Living History and Beyond!

Posted on April 14th, 2017 by

Over the past 14 years, the Jewish Museum of Maryland has developed significant expertise in the creation of compelling living history characters, along with a national reputation for excellence in this medium.  In consultation with a team of professional historians, script writers, directors and actors, we have created historical performances based on extensive research.  These performances illuminate key themes about American Jewish history in an accessible and personal manner.  These interactive  performances incorporate reproductions of artifacts, photographs, and documents from the JMM collections.

Our first four living history characters

The JMM has created five living history characters, Ida Rehr, a Ukrainian immigrant who worked in the garment industry; Saul Bernstein, a Lithuanian peddler who became a professional artist;  Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who started a renowned catering business;  and Mendes I. Cohen, veteran of the Battle of Baltimore, businessman, and Jewish adventurer.  Our latest character is Henrietta Szold, daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Szold and born in Baltimore in 1860, who premiered in September, 2016.  All five characters have performed around the region for students and adult audiences alike.

Natalie Pilcher with students from Western High School

A few weeks ago, the Henrietta Szold Living History character performed at Western High School in Baltimore City.  The education staff contacted the administration at the school about the possibility of having a performance at the school. Henrietta Szold graduated from Western Female High School in 1877 and in 1901 she became the first president of the Western High Alumni. There is a plaque in the school’s library that bears Szold’s name.

At the school-wide assembly over 960 students and teachers were in attendance. Following the performance, the students asked many questions to the actress that portrays Henrietta, Natalie Pilcher. The students were especially interested in learning about how she prepared for the Henrietta Szold role, and how she teaches acting and performance to area students throughout Baltimore City.

Following the successful Henrietta Szold living performance at Western High School, we started to think about the impact that all of our living history characters and performances have had on the community over the years. We examined our attendance statistics from FY14 to the present, and were quite pleased to see the reach that our living history characters have had on the community. I am certain you will also be quite impressed!

Ida Rehr
Over the past 12 years, the actress Katherine Lyons has engaged school groups with her wonderful portrayal of Ukrainian immigrant Ida Rehr.  Since July 1, 2013 she has given 42 performances –to over 1864 audience members. (1,769 students/teachers and 95 attendees from adult groups)

Katherine Lyons as Ida Rehr

Mendes I. Cohen
Over the past 3 years, actor Grant Cloyd has engaged school and adult groups with his portrayal of Colonel Mendes I. Cohen.  Since July 1, 2013 he has given 20 performances as Mendes to over 890 audience members. (371 students/teachers and 519 attendees from adult groups)

Grant Cloyd as Colonel Mendes I. Cohen

Bessie Bluefeld
Over the past 4 years, actress Terry Nicholetti has engaged adult groups with her wonderful portrayal of Bessie Bluefeld.  Since July 1, 2013 she has given 10 performances. (437 adult audience members)

Terry Nicholetti as Bessie Bluefeld

Henrietta Szold
Over the past 7 months, actor Natalie Pilcher has engaged school and adult groups with her portrayal of Henrietta Szold.  Since her debut she has given 13 performances to 1,737 audience members. (1,447 students/teachers and 290 attendees from adult groups)

Natalie Pilcher as Henrietta Szold standing next to her namesake.

The Henrietta Szold Living History Character was made possible through the generous support of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, Inc., a supporting foundation of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Educational opportunities were made possible by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated.

With all of the numbers combined our living history characters have performed a total number of 85 performances, seen by 4,928 audience members throughout the region since July 2013! By the end of this school year, it is highly likely that our living history program we will reach more than 5,000 audience members and beyond!

Our Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues.  To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator, ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443.873.5167.

~Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

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Once Upon a Time…11.28.2014

Posted on July 21st, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

1988169004Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  November 28, 2014

PastPerfect Accession #:  1988.169.004

Status: Partially Identified! Actors in an Alliance Players production, 1945: center (crouched over the baby carriage): Marcia Zuriff Rothstein

Special Thanks To: Ilene Zuriff Holtz

 

 

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Meet Bessie Bluefeld!

Posted on November 30th, 2012 by

A blog post by Director of Education Ilene Dackman-Alon.

While working at the JMM over the past 7 ½ years, I can honestly say that each day has been different and there has never been two days that have been alike.  Some days we have school groups, other days we do outreach program at schools.  Some days are spent trying to develop new education curriculum and programs.  Over the past year, we have been working with the playwright, Jonathan Scott Fuqua to help us develop a new living history character for our successful   Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk Program in connection with our acclaimed exhibition, Chosen  Food: Cuisine, Culture and American Jewish Identity.

