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Checking out the Calvert Marine Museum

Posted on September 28th, 2020 by

Blog post by Program Assistant Laura Grant. To read more posts from Laura, click here.


Vacations this year feel very different. From new packing list items such as masks and wipes to planning activities with social distancing in mind, summer vacations in 2020 are certainly unique. Recently, I was fortunate to take a quick trip down to Solomons Island in Calvert County to explore the area, visit a few cultural attractions, and spend a lot of time hiking and walking around outdoors. One of my favorite stops was the Calvert Marine Museum, which featured an interesting presentation of pre-historic objects, marine life and natural history, and more contemporary history of the Chesapeake Bay. It was wonderful to visit a museum again after 6 months. Moreover, this museum was unlike the typical museums I frequent which tend to focus only on art, history, or science, and I wanted to share some of my highlights from the visit.

Standing outside the Museum

One of the first sections in the Museum is the biology gallery which feels like an aquarium with tanks showcasing the diversity of marine life found in the Chesapeake Bay. Nearby are exhibits dedicated to paleontology. Here, there are fossils from nearby at Calvert Cliffs (also worth a visit) dating back millions of years. One of the most striking fossils was of the Giant white shark, a 35 foot skeletal restoration that greets visitors as they turn the corner.

Menacing looking shark fossil

A large section of the Museum is dedicated to maritime history, as the region’s proximity to the water has been integral to its history. This section begins with artifacts relating to the Pawtuxunt Indians, the original inhabitants of the region, and continues over time detailing colonial settlement of the area, the success and then demise of the seafood industry, the impacts of World War II, recreational fishing and boating today, and contemporary environmental challenges the community is facing. The gallery contains several actual vessels, including a large sailboat in the middle.

Sailboat in the middle of the gallery

I particularly enjoyed seeing this time clock from the M. Davis and sons shipyard as it reminded me of the punch clock from our last exhibit, Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, that was used to keep track of workers’ hours as a precursor to modern time clocks.

Time clock

The Museum continues outdoors with an exhibit on boating, the Drum Point Lighthouse, which is no longer operating, and views of the waterfront. One of the last things visitors see before exiting the museum is a large mural completed by a local artist showcasing the different aspects of the Museum and life in the area. I think this mural encapsulates the spirit of the Museum and its mission of presenting the interconnectedness of life in the Chesapeake region between the people, the history, the culture, and the marine and natural life.

View of the Lighthouse

Mural by local artist

Ultimately, that was one my favorite part of the Museum, that I got to learn about so many different aspects of the local region all in one place. If you’re in the area, I recommend signing up for timed tickets and checking out this unique museum.

Me, by the lighthouse with my essential museum attire- a mask


 

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JMM Insights: The Oldest Synagogues, Part II

Posted on September 25th, 2020 by

In addition to host Sheilah Kast, and historian Jonathan Sarna, the evening will also feature cantorial musical selections and Jewish hymns of the mid-19th century, performed by Cantor Robbie Solomon, as well as original recordings from the 1964 rededication ceremony of the synagogue. As Marvin pointed out in this Jmore article, “This ceremony hadn’t been heard in about 50 years,” said Pinkert. “It was Gil Sandler’s recording of Lester Levy and other Jewish leaders at the dedication.”

As promised in last week’s edition of JMM Insights, we’re back to explore more of the oldest synagogues from around the world. You may remember our recent Jewish Museums Around the World series where we virtually visited Jewish museums in England, South Africa, and Australia. I thought these would be the perfect “first stops” on today’s look at historic synagogues!

Hobart Synagogue, c.1890 by the Pretyman Family. Courtesy of the Libraries Tasmania’s online collection.

Starting in the Antipodes, did you know the oldest surviving synagogue building in Australia is the same age as the Lloyd Street Synagogue? Well, technically we’re just a smidge younger – the Hobart Synagogue in Tasmania was consecrated on July 4, 1845 and LSS was dedicated on September 26. While LSS is designed in the Greek revival style, the Hobart Synagogue was built in the Egyptian revival style. The carvings, inscriptions, and details of the building emphasized the story of Exodus which resonated strongly with the Jewish population of the time, many of whom had arrived in Australia as convicts who struggled to win their freedom. You can learn more about the Hobart Synagogue here.

