Posted on January 12th, 2015 by Rachel
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. – US Constitution, Article VI (1787)
Many wonderful things happened over the recent winter break. Mitzvah Day was a huge success. We all had fun making jigsaw puzzles for the kids at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai. Gil Sandler gave a terrific talk on some of the colorful characters of early Baltimore. Throughout the next week, we had a steady flow of last minute 2014 gifts to JMM – and we’re very grateful for your generous support.
But for me, the greatest surprise came from a single visitor, Yosef Kuperman. Yosef had come to see The A-mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. I just happened to be in the lobby when Yosef walked through the door and we struck up a conversation. What I discovered was that Yosef had a most unusual hobby. Beginning with an independent study project he did at UMBC, Yosef had made himself an expert on the “Maryland Jew Bill” – the law that finally overturned Maryland’s required oath to the New Testament. He had studied original speeches, voting data, and correspondence to get a much clearer picture of the forces that shaped this landmark legislation.
The Jew Bill
Yosef returned to JMM on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and we were able to have a long talk about what he found and he pointed me to an online resource for speeches that I now happily pass on to you: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t7kp82p35;view=1up;seq=7 (you will want to skip to page 59, for the start of the relevant speeches).
The current film, Selma, visits the period in our history when “tests” were used to disenfranchise voters. My conversation with Yosef reminded me of the long history of so-called “tests” to deprive people of equal rights. The American experience has its roots in the “test acts” of 1673 in England. The acts which required office holders to disavow transubstantiation and the invocation of saints was designed to bar Catholics from public service (these tests remained English law until 1828). In America several states in rewriting there constitutions in 1776 replaced these detailed tests with a single oath to either affirm Christianity or the New Testament. The US Constitution of 1787, quoted above, would appear to have settled the question, but that was not the case. Maryland maintained its oath requirement, at least on paper, decades after the US Constitution was ratified.
Solomon Etting is generally credited with initiating the repeal effort in 1797, but all attempts at passage before the War of 1812 failed. I was aware of the fact that in the immediate post-War period the oath became a political wedge issue – with Democrats generally supporting repeal and Federalists weighing in on trying to preserving Maryland’s agrarian interests against the “foreigners” of Baltimore. What Yosef brought to my attention is that by 1823 when the Jew Bill again fails to pass, the Federalists are already in decline and that there are many Democrats who are ardent opponents of the legislation. What becomes clear from reading the speeches of the period is that many office holders came to Annapolis having made a pledge to their constituents on this issue. In some instances, it seems to have served as a proxy for proving their own Christian character to their districts.
I encourage you to visit the website I have provided and read for yourself the arguments made in favor of religious tolerance. I think you will find some of the rhetoric surprising, particularly Delegate Worthington’s case for attracting a larger Jewish community to improve the state’s economy. I think you will find some of the public debate about religious liberty has echoes in our own time as well. Perhaps we are not through with the real “test.”
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.
Posted on January 9th, 2015 by Rachel
Warm Up with Mendes
Hope you heard about the Mendes Cohen exhibit on Maryland Morning on Wednesday. If not, click HERE to hear the interview. Feel free to share the link with friends, relatives and neighbors.
Now we know, it’s coooold out there and though you want to come and see the exhibit, it’s hard to motivate yourself to bundle up and venture out into Baltimore’s equivalent of Lower Slobovia. Well we have a little incentive. Come this Sunday, January 11th, buy a commemorative Mendes mug and you’ll get a free hot chocolate (while supplies last). The Mendes mug bears a replica of the American flag he took down the Nile and its warm tones of brown and red will look great next to the purple Ravens paraphenelia you have left over from Saturday night.
So don’t let the weather hold you back. Warm cocoa and warm smiles are waiting for you here at JMM. And if you can’t make it on the 11th, check out the upcoming programs listed below on Jan. 18th and 25th – guaranteed to warm up your brain as well.
Please note that unless otherwise noted, all programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore, MD 21202). For more information and to RSVP for specific programs, contact Carolyn Bevans*: (410) 732-6400 x215 / firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on JMM events please visit www.jewishmuseummd.org. *Carolyn is filling in for new mom Trillion Attwood from January through March.
The Sephardic Atlantic: Mendes I. Cohen and the Story of Early American Jewry
Speaker Dr. R
Sunday, January 18, 12:00pmonnie Perelis, Yeshiva University
Program included with Museum admission
Before there were thriving Jewish communities in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Savannah, most Jews in the Americas lived in the Caribbean. They were part of a dynamic Sephardic network of trade and culture which connected major metropolitan centers such as Amsterdam and London to colonial ports such as Curacao and Kingston. The first American Jews were connected through their Atlantic connections. We will explore how early American Jews such as Mendes I. Cohen were a part of this global Jewish community.