Bringing a history character to life is no easy task and the JMM staff has been working on this project at a very steady pace.  There are so many components involved in trying to create a living history character. First, we had to choose the character that we would try and recreate.  As a staff, we had to figure out whose life we would highlight.  It needed to be someone from Maryland who had a story and it was our job to do the research within our collections and figure out who that person would be …

Meet Bessie Bluefeld…… the matriarch of the beloved Bluefeld Caterers. Bessie was an immigrant who grew up during a turbulent time in Russia in the 1890’s.  We have found evidence from the ship’s manifest of where Bessie and her husband Charles were born. Novgorod-Volinsk (aka Zvihil) is a large town in the Volhynia region of modern day Ukraine. We know that Bessie’s family, the Biskers, was known in the town as the go- to lodge for Jewish visitors because they ran a clean and efficient house, and would serve delicious kosher food to their guests. Bessie and Charles were married at 16 and 17 respectively.

Bessie arrived in 1906 on a ship that came directly to Locust Point in Baltimore.  At the time that she arrived, Locust Point was at its height of its history – with about 40 thousand immigrants passing through each year. Part of what made Baltimore such a popular port for immigrants was that it was the starting point for the B & O railroad, and many passengers opted to buy single tickets that included a journey out west after arrival in Baltimore. But for Bessie and Charles, Baltimore was their final destination and so they likely joined the other Baltimore bound immigrants by taking a ferry across the harbor to Fells Point.

Through research of  our oral history collection, we listened to the oral transcriptions from Bessie’s sons, Louis and Phillip Bluefeld, and we were better able to understand the Bluefeld family story.  We learned that upon arriving to Baltimore, Charles took work in construction, and Bessie spent her time at home, raising the first children of the family.  After time, Bessie felt that Charles’ work was too dangerous and she told him that things had to change. He quit his job and they used their savings to buy a small grocery store near Fell’s Point. Through the next decade they bought and sold grocery stores and real estate throughout Baltimore city. By the 1920s, the family was also working a stall in Lexington market, and they had earned enough money to purchase two cars, a rarity in that era.

Bessie and Charles Bluefeld

During this period of prosperity, Bessie traveled to Atlantic City and Florida, beginning to develop her refined taste that would later be known as the “Orchid touch” that gave Bluefeld catering its edge as one of the premier kosher catering businesses in the area. Bessie and her family survived the initial crash of the stock market in 1929, but in 1933 the family’s well-known financial reliability would eventually be the cause of their downfall. They were signatories for a land deal with Sunoil, which fell through and they lost almost everything

The Bluefelds were able to scrape together enough to begin working at Lexington Market again, but now they had no choice but to work on Saturdays and to sell pork (as it was the most profitable option). The whole family, including the children who were old enough, worked at this point; Louis recalls that it was this or starve. Slowly, they were able to earn back enough money for Bessie to begin volunteering with the sick benefit and relief association at the Progressive Lodge. From here, she bought a stand on the nearby beach for 1200 dollars, and started the business that was the seed of Bluefeld catering. From 1937 to 1941 Bluefeld catering blossomed, and Bessie was at the heart of things. She always sought to provide the very best for her patrons, and rarely asked for much in return. Her sons recalled one particular incident when a client suggested that he should give a deposit for Bluefeld’s services. Bessie refused, replying “I wanted to give your mother a deposit and she said, “I should give you a deposit; you are trusting your daughter’s wedding to me.”

In 1941, Bessie Bluefeld died suddenly. She had rarely even been mildly ill, but a cerebral hemorrhage struck her and she lapsed into a coma and died three days later. The week that she died her family carried on with the 13 events they had planned because they felt it was not an option to let down so many families. Though the company had really only just begun at that point, Bessie’s ideals remained the driving force behind the company long after her death. Years later her son Louis would recall, “She was our charm, she was our mentor, she was the one who had all the foresight. What we did years after was only a matter of doing what she had planned. She had set the guide rules of what our business was to be, the adding the dignity that catering was beautiful, that the responsibility was on us to do a good job for the people.” 

So, as you can see… this is an incredible, Maryland  family story-and we wanted others to learn and be inspired from Bessie and her family’s unbelievable determination and work ethic. Over the past two weeks the JMM has been holding auditions to cast Bessie Bluefeld with the help of Harriet Lynn, Producer/Artistic Director with Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium.  Harriet sent an audition notice to various venues and we received responses from aspiring actresses living in both Baltimore and the DC area.

It has been a lot of fun over the past two Mondays morning holding auditions and got to meet some very talented and gifted actresses.  Secretly, I felt like one of the judges on America’s Got Talent and I loved watching each actress perform her monologue and read from the script with her best Russian, Yiddish accent……..  It was a very hard decision to choose one person as each of the actresses brought such different gifts to the role.  After a lot of discussion, we feel confident in our choice….

We look forward to sharing Bessie’s wonderful story with the community and we are excited to introduce Terry Nicolletti to the Baltimore community, as she has been chosen to play the role of Bessie Bluefeld. Terry and Harriet will be working together over the next few months to put together a rehearsal schedule and further develop Bessie’s character.  Terry’s excitement about the Bessie is contagious and we look forward to bringing Bessie Bluefeld out to the community in the late spring.  

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