The “Old” Synagogue of Cape Town. Photo by Mervyn Saxe, courtesy of the Jewish Museum, image via.

Moving westward across the water we head to South Africa – Cape Town to be exact. There’s some similarities to us folks here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland as well – like the LSS, South Africa’s oldest purpose-built synagogue, St. John’s Street Synagogue, is part of the South African Jewish Museum campus, as is the Great Synagogue, which represents the oldest Jewish congregation in South Africa. I wonder how many other Jewish museums have two historic synagogues on their campuses? The St. John’s Street Synagogue, also know as the Old Synagogue, was consecration in 1863, and like the Hobart Synagogue of Australia, was built in the “Egyptian style.” You can take a virtual tour of the South African Jewish Museum here.

Outside gate of Bevis Marks, courtesy of Sephardi.org.uk.

Heading north, let’s move to the United Kingdom. The oldest synagogue in continuous use is the Bevis Marks Synagogue, built in 1701 in London, England! The Bevis Marks Synagogue was established by a Sephardic congregation and was built by a Quaker, Joseph Avis. The interior of the synagogue was modeled on the 1677 Amsterdam synagogue and the exterior architecture is similar to other “non-conformist chapels” of the time (that is, different from the prevailing Anglican Church style). Learn more about the history of Bevis Marks – including its two brushes with explosive damage – here. You might also enjoy this Open University Exploring Religion in London video on the Bevis Marks Synagogue.

The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, October 1955. Photo by Willem van de Poll, courtesy of the Netherlands National Archive.

Let’s jump over to the “new” world for our next few stops. Our next destination was recommended by JMM Insights reader David W.: the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Curaçao. Also known as the Snoa, this synagogue building was built in 1730 in the Dutch Colonial style. Similar to our own pink Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Curaçao Synagogue has a bright exterior – in their case a sunny yellow matching many of the surrounding buildings. Like the St. Thomas Synagogue, it also has a sand covered floor. Its interior is very similar to the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. Another connection to Baltimore, the “Monumental City”? Curaçao is known as an “Island of Monuments,” with over 860 protected monuments and historical sites!

The Synagogue of Congregation Emanu-El. Image via.

Traveling to cooler climes, lets’ check out Congregation Emanu-El, the oldest synagogue building still in use in Canada. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect John Wright, the synagogue was built in 1863 with a town-wide gala celebrating the laying of the cornerstones in a surprisingly socially inclusive way. Once again, we find parallels to the history of our own Lloyd Street Synagogue. To protect the building during an early-20th century decline, windows were blocked, the original exterior was covered with stucco, and a false ceiling was installed.  But starting in 1978, through the efforts of a group of volunteers (sound familiar?), the building was restored to its original appearance, a project completed in 1982.

Model of the Paradesi Synagogue at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum. Image via.

For our final two stops of this week we’ll head to the other side of the globe. Penultimate stop: India. The Paradesi Synagogue in South India is the oldest synagogue in India still in use (some older synagogue buildings still stand, including the Paravur Synagogue, built in 1615 ACE; the Chendamangalam Synagogue, built in 1614 ACE; and the Mala Synagogue, built in 1400, but like the Lloyd Street Synagogue serve as monuments and historic sites for visitors). The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 and was built by Sephardic Jews. The land the synagogue is built on was given to the Jewish community by the Rajah of Cochin and was literally next to his palace. One interior feature of note are the hand-painted porcelain tiles that pave the floor!

Entrance gate to the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue. Photo by Esme_Vos via Flickr.

Our final destination in this edition of JMM Insights takes us to Myanmar (once known as Burma). The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue is the oldest and only remaining synagogue in Myanmar. The current building replaced an original wooden structure in 1896. While the building was recently painted white, for most of its life it was sky-blue and pale yellow. At its peak, this synagogue housed 126 Torahs, but as the Jewish community left for new locales they took many with them, leaving only two remaining in the historic building. In 2008 the building lost its roof to Cyclone Nargis but thanks to funds by the US-ASEAN Business council, the building was restored and continues to be maintained as an important historic site and tourist destination.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this whirlwind tour of just some of the oldest synagogues around the world. Let us know if you’ve enjoyed this two-part series and would like to see future editions of JMM Insights on this topic.


