On Religious Liberty

Posted on September 27th, 2018 by

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

I recently had a conversation about the separation of church and state with an acquaintance.

 I was telling him about the voter pledge cards that we’re using at the Museum and at my congregation, Baltimore Hebrew, and several other synagogues, churches, and now a mosque, throughout the region. This acquaintance of mine was surprised at the use of the cards. He wondered aloud if we should be engaging in such activities. He asked me if we weren’t crossing the line between church and state. At the time I told him “the separation of church and state means that the state can’t tell you how to church. It doesn’t mean the church has to pretend the state doesn’t exist.” I assured him that as long as we—either the congregation or the Museum—are ensuring that we are not telling people for whom to vote, only that they should vote for the candidate(s) of their choice, we are completely within the bounds of what we may do as non-profits. What I didn’t get into with him at the time is that not only are the 501(c)3 designations safe, we are tying into a long history of Jewish congregations and organizations celebrating and bolstering American democracy.  

These high holy days, I was reminded of that long tradition and decided to explore it. As I sat and stood and sat and stood beside my mother in the sanctuary that has been my religious home my entire life, one prayer stood out to me this year.  

“We pray for all who hold positions of leadership and responsibility in our national life. Let Your blessing rest upon them, and make them responsive to Your will, so that our nation may be to the world an example of justice and compassion. 

Deepen our love for our country and our desire to serve it. Strengthen our power of self-sacrifice for our nation’s welfare. Teach us to uphold its good name by our own right conduct.  

Cause us to see clearly that the well-being of our nation is in the hands of all its citizens; imbue us with zeal for the cause of liberty in our own land and in all lands; and help us always to keep our homes safe from affliction, strife, and war. Amen.” 

(This is from the older Reform Machzor, though there is a version of it in the Mishkan Tefillah, the prayerbooks adopted by the Reform movement over the past several years.) 

Not only did the synagogue (church) not pretend there was no state, we integrated a prayer for the state’s well-being into the liturgy of our holiest day. Like I said before, separation of church and state doesn’t mean non-acknowledgment between them.   

In the few days in the office between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I found myself gazing at my framed copy of the “See America” poster of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. (I’ve written about the development of this poster before.) As I re-read the information on the poster about the creation of the LSS, it got me to thinking about the history of the Jewish participation in the American experiment, and, necessarily, that led me to the phrase “religious freedom.”  

The poster says, “The Baltimore Jewish community built its first synagogue in 1845. Made possible by the 1826 Maryland Jew Bill, the building stands as a reminder that the thread of religious freedom is woven into the fabric of the city, the state, and the United States.”

In the same way that “church and state” seemed to have morphed for this acquaintance of mine, it seems to me that “religious freedom” no longer means what it once did.  

Today, it seems “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” is used as an excuse to descriminate. But for my—and many of your—ancestors, “religious freedom” was the opposite of discrimination. It was the ticket to full Jewish participation in their new, American home.  

This was made very clear when we published our booklet “The ‘Maryland Jew Bill’ And the Struggle For Equal Treatment Under the Law.” While Amending America was here, we created this facsimile of many pages of our artifact, the 1819 pamphlet “Sketch of Proceedings in the Legislature of Maryland, December Session, 1818, on what is commonly called The Jew Bill.”

While working on that pamphlet, I read several early nineteenth-century essays in defense of religious freedom. The essayists included no less than Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and the arguments suggested that the Enlightenment ideal of religious liberty insists that Jews should not be prohibited from full participation in our democratic process because of their religion. It was a non-Jew’s commitment to this ideal that led to the passage of what is known as the Jew bill here in Maryland. That legislation allowed, for the first time, Jews to hold public office— a role that had previously been unavailable due to the requirement of a Christian oath for public office.  

Let me repeat that: religious freedom demanded of nineteenth-century Americans that Jews not be prohibited from full participation in our democracy. In case you doubt the importance of that concept to our Jewish American foremothers and forefathers, I’d like to share this image:

This discovery of mine may be very familiar to any of you who grew up in a Reform Jewish home. This page spread is near the back of the Union Haggadah Revised—the Passover Haggadah published by the Reform movement in the 1923.

