Posted on July 3rd, 2014 by Rachel
You’re going to hate me right now. I’ve returned recently from gallivanting around Europe. For the first two weeks of June, I was visiting both sites and friends in beautiful places with world renowned chocolate and low humidity while Baltimore was suffering under a heat index of 102. I’ll spare you the lovely details and jump to my last stop, in Vienna, where I visited the local Jewish Museum (I have no qualms about taking busman’s holidays).
Chocolate Palace at Berlin’s Fassbender & Rausch’s chocolatiers
The Jewish Museum Vienna actually has two locations within the city: there is the main building on Dorotheergasse, just off of one of the main shopping/tourist strips, which houses their primary exhibition. The second location is on the Judenplatz, where, as you might have already guessed from the name, was the old (in this case, medieval) Jewish neighborhood. The focus of the Judenplatz location is the synagogue that stood there until 1420, when a pogrom led to the razing of the synagogue and forced the Jewish community to leave the city.
Because Judenplatz was very close to where I was staying, I ended up visiting the two locations in reverse order. The Judenplatz part of the museum actually starts outside its building. It begins on the square, where the Viennese Holocaust memorial–also known as “The Nameless Library”–stands. Designed by Rachel Whiteread, the memorial is made of “inside-out” shelves, filled with books whose spines are invisible–hence the name. It represents the loss of knowledge, memory, and the lives of “the People of the Book” who were killed, not just in the Holocaust (though that is definitely its focus), but also in the Viennese Geserah (Disaster) of 1420. This layering of memorialized tragedies makes it unique among European Holocaust memorials.
“The Nameless Library”
Inside the museum itself, there is a small and frustratingly spare exhibit on Jewish life in Vienna in the Middle Ages. Its highlight is the room in which you can see the actual excavated remains of the stone foundations for the old synagogue.
The museum also included a bizarre “exhibit” on the life of Amy Winehouse, curated by her brother. Interestingly enough, as described in the introduction by her brother, the exhibit was meant to be more like a memorial to her life geared towards those who never knew her personally rather than an actual academic exploration of her life and work. In this somewhat strange and roundabout way, it actually fit in with the memorial just outside.
Thankfully, the main location of the Vienna Jewish Museum was much more satisfying. Along with changing exhibitions that, much like the JMM, explore various, lesser-known corners of regional Jewish life (on display at the time of my visit was an exhibit of Jews who fought for Austria in WWI and a small display of Jewish textiles), the museum has a truly exceptional permanent exhibition on the Jews of Vienna, from the Middle Ages to the present. Entitled “Our City! Jewish Vienna–Then to Now,” the exhibition seeks to explain to outsiders the strong and complex ties between the Jews of Vienna and their city.
On display at the Vienna Jewish Museum
In a clearly calculated–and, I think, successful–move, the curators of the show decided to begin with the history of the Viennese Jewish community from 1945 to today. It starts with the bittersweet re-grouping of the community, attempting to grapple with their memories, confirming the fates of lost loved ones and the things they’ve left behind, and re-establishing relationships with their gentile neighbors.
Austria was slow to officially acknowledge its part in letting the Holocaust happen and its responsibility towards Austrian survivors, which caused significant tension between Jews and non-Jews in Austrian politics in the last half of the 20th century. My only criticism of this section is that, while specific instances of this tension, such as when Kurt Waldheim was appointed Austria’s president in 1986 despite having participated in the Austrian Nazi government, are mentioned in the exhibit, it was often with only very cursory explanations, as if they expected you to already know what had happened.
The section ends with a portrait of contemporary Jewish life, including photographs from various communal simchas. This drove home the point that the curators were trying make with their reverse chronological order: Jewish life in Vienna did not stop with the Holocaust. It was greatly reduced and continues to encounter challenges, but, thanks to the many Soviet Jews who moved to Vienna after the end of the Cold War, the community is there and it is thriving.
After that hopeful note, visitors are directed to go upstairs to see the second section of the exhibit–Jewish life in Vienna from the Middle Ages to 1945. This section makes good use of its vast collection of manuscripts, photographs, recordings, portraits, and Judaica to trace the ups and downs of the story of the Viennese Jews.
There were three historical Jewish communities in the city: the medieval one that ended with their expulsion in 1420; their brief re-entry in the 17th century; and the third and largest one, which began in the early 19th century under the reign of Emperor Franz Josef I, and continued until the Holocaust.