 

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Reflections

Posted on September 24th, 2020 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here


We are in the season of the Jewish year when it is customary to reflect on our actions for good or ill in the twelve months prior. I find that this process is particularly intense for me this year, in part because of the impending conclusion of my eight+ years at JMM and my 32 years as a museum manager. While I am proud of many things I have helped enable my teams to accomplish, I am especially mindful of what I’ve failed in as a leader.

My personal reflections occur in the context of the very trying times we’re going through… I speak not only of the pandemic and its economic consequences but also the rising tides of antisemitism and race hatred. As it happens I attended webinars on both these topics at the end of August

For me, these discussions are really two sides of the same coin. The fight for human dignity embraces the struggle against prejudice towards both Jewish and Black people (as well as women, LGBTQ, immigrants and others who have been the objects of historic oppressions). In one instance our most important objective is to keep Anti-Jewish hatred from being normalized in the community around us; in the other, I would argue, the most important task is to address the vestiges of racial “othering” within our own tribe.

The difference is that while it is relatively easy for Jewish leaders to stand up and declare our own citizenship and humanity, to speak up for the fundamental humanity of our neighbors of color (both Jewish and non-Jewish) is fraught with complications.

1. It means acknowledging a certain degree of complicity both in historic events and contemporary disparities… it takes uncommon skill and courage to “correct” a major donor when they say that “Jewish slave owners were more kind to their slaves than gentiles” (I admit to failing this test).

2. It means threading the nuance between “racism” and “racist”… when a great friend of the Museum tells you that his wife is afraid to come with him to the Museum – but she’s no racist… it is finding a way to get them to understand that you don’t have to be a “racist” to hold prejudices which result in social harm (another test that I haven’t yet passed).

3. And perhaps, most difficult of all in our politically polarized world, it means being able to distinguish victim from victimizer. I think we all had similar visceral reactions to the President’s comments about Charlottesville… that there “were good people on both sides.” It wasn’t that we knew for a fact that no one carrying a tiki torch had cared for an elderly relative or rescued a stray cat or performed some other good deed. What we knew is that there was no moral equivalence between people trying to tear down Confederate monuments and those yelling “Jews will not replace us”. But what’s easy to spot in someone else’s house is harder to perceive in one’s own.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard the refrain with respect to antisemitism that “there are bad people on both sides.” Now I have no doubt that this is true, that there are purveyors of anti-Jewish hate on both the left and right. I don’t have access to an evil-meter to weigh the pronouncements of Steven Miller v. Louis Farrakhan. But I do know that though they both might echo slurs from the Protocols of Zion, the threat they pose to our community is not equivalent. One has enormous power and the levers of the state, the other is limited to the waxing and waning of his followers.

At this moment in time I think we should be able to distinguish between the type of rhetoric and lies that inspired the tragedies in Pittsburgh and Poway and the deplorable, but ultimately less damaging, insults in the remarks of a progressive Congresswoman. We should figure out a way to condemn both, but not condemn both equally. I am able to make a distinction between an officer (who is sworn to uphold the law and is armed at public expense) shooting a citizen in the back seven times, and an individual looting (stealing) under a cloak of social justice. Both are criminal acts, but the first also subverts the continuance of a democratic and civil society and merits more severe condemnation.

Genuine t’shuvah requires the penitent to undertake some concrete action to demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to change. So, I share my “al Chet” about my lack of courage in difficult discussions in the spirit of someone who acknowledges the price of silence and commits to remaining silent no more.

In my view, the real test of our anti-racism efforts lies in convincing the majority of the community that racism and antisemitism are kindred problems, and that equalizing blame for either, undermines our efforts on both fronts.


We invite you to join us for our special partner series with Chizuk Amuno Congregation,Jews of Color, Jewish Institutions, and Jewish Community in the Age of Black Lives Matterwhich kicks off on October 18, 2020 at 4:00pm with Who We Are: Identity and Diversity in Our Jewish Community.


 

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