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Reading with Talia: America’s Jewish Women

Posted on November 7th, 2019 by

Our Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia Makowsky, is highlighting books currently available in our shop, Esther’s Place. Today’s featured book is America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today, by Dr. Pam Nadell, who will be speaking here at JMM on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 as part of the 2019 Jewish Literature Festival. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


Pamela Nadell starts her work, America’s Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today, looking to the women that came before her: her mother and grandmother.

Inspired by their strength and compassion as they worked to support their families, Nadell builds the history of Jewish women in America. Looking through the wide lens of women’s roles throughout American history, Nadell illustrates a rich history, full of fascinating women who juggled family life and work, fought for equal rights, or proudly adapted to their new American life.

The book covers a wide distance of time, starting with the early American women in the mid-1600s who fled to New Amsterdam looking for religious freedom. Despite the book’s scope, Nadell highlights particular individuals, some famous, such as poet Emma Lazarus, and some not so much, or at least don’t have their words written on the Statue of Liberty. The immigrant experience is an important theme throughout the book, as well as the question of American identity, as Jewish women yesterday and today wrestle with balancing religion with modern life or seek to fight for social justice through a Jewish lens. One thing all these women share, in addition to their Jewish identity, is this long and important history of Jewish women, whether they were the heads of their home  or leaders in the public sphere. As a Jewish woman myself, I’m proud to have this history as a part of my culture, and I enjoyed learning the stories of these women. There were a few individuals I wanted to highlight, as a preview to Pamela Nadell’s talk on Wednesday, November 13, at the Museum, as part of the Festival of Jewish Literature.

One woman who caught my attention was Ernestine Rose. One of our summer 2019 interns, Hannah Balik, dedicated a whole blog post to Rose, and I highly recommend reading through it for a more in depth look into Rose’s life. In Nadell’s book, what’s so fascinating about Rose (born Ernestine Potowski) is her uncommon position as a proclaimed atheist, even as she defended Jewish Americans. Rejecting Jewish teachings at a young age, Rose, refusing to marry at 16, sued her father for financial independence, Her rebellion against what she felt were patriarchal teachings led to her struggle for religious freedom and women’s independence. Supported by a devoted husband, William Rose, Ernestine dove into political action when they moved to the United States in 1836. She used her oratory skills to fight for the right for women to control their own property, religious freedom in this new country, and an end to slavery.

Ernestine Rose: “Courtesy of Jewish Women’s Archive”

What I find so interesting about Rose is her defense of the Jewish people even thoughshe proclaimed her atheism (along with her views on slavery and women’s rights) loudly and proudly. However, when the Jewish people were attacked by Horace Seaver, editor of the abolitionist Boston Investigator, Rose responded: “I don’t like your prejudice against the Jews, nor against any other people; and above all, keep your temper in an argument.” Despite her life-long journey as a rationalist and atheist, Rose still chose to use her position as a famous speaker to draw attention to the anti-Semitism of her day. Her commitment to speak against injustice, even for a people who followed teachings she vehemently rejected, speaks to the compassion displayed by many of the Jewish women in this book.

Nadell also describes the life of Henrietta Szold, a native Baltimorean, also found activist work through her compassion for others. In contrast to Rose, Szold embraced her father’s teachings about Judasim, in his work as a rabbi. As the oldest child in a family with no sons, Szold quickly became her father’s personal assistant in his rabbinic work. Guided by her passion for Judaism, Szold continued to work for others, including as a teacher for her father’s congregation, Oheb Shalom. As the Baltimore Jewish community transformed in the 1880s with Russian Jews settling in our local neighborhoods, Szold saw their need to learn English and American culture in order to be successful. She started the first night school in the United States to teach these immigrants; her school was located right down the street from our Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Make sure you say hi to Henrietta when you visit the Museum! JMM 1989.79.6.