Ronnie Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Chair and Assistant Professor of Sephardic Studies at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University.
70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Memorial Program
A Town Known As Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community
Speaker: Shiri Sandler, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Sunday, January 25, 1:00 pm
Program included with Museum admission
Co-sponsored by Baltimore Jewish Council
The town of Oświęcim – today in Poland – has been called by different names, in different languages, at different times. Though it has a long and varied history, the town is known for one thing: Auschwitz. Yet for centuries prior to World War II, Jews and non-Jews lived side by side in Oświęcim and called it home. Join Shiri B. Sandler, U.S. Director the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland, to gain insights into the history of the formerly Jewish town that has become known as the symbol of the Holocaust.
Shiri Sandler runs the AJC’s programming for American students, including Holocaust and ethics programming for US military students.
Image: Marta Swiderska (left) and Olga Pressler (right), 1934, Oświęcim. Collection of the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
Ladino, a language of the Jewish Diaspora
Speaker Dr. Adriana Brodsky, St. Mary’s College of Maryland
Sunday, February 8, 1:00 pm
Program included with Museum admission
Explore Ladino, a Jewish language that developed in the wake of the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 as new Jewish communities settled in the Ottoman Empire. Professor Brodsky will introduce the history of this language, and present examples of the Ladino in early 20th Century America, as well as old and modern ladino songs. Although many argue that Ladino is ‘dead,’ especially after the extermination of entire ladino-speaking Sephardi communities during the Holocaust, Brodsky argues that, in fact, this Jewish language is alive and well.
Adriana M. Brodsky, Associate Professor of Latin American History at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and has published on Sephardi schools in Argentina, and on Jewish Beauty Contests.
Help Make a Museum: Audience Workshop for the Core Exhibition of DC’s New Jewish Museum
Sunday, February 8, 2:00 pm
Facilitator: Zachary Paul Levine, Curator, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington
Program included with museum admission
The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) has asked for our help as our neighbors in DC make plans for their new facility (projected opening 2020). As part of that process, they are coming to Baltimore to collect thoughts on stories for the new museum’s core exhibition. This workshop will include a series of activities designed to get participants thinking, talking, and sharing their counsel for this new project. Participants will look at a handful of objects and stories, and discuss how, together, they tell the unique story of Washington DC’s Jewish community. Of course, we will be listening too – as we think about ideas to improve our own site at JMM.
Image: President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone laying ceremony of the 16th and Q Street building on May 3, 1925. JHSGW Collections.
Climbing the Ladder of Success in a Nineteenth-Century Boomtown: The Cohen Family in Early Baltimore
Sunday, February 15th, 1:00 P.M.
Speaker: Tina Sheller, Goucher College
When Israel I. Cohen died in Richmond, Virginia in 1803, his wife, Judith, packed up her belongings and moved herself and her children to Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Early Baltimore was a bustling port town of merchants, shopkeepers, skilled craftsmen, workers, and slaves. How did these groups contribute to the dynamic expansion of the city’s antebellum economy? Who were the people that populated the growing port town, and how did the Cohens and other Jewish families adapt to life in a city soon to be known as “Mobtown?” All of these questions and more will be answered as we journey back in time to the era of Boomtown Baltimore.
Tina H. Sheller is an assistant professor of History at Goucher College where she teaches courses in American history and Historic Preservation.
How Jews Entered American Politics: The Curious Case of Maryland’s “Jew Bill”
Sunday, February 22nd, 1 p.m.
Rafael Medoff, The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies
During Maryland’s first decades, a “Christians Only” policy applied to those seeking public office. Dr. Rafael Medoff, a noted scholar of Jewish involvement in American politics, will take a candid look at the Maryland legislature’s debates in the early 1800s over political rights for Jews and other non-Christians –a controversy that sheds fascinating light on the process by which Jews entered the American political arena.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is the author of 15 books about American Jewish history, Zionism, and the Holocaust, including a textbook, Jewish Americans and Political Participation, which was named an “Outstanding Academic Title of 2003” by the American Library Association’s Choice Magazine.
The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit bnaiisraelcongregation.org. For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit biyabaltimore.org or check out BIYA on facebook. www.facebook.com/groups/biyabaltimore
Exhibits currently on display include The A-mazing Mendes Cohen (on display through June 14, 2015), Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore, and The Synagogue Speaks!
Hours and Tour Times
The JMM is open Sunday-Thursday, 10am – 5pm.