I recently came upon the page and was fascinated by this statue of religious liberty, paired as it was with the lyrics to America. The pedestal says “Religious Liberty. Dedicated to the People of the United States of America by the Order B’nai Brith and Israelites of America.” The figure appears to be a female warrior, sheltering a young boy and accompanied by an eagle. With a little research I realized I’d seen the statue before, as it is now in front of National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. I further learned that this Lady Liberty holds the U.S. Constitution in her left hand, and the boy she protects carries a lantern representing religion. The eagle at her feet is clutching a serpent in its talons—a metaphor for democracy defeating tyranny. She was installed on Thanksgiving day 1876 as part of the commemoration of the country’s centennial.  

With all of these historic ideals, symbols, and realities of “religious freedom” resonating in my mind, contemporary news stories seem to be assaulting and insulting this Lady Liberty I never realized I knew.  

I recently saw an article about the baker at the center of the cake religious liberty case. For those of you who may have missed it, a commercial baker in Colorado refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The couple sued. The case went to the Supreme Court, and the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights commission showed hostility to the baker based on his religious beliefs, since the baker claimed religious freedom was the reason he had chosen not to make the cake. Fairly recently, I saw that the same baker had again refused to bake a cake, this time for a transgender woman, once again claiming religious freedom as his defense.  

Especially now, as we celebrate Sukkot, that festival of radical hospitality, I pray the Religious Liberty our co-religionists put on a pedestal is returned to her former glory. She was the protector of the stranger, the guardian of the rights of citizenship and civil society. I do not believe she would take up arms to protect anyone’s right to refuse to interact with those who do not share their religious beliefs.  

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Vendor Spotlight: Artist Nancy Patz

Posted on September 27th, 2018 by

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

As my September blog contribution, I’m delighted to feature a longtime Gift Shop vendor and JMM collaborator: Baltimore artist, illustrator, and children’s book author Nancy Patz. Many of Nancy’s popular children’s books are available at Esther’s Place Gift Shop, including To Annabella Pelican from Thomas Hippopotamus, Sarah Bear & Sweet Sidney and her newest offering, The Elephant with a Knot in His Trunk, written with Dr. Stuart Sheer.

Patz is a Baltimore native who went to Forest Park and Goucher before graduating from Stanford University. Her paintings and drawings have been featured in exhibits at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Peale Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art and numerous galleries, and she often speaks to school groups and teachers on the art of the picture book. Patz is the mother of two wonderful daughters and six “absolutely terrific” grandchildren.

Patz with copies of her latest children’s book, The Elephant with a Knot in His Trunk, written with Dr. Stuart Sheer. Elephant is available for sale at Esther’s Place.

I suggested a few questions that Nancy might respond to, and she eagerly accepted the opportunity to share about her current project, an exhibit about memory and loss soon to be displayed as a part of Reimagine End of Life—a weeklong, community-driven program in New York City exploring questions about life and death. These events will be held October 27 to November 3, 2018.

Nancy’s current project has its roots in a 2010 Jewish Museum of Maryland exhibition called Nancy Patz: Her Inward Eye.

Nancy shared:

“Now, eight years later, paintings, drawings, and poems from the section called Remembering My Mother have been brought up from my basement, unwrapped, re-curated, re-wrapped and will be exhibited in New York in October.

My mother, Fanny Jonas Patz, died of cancer in 1947. She was 41. It took me almost 50 years to begin to write and paint her back into my life. I wrote poems about her. I drew her portrait from old photographs, painting in different mediums and different styles. Sometimes I wrote poems on the drawings. Sometimes I drew drawings on the poems.

I cherished this sad, happy, bittersweet experience, and I returned to it again and again for more than 15 years, as I re-imagined my mother and the part she played in my early life. My new exhibit, now called All About My Mother, is one of more than 250 events in which collaborators will explore the subject of death and celebrate life from many perspectives.

Mother and Me: Strathmore Ave. by Nancy Patz, from her upcoming show All About My Mother.

On the evening of October 31, Rabbi Elana Zaiman and I will walk through my exhibit, discussing with each other and with visitors Remembering the Dead and the Living: Sharing Their Stories and Ours. (FYI, Rabbi Zaiman is the daughter of Rabbi Joel and Ann Zaiman – a lovely unexpected Baltimore connection!)

It pleases me deeply that this meaningful part of my original JMM exhibit will be seen again. The moment also gives me a chance to lift my glass once more in praise of JMM’s former Associate Director Anita Kassof, former Curator Karen Falk, Director of Learning and Visitor Experience Ilene Dackman-Alon, former Deputy Director Deborah Cardin, and the rest of the incredible JMM Team for their expertise in creating that original exhibit years ago.”