Emperor Franz Josef I
In each case, the Jewish community faced strong anti-semitism that in the best of times meant very high taxes (creating a deceptively wealthy Jewish community in Vienna in the 17th and 19th centuries simply because poor Jews couldn’t afford to stay) and in the worst of times meant humiliation and expulsion. Despite this, or really because of it, Jews contributed disproportionately to the empire’s military campaigns as well as to the city’s cultural life, whether it was through giving the money to build the opera house or having the talent to be appointed the director of that opera house.
A large section of the gallery is devoted to the many Jewish cultural figures in Vienna during the 19th-20th centuries. This includes the obvious names–Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodore Herzl, etc.–as well as lesser known but equally important ones, like the cantor Salomon Sulzer; the Olympic hopefuls, Fritzi Löwy, Lucie Goldner, and Hedy Bienenfeld; and the Ephrussi banking family (about whom I was simultaneously reading in The Hare with Amber Eyes–which is a fantastic book!).
The Hare with Amber Eyes
Ephrussi Palace today
Because of their invaluable contributions to the empire’s economy, the Habsburg rulers gradually eased the laws restricting Jewish life there–even eventually granting full citizenship–thus garnering a fierce loyalty from their Jewish subjects. This loyalty served the Jewish community poorly when nationalism and WWI disintegrated the empire and the Habsburg reign. Their contributions and sacrifices during the war were quickly forgotten or dismissed in the internecine years that followed.
The end of the exhibit details the sudden and violent decline of the Viennese Jewish community through postcards, movie reels, and official Nazi documents regarding Eichmann’s plan to address the “Jewish Question.” Before the start of WWII, Vienna had the third largest Jewish population in the world, with over 185,000. By 1946, there were only 25,000, and today there are barely 7,000.
I left the museum that day with an expanded appreciation for the tenacity of the Jewish communities in places like Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, and the many other European cities where Jews have had to scatter and regroup so many times throughout history. And I hope that if any of you have the opportunity to visit the city of Vienna, you will take the time to visit this fascinating museum.
A blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts by Abby, click HERE.
Posted on June 13th, 2014 by Rachel
When I was a young whippersnapper, I traveled extensively to lands near and far, and I acquired a precious ring on one of these journeys. Several years ago, I donated this ring to the JMM for safekeeping, because it was causing an inordinate amount of strife within my family. I would like to check up on the ring on my next visit the museum, will I be able to see it? I understand that you have topnotch security—which is why I chose your establishment in the first place.
Your Friend from Middle Earth
Dear Middle Earth,
If you want to make sure that you will see your precious ring when you visit us, I would recommend that you make an appointment with our Collections Manager several weeks ahead of time. Many museums, including the JMM, have more things in our collections than we could possibly put on display at any one time. If your donated item is going to be used in an exhibit, we will be sure to let you know. Otherwise, it is probably safely tucked away in an acid-free box in our basement.
I recently retired from my high-energy job, and I am already bored, bored, bored! I just can’t get used to having all that free time and quiet in the house. There are only so many times you can get coffee or lunch with your friends until you’ve run out of things to gossip about. And you know you’ve got it really bad when you’ve rearranged the furniture so many times that you’ve worn out the carpet you only bought 6 months ago. I have lots of energy and I need some way of using it! Do you take volunteers at the JMM? How do I sign up? I don’t have any museum work experience, so do you provide training?
Bored Out of My Mind
Dear Bored Out of My Mind,
We have many, many wonderful volunteers here at the JMM! And we honestly, we don’t know what we would do without them. If you are interested in volunteering with us, the first step is to call or email our amazing Volunteer Coordinator, Ilene Cohen, at (410) 732-6400 x217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ilene will tell you about the various volunteer opportunities that we have. These include giving tours (being a docent), helping in the shop, and manning our front desk. All of these are very important positions. Being a relatively small staff with big ambitions for serving our community, we often find ourselves stretched too thin. That’s where our incredible volunteers come in. We depend on you to help us fill in the spaces where we can’t be.
Ilene will also work with you to find what your expertise and interests are, to see how we can best utilize your talents. She will also take the time to tell you everything you need to know for your position and give you the time and space to practice.
Generally, we ask that our volunteers commit to coming in at least twice a month. Typical daily volunteer shifts are from 11am to 4pm, though it can be changed a little to suit the individual volunteer’s schedule. The only exception to this is for the docents, who only come in for 2-3 hours at a time for very specific times of the day.
As a volunteer, you enjoy some perks here at the JMM. In addition to getting a 20% discount at the giftshop, there are a few opportunities during the year when we have special programs and field trips for our volunteers. And of course, you get the inside scoop on everything that’s happening at the Museum!
