JMM Insights: Dear Abby

Posted on April 17th, 2015 by

Dear Abby,

I have a fixed lunch date on Sunday afternoons at 1pm with my machatonim (in-laws). As much as we—or at least I—would much rather come to the JMM for one of your many, fabulous lectures and programs at that time, skipping these lunches is just not a negotiable matter. Sadly, it seems that all of your programs are at 1pm on Sundays. It’s very frustrating! Can’t you ever have them at a different time or day?


Filial Obligations

Dear Filial Obligations,

The good news is that we do, in fact, offer public programming at times other than 1pm on a Sunday afternoon. The bad news is that, yes, the majority of our programs do take place on Sunday afternoons because we’ve consistently gotten the best attendance at those programs. It’s probably because they are on a weekend afternoon when people are likely to want to do something fun downtown.

However, we do periodically host events at other times, including our quarterly Late Night on Lloyd Street events, which are typically on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, from 6pm-9pm. We even have a lecture coming up on May 7th that everyone should mark on their calendars! This is the Sadie B. Feldman lecture; we present this lecture annually, and this year it features professor of History and Jewish Studies, Pam Nadell, who will speak about the lives of early Jewish American women such as Judith Cohen (Mendes Cohen’s mother).

Also, this summer we will host several outdoor movie screenings in our back lot in conjunction with the upcoming exhibit, Cinema Judaica. More information about that will be arriving in the next few months—so stay tuned, folks!

Best Wishes,




Dear Abby,

Hypothetically speaking, if an extremely wealthy person were to be inspired by a few ghostly visions of the past and future—which demonstrated to said person the errors of his or her miserly and uncharitable ways—to donate a vast fortune to the JMM, how would that person go about it?

Thank you for your assistance.


Asking for a “Friend”


Dear Asking for a “Friend,”

Hypothetically speaking, if a person were to decide to donate any sum of money to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, that person should speak to Sue Foard, our administrative assistant who handles monetary donations (not to be confused with Joanna Church, our collections manager, who handles object donations). Sue will be happy to lead you through the process.

Thank you very much for your generosity! As a relatively small non-profit organization, we appreciate any gift, small or “vast”!

Best Wishes,



Dear Abby,

I read in one of your earlier columns that you answered the question of how to schedule an adult group tour (6/21/14 “The Fairest Housekeeper of Them All”); could you tell me how do I arrange a visit for my students?

I’m a very unconventional, hands-on kind of educator. I prefer for my students to really get inside the subject that we’re learning—whether it’s the digestive system or outer space, I make sure my students have a magical learning experience! I’ve heard from other teachers that the JMM has a similar approach to learning, and I’d love to learn more about what my students can do at your museum.

Is it true that you can offer transportation to and from the museum to school groups? If it is, then that’s a very generous offer, but thankfully, I have my own trusty school bus that we use for everything. How much is the admission for school groups? Is there a minimum or maximum for how many students I can bring?


The Teacher with the Magic School Bus

Come down for a visit!

Come down for a visit!

Dear Magic School Bus,

We would love for you to bring your students to the JMM, and I’m sure we can find activities that will complement their studies in a very immersive way! It’s true that our Education Department prides itself on developing educational programming that builds multiple, core skills while also teaching content. For example, students from 2nd to 8th grade can put on their archaeologist’s hats while learning about the early history of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Many—if not most—of our exhibit activities involve practicing critical thinking skills that are easily adapted for different grades and abilities.

To schedule a group visit, you will need to contact our Visitor Services Coordinator, who is in charge of the museum’s calendar. She will tell you which dates and activities are available to you—it’s best to contact her at least three weeks in advance. It helps if you describe what it is your students are currently studying, so we can find the best match of activities that will deepen your students’ knowledge and their museum experience.

The maximum number of students that we can accommodate at one time is 55. If you have 100 students, this means that we could, potentially, serve 50 of them in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. We require that each group have at least one adult chaperone (a teacher, a parent, etc.) per ten students.

For private schools, we charge only $2 per student and $3 per non-teacher chaperone. Teachers accompanying school groups to the Museum are always free!

For all Maryland public K-12 schools, we are happy to waive the admission fee and to provide up to one free school bus (which typically holds 44 passengers). We know this makes a big difference for many public schools. For schools that are coming from farther away than Baltimore County, we ask that the teacher find a bus charter company that is local to their area, and we will still pay for it.

Once you have scheduled a visit with the Visitor Services Coordinator, she will send you a confirmation form to fill out and return as soon as possible. Then, two business days before the scheduled field trip, each teacher is required to contact the JMM—by phone or email—to confirm the number of students and chaperones coming. This may sound redundant, but it is really helpful for us to have a final head count ahead of the visit! The numbers almost always change between the time of booking and the visit itself, and we need to know how many educators and materials we need for the group. We also need to know that the school group is prepared with the right number of chaperones.

