s.  For me this isn’t a historic era, but rather part of my lived experience.  I chose to escape the constant drumbeat of awful news for an hour going into the basement to sort through my memorabilia from college.  Among the posters for anti-war rallies and flyers for protests of every kind I ran across a school newspaper from my freshman year at GW.  It’s banner headline screamed of the violence that came to campus 45 years ago.  My recollection is that I locked myself in my room, covered my windows with masking tape, and still found myself coughing from tear gas after our dorm was subjected to gas canisters dropped from helicopters.

The Hatchet

The Hatchet

But in shuffling through the papers I also discovered another unexpected (and timely) perspective.

In all the chaos of the last week, the passing of Judge Abner Mikva on July 4 received modest coverage.  But for me it was a significant event.

Readers of my blog posts know that I grew up on the South Side of Chicago at a time when Mayor Daley (the first Mayor Daley) and the “machine” ran not only the city itself but all political representation of the city.  Chicago may be the “second city”, but it takes a backseat to no one in the category of political corruption.  In the 1960’s we were represented in Congress by Barratt O’Hara – a machine politician who was a Spanish-American War veteran and who had served as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois during WWI.  There is nothing like a first political infatuation and at age 14 I went door-to-door for Abner Mikva as he attempted to fight the machine.

Mikva lost.  But in a rising tide of anti-Vietnam War sentiment, he finally made it into office in 1968 and when I entered college at George Washington University I went to Capitol Hill to volunteer.  They assigned me to the addressograph machine – an essential tool in the era before mail merge software.   The job itself was not that exciting but I spent a fair amount of my free time pursuing my interests as a political junkie – running from office to office collecting signatures of the famous legislators of my youth.

As I grew older, I lost much of my ardor for political activism but I continued to admire Congressman and then Judge Mikva from a distance.  Mikva eventually became Chief Judge of DC Court of Appeals in the 1990s (the position now held by my classmate Merrick Garland).  He would encourage a young man named Barack Obama to enter politics and eventually receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievements.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

So there in the box with my political autograph collection (including Eugene McCarthy’s on the back of a hastily grabbed West Point application) – I found this newsletter from Abner Mikva directed at high school students.  I may have saved this from my days working the addressograph machine.

The newsletter's final paragraph.

The newsletter’s final paragraph.

I turned to the back page and my jaw dropped.  It reminded me that 45 years ago when many of thought our nation was doomed and the future had never been darker – we were wrong and Abner Mikva was right: “compared to what?”

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Digging into the excavations of the past

Posted on July 12th, 2016 by

Being of an archaeological background, I’ve been itching to work with the JMM’s archaeological collections since I got here. I finally got my chance; for the last few weeks I was working on writing a draft of a finding aid for the collections. This aid will help researchers who wish to study the archaeological projects that have taken place at the Lloyd Street Synagogue. The project started as any good project does, by researching, looking through the Museum’s records and making note of all the materials relating to archaeology the Museum has. I found that there are four recorded and variously documented dig seasons that took place in the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue between 2000 and 2010. The purpose of the LSS digs was to date and preserve key features in the basement, particularly the mikvehs and the matzoh oven. The first season was a Phase I study, meaning it was mostly a surface study, with minimal excavations. The other three seasons where Phase II studies, meaning there was more involved excavations, resulting in more material from those seasons. Feeling fairly familiar with the written materials and what years the excavations had taken place I was able to look at the artifact collections and familiarize myself with how they are cataloged in the Museum’s catalog system.

Pot sherd from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, LSS 1341.117.004

Pot sherd from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, LSS 1341.117.004

I cataloged some of the artifacts that had not been fully processed, giving me a good sense of the general condition and scope of the archaeological finds in the collection. I feel looking at archaeological artifacts offers some unique challenges that other historical objects don’t possess. Firstly, you are often times looking at an incomplete object, or fragments of objects. I had very little information to tell me what vessels pot sherds may have belonged to, and even less with glass sherds. Also the passage of time effects objects differently when they are buried for an extended period of time. Some materials like painted pottery, may benefit from this passage, as they are not exposed to light and the paint can’t fade; other materials don’t fare so well, like organic material (wood, most fabrics and paper) which often deteriorates completely, or metal which gets corroded and rusted easily by moisture and acidity in soils. There were several times when cataloging when I was not sure what I was looking at, especially when it came to metal objects.

A selection of Lloyd Street Synagogue oyster shells.

A selection of Lloyd Street Synagogue oyster shells.

One question that keeps bugging me is why there were oyster shells found in the Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS). Shell fish is not kosher, so oyster shells seem a bit out of place in a synagogue. The shells also do not have any decoration on them. While we are close to the inner harbor, I don’t believe shells would be deposited here by natural means. The LSS did house a Christian congregation at one time, and was a reform synagogue for another chapter of its history. Perhaps the shells coincide with one of these periods of time, where the laws of kosher may not have been as heavily enforced.

Archaeological material is most valuable in its context. Based off where the artifacts, such as the oyster shells were found and what items were around it, possible dates of levels of the excavation and the events that took place at a site can be determined. In this manner the material culture creates and aids the telling of history. This being the case when forming the finding aid I made sure that artifacts could easily be associated with their field report and any field notes that could be found. After knowing what was in the collection I was able to compile the research I had done into a format that I hope will help future researchers easily find the materials they need.

06.06.2016 Interns (20)Blog post by Collections Intern Tamara Schlossenberg. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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Once Upon a Time…11.13.2015

Posted on July 12th, 2016 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

1993159158Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  November 13, 2015

 

PastPerfect Accession #:  1993.159.158

 

Status:  Partially Identified! Attendees enjoy a Jewish Armed Services event, circa 1950: seated: Gertrude Layton.  To her left is possibly her son Marshall Layton

 

Special Thanks To: Honey Litman

 

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