Szold’s life of learning and teaching continued as she became a writer and editor at the Jewish Publication Society of America. She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, after promising that she had no intention of becoming a rabbi. While in New York, Szold joined a women’s Zionist study group which led to her advocating for the care of children and immigrants in Palestine. During a trip to Palestine in 1909, Szold was horrified by the miserable conditions people were living in. Upon returning to New York, she was ready to take up the cause for these communities.

In 1912, on the Purim holiday, Szold met with thirty-seven women to create a new organization: Daughters of Zion, Hadassah chapter, naming their new organization after the Hebrew name for Esther, who was the heroine in the story of Purim. Shortly afterward, the organization changed its name to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and it still thrives today as women lead the charge in charitable work.

Szold’s life was long and fascinating. There are far too many stories to recount, but luckily, we have a master storyteller to help us share them. We offer a Living History performance of Henrietta Szold’s life, performed by the wonderful Natalie Pilcher Smith. We’re pleased to offer this program for school and adult groups, off or on-site. Natalie’s masterful acting blended with the extensive research we’ve done about our local lady brings the audience back to Szold’s time as a local activist and national leader. This performance is a great way to celebrate Jewish women and to share the history of Jewish Baltimore.

Of course, Baltimore’s history includes stories of struggle as well. In particular, the garment industry in Baltimore and throughout the United States often forced workers to deal with extreme conditions. The garment industry was filled with immigrant workers, many of them Eastern European Jews. The industry was booming as mass production became the norm, and mechanization helped workers to complete tasks faster. This was work that didn’t require a mastery of English or an education, much like the scrap yard industry that we’re featuring in our new exhibit,

Clara Lemlich: “Courtesy of Jewish Women’s Archive”

Clara Lemlich fought for the women workers in New York garment factories, often staffed by?Jewish and Italian immigrants. Lemlich knew that women faced unfair conditions in both the workplace and in the unions; not only were women paid less than their male counterparts, but women were also denied strike benefits. However, Lemlich continued to display the dedication and power of women strikers, laying her body on the line when strikers were attacked by strikebreakers and hired thugs. Her passion for fairness was clear when she interrupted a public meeting to urge the people there to declare a strike. Most uniquely, in 1909, Lemlich demanded for this strike in Yiddish, resulting in thousands of people to vow on Jerusalem that they would support the cause. Lemlich’s commitment to the cause, as well as her connection to the Jewish community, was enough to sway fifteen thousand shirtwaist workers to walk off their job, resulting in a series of strikes in Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Bessie Abramowitz continued the fight, as she joined protests in the 1910s, while working at a men’s suit company in Chicago. She led women on a walkout that eventually led to a mass strike of 35,000 workers and was recognized as the leader of that particular movement. Her own courageous tangles with police trying to end the strike earned her the nickname, “Hatpin Bessie,” because she would jab the police horses with her hatpin.

“Bessie and her husband Sidney dedicated their lives to support the rights of workers. Courtesy of the Forward Association.”

However, Abramowitz faced anti-Semitism as well during her time organizing women for the United Garment Workers union. The leaders of the union were paranoid that Jews were trying to take over. In response to this unfounded fear the union leaders urged non-Jewish women to join, pitting them against the Jewish members. Abramowitz led over a hundred delegates to walk out of the organization to start a new group: the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. She refused to stand for the prejudice against her people and in doing so created a successful and powerful union that transformed the garment industry.

All these Jewish women displayed their great compassion and strength as they helped others and changed the world. Pamela Nadell’s book is chock-full of more stories of how they strove for equality, worked to take care of their families and made history as representatives of a long line of Jewish women. It’s an easy read about the way women have shaped history and how they were shaped as they became American women.

I highly recommend picking up a copy at our gift shop, Esther’s Place and getting your free ticket to Pamela Nadell’s presentation as a part of the Festival of Jewish Literature.