I look forward to speaking with you in more detail about bringing your class on a field trip here!

Best Wishes,






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Did Mendes Play Tennis with Dragons? Read On To Find Out!

Posted on April 6th, 2015 by

Through our visitor’s thoughtful (and sometimes playful) questions, we are all learning more and more about Mendes, as an individual and as a representative of what life was like for the early Jewish Americans.


1) Did Mendes like sports?

Not that we know of…there’s no mention of sports in his letters.


2) Is there a connection between Mendes Cohen and the McKim Center of Baltimore? (Since the McKim Free School opened around the time of his childhood.)

The McKim Free School was a Quaker institution that was begun in 1821, by which time Mendes was 24 years old and not at all a child. We have no record of him being involved as a donor either.

If you want to learn more about the McKim Community Center or Free School, visit their website:

The McKim School

The McKim School


3) How old was Mendes when he died?

Mendes Cohen was 84 years old when he died 1879.


4) Did Mendes keep kosher?

We believe that the family observed religious traditions in their home in Baltimore, but we don’t have actual confirmation that they kept kosher (which would have been difficult but not impossible during the early 1800s). There is some debate about whether kosher food provisions were provided during his service at Fort McHenry. Again, this is not something we can confirm, but it is possible since the father of another Jewish member of his militia was a shochet. During his travels, Mendes most likely did not eat kosher as that would have been quite difficult.


5) What were his siblings’ names?

  • Joshua (died as a baby at 3 months)
  • Jacob (1789-1869)
  • Solomon (died as a baby)
  • Philip (1793-1852)
  • Maria (1794-1821)
  • Benjamin (1797-1845)
  • David (1800-1847)
  • Joshua (1801-1870)
  • Edward (died as a baby at 8 months)


6) Did Mendes know any dragons? (asked by Elliot the Dragon)

Sadly, no letters mention dragon encounters (but maybe that letter got lost and we can hope!)

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?


What questions are on your mind?

Let us know!

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And the Mendes Questions Continue…

Posted on March 18th, 2015 by

If you’d thought we were finished with answering the questions that pile up inside the Question Box at the end of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit, you would be wrong.  In fact, we have a particularly juicy set of questions and answers for you this time. In this edition of Questions About Mendes Cohen, our topics range from the sartorial to the existential, and with plenty of other deep subjects in between!

47.22.2 Mendes I. Cohen Artist Unkown

47.22.2 Mendes I. Cohen
Artist Unkown

1) Did he know how to daven?

We believe that the Cohen family were observant Jews and, therefore, would have known how to daven. Because there were no established Jewish synagogues at the time of their move to Baltimore, they most likely worshiped in private homes. The family was involved, however, in the establishment of Baltimore’s first Sephardi congregation, Beth Israel, in 1856.

2) What did he wear on his first journey?

Unfortunately, we don’t know what he wore on his first journey.  In one of his letters home, he did provide a detailed list of what he brought with him to prevent sea sickness (gingerbread, mint drops, mint lozenges, lemons, limes, pickles, and a medicine package of powders!). The one article of clothing that we do know about is the ornate Middle Eastern style jacket that he’s seen wearing in his portrait. He purchased the jacket during his travels, so he most likely wore it during his travels in the Middle East. We have this particular jacket in our collections, and it’s on display in the room with with the Egyptian antiquities he brought back.

Mendes' jacket

Mendes’ jacket

3) Was Mendes educated? If so, how did Mendes Cohen becomes educated? Who taught him, etc.?

We can tell from Mendes’ writing style that he was highly educated, but we don’t know how he was educated. Since public schools did not yet exist, children of wealthy families (like the Cohens) would have been taught either in religious schools or at home. Mendes’ younger brother, Joshua, attended a religious school run by an Episcopalian minister.

Mendes' travel writing desk.

Mendes’ travel writing desk.

4) What happened after he died?

Since he had no children, Mendes left most of his belongings and estate to his nieces and nephews. One nephew, also named Mendes, received his collection of Egyptian antiquities which he donated to Johns Hopkins University and is now a part of the university’s Archeological Museum. The younger Mendes Cohen also served as president of the Maryland Historical Society where he donated his uncle’s papers, including the many letters he wrote home during his travels. This is how we know so much about Mendes Cohen!

Selections from Mendes' archaeological collection.

Selections from Mendes’ archaeological collection.

5) Why was Mendes a “Family Man”?

Mendes spent the majority of his life living with or in close proximity to family members. According to the 1850 and 1860 censuses, he lived with his brothers Jacob and Joshua. Even when he lived on his own in 1870s, he lived nearby his other siblings in Mount Vernon. And while he was away from his family traveling, he wrote many letters home keeping them updated about his adventures.

A letter home from Mendes.

A letter home from Mendes.

Are there still questions percolating in your mind? Let us know!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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