Combination tours of the 1845 Lloyd Street Synagogue and the 1876 Synagogue Building now home to B’nai Israel are offered: Sunday through Thursday at 11:00am, 1:00pm and 2:00pm. We will offer tours focused on the Lloyd Street Synagogue, Sunday through Thursday at 3:00pm and on Sunday at 4:00pm. On November 9 we introduced a new Lloyd Street “1845: Technology and the Temple” tour at 3:00pm. This tour is available every Sunday and Monday at 3:00 until The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen closes in June 2014.
Please note that the JMM is open on MLK Day, Monday, January 19 from 10am-5pm.
The JMM is looking for volunteers to help staff our front desk, work in the gift shop, and lead tours as docents. No prior knowledge or training is required. All that is needed is an interest in learning about the JMM, our historic sites, exhibits, and programs and a desire to share this knowledge with the public. All volunteers are provided with thorough training. If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen at 410.732.6400 x217 or email@example.com.
Revamped and revitalized, membership at the JMM is now better than ever – with new categories, benefits, and discounts to enrich every visit to the Museum for you and your friends and families.
All members receive our monthly e-newsletter, along with a 10% discount at the Museum store, free general admission to the Museum, free admission to all regular programs, attendance at exclusive member opening events and discounted weekday parking at the City-owned garage at 1001 E. Fayette Street.
Your membership provides much needed funding for the many programs that we offer and we hope we can count on you for your continued support. Memberships can be purchased online! http://jewishmuseummd.org/get-involved/museum-membership/ For more information about our membership program, please contact Sue Foard at (410) 732-6400 x220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baltimore is buzzing for our A-Mazing Mendes MUG! (and dishwasher safe!)
Mendes Cohen is A-Mazing in the Museum Shop! We have Mazes for all ages, from the all-time favorite, the Labyrinth Game, to, yes, Chinese Checkers, to the Amaze Thinkfun game, and on and on! Come in and checkout our Amazing Assortment, topped by the Mendes Cohen mug, designed just for this exhibition, complete with his image and flag of the period!
Members receive a 10% discount in our Amazing Museum Shop. We cheerfully gift wrap and mail your purchase for you. The JMM directly benefits from all purchases made in our Museum Shop.
For more information, call Esther Weiner, Museum Shop Manager, 410-732-6400, ext. 211 or email at email@example.com.
Posted on January 7th, 2015 by Rachel
The fantastic and thoughtful questions about Mendes and his life continue to pour in through our little question box at the end of the exhibit. Some of the questions have even stumped our Mendes experts!
Without further ado, I present our best answers to your burning questions about the Amazing Mendes Cohen…
1) To how many places in total did he travel?
This is a very tricky question to answer! First of all, if we are talking about countries, a world map from the 1830s looks very different from a world map today. Second, we don’t have all of his travel journals, so we can’t know for sure exactly how many cities he visited. Going by modern day national borders, and looking just at the travel journal we do have, Mendes visited 10 countries, but this is not a complete count.
2) What did he die of?
We don’t know exactly what Mendes died of, but he lived a long life and was suffering from blindness towards the end of his life.
Entrance to the Cohen Family Plot at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery, 2100 Belair Road.
3) What drove Mendes to do all the things he did?
From what we can tell, Mendes was driven by a sense of adventure and a desire to experience new things. He was also driven by his deep belief in American democratic principles and seeing how his beliefs contrasted with the ways that people lived in other parts of the world.
Sailing Down the Nile
4) Where was Mendes Cohen’s bar mitzvah held?
Great question! Mendes turned 13 shortly after moving to Baltimore. There were no formal synagogues in Baltimore at this time, so he most likely would have celebrated the occasion at his home.
Even celebrities have Bar Mitzvah parties!
5) One of the travel documents on display is written in Russian, but the map doesn’t show him going to Russia. Where did he go that he needed a Russian travel document?
We have travel permits and customs documents that would put Mendes in Russian cities such as Odessa and St. Petersburg during the summer of 1833. However, we do not have all of his travel journals, so we don’t have much detail about his journeys in that region. Our map is based upon the travel journal that we do have, which is why Russia is not included.
European Russia 1833: Stieler, via.
6) Are the current movie-making Cohen’s related?
Perhaps you mean the Coen brothers? Apparently there are about 100,000 people currently living in the United States with the last name “Cohen,” so I doubt that Mendes is related. We are also pretty certain (though not 100% certain) that there are no living descendants of his family tree.
The Coen Brothers
What questions were still burning in your mind when you got to the end of the maze?
Let us know!