 

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Reading with Talia: Looking for Me

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by

Our Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia Makowsky, is highlighting books currently available in our shop, Esther’s Place. Today’s featured book is Looking for Me in this Great Big Family by Betsy R. Rosenthal. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


In the book Looking for Me in this Great Big Family, Edith Paul is trying to figure out who she is. As a young girl growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, it’s hard enough for Edith to learn what kind of person she wants to become. To make it more complicated, Edith has a big family. There are twelve children, to be exact. With six boys and six girls, Edith is stuck right in the middle of them all.

Situated in the midst of all these different personalities, Edith writes poems to help express how she feels about her family, the good and the bad. The book, based on true stories from the author’s mother, is a collection of these lyrical poems. The poems in the book are all from the perspective of Edith over the course of a year, as she laments the ending of summer, stands up to the school bully, and tries her best to take care of her younger siblings.

This sweet book is an easy and honest read, perfect to share with your family!

Rosenthal’s writing is personable and honest. These poems feel authentic, especially since they are based on true stories. In addition, Edith shares her emotions freely with us, even if she’s feeling upset with her family members or with her situation in life. She doesn’t shy away from these moments of frustration, admitting that she’s gotten angry when her little brothers and sisters don’t listen to her. Edith also openly shows us her desire to figure out who she is, in her great big family. She compares herself to her older siblings, revealing what she admires about them or what she dislikes. She also imagines the life of her friends, especially the ones who don’t have as many brothers and sisters. Edith wonders what it would be like to not have to share the bed with her sisters, or to have brand-new shoes instead of hand-me-downs.

Despite her complaints, Edith’s family is the central part of her life. We can see this, as she’s incredibly conflicted when she finds out the history of how her Bubby came to America without her mother. Edith decides to avoid her in order to punish Bubby Etta. But Edith’s promise to not talk to her Bubby becomes harder as she misses stopping by on her way home from school, especially wanting the special treats her Bubby makes just for her.

This theme of family, and all the complications involved in loving her family, is a big part of what Edith tries to figure out, as she figures out herself. She likes being known as the “good little mother”, helping out with chores and younger siblings. However, she questions whether she deserves this title when she gets mad at her younger sister over a misunderstanding. Edith’s feelings come to a head when she loses a member of her family. Her reactions to this moment underscore how difficult it is to manage the stress of everyday life when normalcy is lost. However, this situation leads Edith to find new ways to connect with her family, and even help her to figure out who she wants to become.

This book is a thoughtful and easy read, making it a perfect gift for younger folk around the ages of 10 – 12. It’s also a great glimpse into the history of Baltimore, especially in a neighborhood like Jonestown, with the unique perspective of Edith leading the way. It even features photos of the real Edith Paul, as Betsy Rosenthal recounts what it was like to collect these stories. I found it easy to relate to Edith, even with our own differences, as she shares her desire for belonging and identity. I recommend it to anyone, older or younger, who’s interested in an honest and caring voice, of a girl trying to understand the world and how she fits in.

Come check out this, and many more books, in our Museum gift shop! We often have new additions to our collection.


Interested in picking up the book today? Stop by Esther’s Place, the gift shop at the Jewish Museum. We have it ready for you to grab or to gift to someone else!


 

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Intern Weekly Response: Catalog Reviews!

Posted on July 13th, 2017 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to read a selected JMM exhibit catalog and write a short review!  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


 

Vacations and the Jewish American Dream: Contrasting Identities

By Collections Intern Amy Swartz

 Cover of the catalog.

Cover of the catalog.

The JMM’s catalog on Jewish Vacations, titled The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish American Dream, discusses where and how Jewish Americans vacation. Each article takes on a different place including Atlantic City, Miami Beach, or discusses a theme such as Heritage Tourism or Anti-Semitism. One theme that struck me was the conflicting identities Jews has in the context of these getaways.

Placard of the Warsaw Ghetto. These stone inserts cover the extent of the wall and are all that remain to tell people where the Ghetto once stood.