If you want to hear more about what our volunteers do, you can read our Volunteer Spotlight blogposts here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/?s=Volunteer+Spotlight
I clean house for a family of seven bachelors. They are hard working fellows, but they track in a ridiculous amount of mud around the house—I can barely keep up with them with the mop! I would like to have a full day with them out of the house, so that I can give the house a nice, deep clean. Maybe I’ll even bake them an apple pie for when they return home…
Anyway, I saw an ad for your museum in the newspaper, and I thought this could be the perfect place to send those little men for a day of much needed culture! Do I need to make a booking for them to visit the Museum? How do I do that, and what is the admission fee? If I book a tour for them, what will that tour cover?
Thank you for all your help!
The Fairest Housekeeper of Them All
Dear Fairest Housekeeper,
You’ve already completed the first step to booking a tour at the Museum—talking to me! I arrange all group visits to the museum—including school groups, synagogue groups, social groups, you name it! That being said, our definition of a “group” that is eligible for the group rate discount is ten people, so if your seven bachelors have three friends they’d like to bring with them, and they (or you) schedule their visit in advance with me, then they can pay only $5 per person. If not, then they will have to pay the normal individual admission rate, which you can find here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/admissions-fees/.
Since group visits are scheduled in advance, we can arrange for tours of almost anything you want—within reason, of course! Most likely, we won’t be able to give you a tour of the collections unless you call our Collections Manager well in advance of your visit and talk it through with her. We always give tours of the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues five times a day (for the full schedule, read here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/#MuseumHours) For scheduled group visits, however, we offer the additional possibility of having a docent lead your group through our special exhibitions.
I hope this answers all of your questions, and if it doesn’t, please call or email me—I would be happy to talk it over with you.
My family is planning our vacation to Baltimore for late July this year (I know, it seems like the worst time to come to Baltimore, but don’t you worry, we’re from Texas, so Baltimore will feel positively cool to us!). It’s common knowledge that no visit to Baltimore is complete without stopping by the JMM, so you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be there! I see that the Project Mah Jongg exhibit will be closed by then, and that The A-Maze-ing Mendes Cohen won’t open until September, so what will we be able to see in July? Will there be something family-friendly for all ages? We’ve got a wide range of ages in my family—both actual and mental!
Thank you for your help!
Your Fans from the Lone Star State
Dear Lone Star State,
Never fear, there is always something exciting happening at the JMM! Not only can visitors always see our two historic synagogues and our permanent exhibits, Voices of Lombard Street and The Synagogue Speaks, but we’ve also got something brand new coming this July. Last year, we noticed that we were going to have several “dark” weeks between the close of Mah Jongg and the opening of Mendes, so we’ve decided to try something we’ve never done before, and we’re calling it The Electrified Pickle!
For five weeks, starting on July 13th, the Feldman Gallery (where our temporary exhibitions usually are) is turning into a Makers’ space, where people of all ages can explore innovation through the ages with a mix of displays of old fashioned technology and hands-on workshops. Each Sunday during this time will have a different theme. The first one will be “Power This!,” with a focus on electricity and girl power. The following Sundays will be “Print This!”; “Fly This!”; “Imagine This!” and “Code This!.” There will also be a community art project component to which all of our visitors will be able to contribute.
As we get closer to the date, be sure to check for more information about our programming for The Electrified Pickle on our website, www.jewishmuseummd.org!
We can’t wait to see where this new project will take us, and we definitely want you and your family to be part of the experience!
Best Wishes, Abby
Dear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.
Posted on May 12th, 2014 by Rachel
There’s mysterious work afoot at the JMM…It’s intern season again, and we’ve noticed a few odd coincidences that have us scratching our heads and looking up obscure family trees. A couple of our interns (and one former intern) have truly uncanny dopplegangers!
Perhaps it’s just that we all have Mendes on the mind (honestly, when do we not have Mendes on the mind?), but we think the resemblance between Mendes Cohen and our new Education intern, Ozzy Weinreb, is clear to see!
Can you see the resemblance?
Earlier this week, a pair of visitors—a mother and a daughter—told me as they left that they thought our other Education intern, Amy Lieber, was the spitting image of one of the girls in a photo in the Project Mah Jongg exhibit. The next day, Amy and I went into the exhibit to find which photo and which girl they were talking about. It didn’t take long for us to find Amy’s mah jongg loving, 1920s-era twin!
Channeling some 1920s fabulousness!
I’d be remiss if I wrote a whole blog post about intern dopplegangers and I didn’t mention Summer 2013 Curatorial intern, Yonah Reback, who bears a striking resemblance to actor Edward Norton.
We definitely did a double take at intern orientation last summer!
Are we just going crazy, or do you agree that we have some real-life dopplegangers on our hands?
A blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.