Thank you so much to Nancy for sharing this update. Nancy Patz’s children’s books are a staple at Esther’s Place, where we love their themes of friendship, adventure, acceptance, and self-discovery as well as their memorable illustrations. We also carry two adult books by Patz—18 Stones (co-authored by Susan L. Roth) and Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat? Both offer thought-provoking and poignantly imagined Holocaust stories that address themes of connection and loss.

Stop by Esther’s Place today and pick up a Nancy Patz book! Each one is a vibrant celebration of storytelling and the creative place where imagination and memory meet. Patz’s books make a perfect gift for a loved one—young or old.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Postcards for Paige: Fall 2018

Posted on September 21st, 2018 by

Welcome to the third edition of our quarterly feature, “Postcards for Paige,” giving us a chance to answer commonly asked questions about how to make the most out of your visit to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

(All the answers are real, the postcards are dubious… but these days, who knows?)

Calling all shutterbugs!

Heya Paige,

My relatives are coming to visit from California and I have been researching things to do around Baltimore with them. I saw an advertisement for Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini in a magazine and think it’s a perfect fit for the whole family. My nieces are always on their phones and taking photos to share with their friends. So, my big question is … can we take photos in the exhibit?

~Hopeful Host

Hi Hopeful,

I encourage you and your family to take photos while you explore Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini! Just one small rule, please make sure your camera/phone has the flash turned off. However, like most rules, this rule comes with one exception. Nearing the end of the exhibit, in Houdini’s Final Act, you have the opportunity to take a Spirit Photo. Before you stand on the feet and get in selfie-taking position, you will need to make sure your flash is on. Remember once you have seen the spirit appear, turn the flash off again to keep snapping those photos.

Don’t forget to share photos with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using #MagicAtJMM or #Inescapable. I can’t wait to see what you discover in the exhibit. Make sure to visit before the exhibit disappears on January 21, 2019.  


Listen to your mother: put on a sweater!


I consider myself to be a museum frequent-flyer. I love my Lombard Street Club membership at the JMM because it provides reciprocal entry to several other Jewish and local Baltimore museums. I dropped by the JMM recently and was glad that I wore my cardigan because it was cool inside the exhibits. I’ve noticed this at other museums as well.  Can you help me solve the mystery of why museums are often so frigid?

~Frosty Fayvel 

Hi Fayvel,

I am happy to shed some light on this mystery for you. The collections at the JMM are incredibly diverse. These objects are composed of many different materials, including: leather, metal, wood, stone, and paper. In fact, most objects are composed of multiple materials. These materials age and deteriorate at different rates. The JMM works to prevent the deterioration of the objects in our care. One way of doing this is through the control of the environment in which our objects are stored and exhibited. There are a variety of environmental factors that play a role in causing deterioration, such as light, temperature, pollutants, pests, and humidity. Fluctuations in temperature (and its partner-in-crime humidity) can have damaging effects on materials and speed up their deterioration. While high temperatures promote chemical and physical reactions causing deterioration, cooler temperatures allow materials to stay in a stable state and decreases deterioration.

Therefore, we purposefully keep any spaces with objects at a consistent, cooler temperature to best care for our collection for generations to come.

As far as clothing choices go, layers are your best friend at museums.


You Already Belong – Make it Official!

Hi Paige,

I’ve been to a few of the Museum’s programs and I think that I am hooked. I have been repeatedly impressed with how informative and entertaining the speakers on Sundays are. Is it true if I decide to become a member after the program finishes, that I can apply my previously purchased tickets towards the cost of a new membership?


Dear Hooked,

It sounds to me that you already belong to the Jewish Museum of Maryland community, so let’s make it official! By choosing to join, you help make all we do possible – from our changing exhibits to our fascinating programming.

It is true! If you have purchased tickets for a program, you are able to apply the cost of those tickets to your membership if your membership is purchased on the same day. Following the program, just drop by the Front Desk or Esther’s Place and a team member would be happy to help. Then, you can immediately begin to take advantage of your membership benefits! Like receiving a 10% discount on the book that you just heard the author talk about.

So why don’t you join us?


Have your own question for Paige? Send her a message at pwoodhouse@jewishmuseummd.org.

To read more posts from Paige, click here!



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