Placard of the Warsaw Ghetto. These stone inserts cover the extent of the wall and are all that remain to tell people where the Ghetto once stood.

A consistent conflict is between who is Jewish: German Jews/those who have been in the United States for longer vs. Eastern European Jews. German Jews had assimilated into American culture and were generally wealthier than their newer counterparts in society. These differences often manifested themselves during vacations. Another conflict discussed was the conflict between religion and vacation. Some Jews chose to be less religiously involved while on break which led to fierce criticism from fellow Jews.

The POLIN Museum in Warsaw, which tells the history of the Jews in Poland from medieval times until today.

The POLIN Museum in Warsaw, which tells the history of the Jews in Poland from medieval times until today.

 

The article titled “Heritage Tours” also touched on the idea of identity and who/what is Jewish. Jews who visited Warsaw realized that the Jewish history now remembered was explicitly about the Holocaust rather than the centuries of history prior. Many felt their history was no longer accessible there, specifically because most of the buildings and neighborhoods were destroyed during WWII. Having just visited Warsaw in March, and toured the Warsaw Ghetto, I understand the frustration as there is a less tangible history due to destruction. Identity plays a key role in most people’s lives, however, for Jews, vacations were an intersectional moment where conflicting identities emerged.


 

Chosen Food: How the Chosen People create a Food Culture

By Education Intern Erin Penn

What do you call a cat you can read? A catalogue! Here is the cover art for Chosen Food.

What do you call a cat you can read? A catalogue! Here is the cover art for Chosen Food.

I got to read and review Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture and American Jewish Identity for this week. The catalogue contains numerous essays about Jewish eating traditions, recipes, and the importance of food for a community.  In the midst of the essays, there are shorter pieces called “Contemporary Voices.” The entire catalogue was fascinating—it excited my interests and my taste buds.

The “Contemporary Voices” pieces were originally published in the Jew and the Carrot Website.

The “Contemporary Voices” pieces were originally published in the Jew and the Carrot Website.

I really enjoyed reading Ted Merwin’s essay about how the Jewish community and Jewish practices changed as the immigrated to America. He focused on the popularity of kosher restaurants and delicatessens as a central meeting place.  Merwin writes, “The corner kosher deli competed with the synagogue as the cornerstone of the Jewish neighborhood” (29). The essay was interesting because it did not focus on one specific city or type of cuisine and instead showed the widespread custom of eating out. I am curious if there are similar comparisons between other cultures and their eating customs and traditions. Don’t all immigrant communities hold onto and adapt their traditions, especially their food, in new American towns?


 

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jewish and Medicine in America

By Collections Intern Joelle Paull

Excerpt and photo from “Chicken Soup: Women and the Making of the Modern Jewish Home and Nation.

Excerpt and photo from “Chicken Soup: Women and the Making of the Modern Jewish Home and Nation.

In his introduction to the exhibition catalogue for Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America, JMM Director Marvin Pinkert, wrote sought “to illuminate how scientific and cultural concerns have intertwined to shape not only the American Jewish experience, but an important field of human endeavor.” (Pinkert, 5). The essays in the catalogue do exactly that. From the role of the immigrant’s body in assimilation to representation of Jewish physicians in pop culture, the catalogue and essays within it show the process of assimilation and cultural exchange culminating with American Jewish doctor’s complex image in our culture.” (Merwin, 90).

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races, 1937. Courtesy of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy, Inc. CP20.2016.2

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races, 1937. Courtesy of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy, Inc. CP20.2016.2

The collection of essays as a whole are most successful in illustrating the many ways the Jewish immigrants were successful in making a place for themselves in the United States and the struggle of fighting stereotypes, prejudices, and in turn images of self-worth. It illustrates the role of health in many Jewish cultures and details various traditions surrounding health, medicine, and the body.


 

Small But Significant

By Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado

Catalogue cover

Catalogue cover

When I first arrived at the JMM back in June to begin this internship, I found a large blue booklet in the back pocket of my intern binder. This blue booklet, Enterprising Emporium: The Jewish Department Stores of Downtown Baltimore, is the catalogue for the corresponding exhibit of the same name that was on display at the JMM from 2001-2003. I was tasked with reviewing this catalogue for today’s blog post – but how does a person review a catalogue for an exhibit that they have not seen? That is the primary concern I had in terms of reading this catalogue. The layout of the catalogue helped me try to understand what I could not see with an intro and three scholarly essays. I’m guessing the essays correspond with the sections of the exhibit.

The Judaica collection of Florence Roger. This was on display at Hutzler’s Department Store next to other pieces of artwork. The displays were part of the store’s 90th anniversary commemoration.

The Judaica collection of Florence Roger. This was on display at Hutzler’s Department Store next to other pieces of artwork. The displays were part of the store’s 90th anniversary commemoration.

The introduction by former Museum Director Avi Decter set the stage for what I was about to read and what images I was going to see. I must admit that when I think of Jewish Baltimore, I don’t think of department stores, but the JMM is a Jewish heritage museum that tells the story of Baltimore Jews, and the fact that many historic department stores were owned by Jews is significant and it makes sense that an entire exhibit was devoted to the tropic. I think the intro well established me and gave me the necessary facts and figures one would need to know about the topic. After all, publications by the JMM should help educate non-Jews, and this catalogue does a good job at that. The one essay that I was immediately drawn to was one entitled: “Expressions of Jewish Identity in Baltimore’s Downtown Department Stores.” I immediately turned to that essay and began reading.

Hutzler’s 1960 Calendar which featured religious architecture. The Lloyd St Synagogue is featured for the month of March. This was one of many ways the store owners expressed Jewish identity, with little things such as this. 

Hutzler’s 1960 Calendar which featured religious architecture. The Lloyd St Synagogue is featured for the month of March. This was one of many ways the store owners expressed Jewish identity, with little things such as this.

I assume that museum catalogues offer supplementary information and history than the actual exhibit itself did. After all, you can’t possibly fit large essays onto exhibit placards. What I found in this essay was extremely interesting to me, and it taught me more of how Baltimore’s Jews sought to carve a space out for themselves. In this arena, they’re in Department Stores. How does a Jew express their Jewish identity in a Department Store? A store that remains open on the Sabbath! According to the essay, the sheer fact that the stores were owned by Jews meant that a relaxed atmosphere about working on the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays existed. Jewish employees could get off early or stay home. But expressing Jewish identity is more than just getting Saturday off.

The “Israel 67” Fashion show occurred at the Hochshild Department Store as a way to commemorate the new Jewish State in its early years and its fledgling culture.

The “Israel 67” Fashion show occurred at the Hochshild Department Store as a way to commemorate the new Jewish State in its early years and its fledgling culture.

I learned that to express Jewish identity, little things were done, sometimes things that weren’t noticeable to the trained eye. For example, one Department store celebrated its 90th anniversary by displaying a Judaica collection alongside other art pieces. Advertising of Jewish organizations in windows was also quite common. In company newsletters, news of Jewish employees and their families was also commonplace. One department store even printed a calendar that featured Baltimore religious architecture, in which the Lloyd St Synagogue was featured, which was truly significant since Baltimore was/ is predominately Christian. Finally, in a very department store-esque fashion, a store paid tribute to Israel 67 by featuring Israel art and products at their store, even dressing up mannequins in Israel fashion and having a fashion show. All these are small but significant. They showcase a community that had the power to assert their Jewish identity from a powerful soapbox that reached all Baltimoreans: through shopping. Their attempts at expressing their Jewishness is what stayed with me after reading the catalog.


 

Filling In the Blanks: The Voices of Lombard Street Exhibit Catalogue

By Education Intern Sara Philippe

The Voices of Lombard Street exhibit catalogue is an important, maybe necessary piece of work because of the added depth it provides an exhibit that seeks to cover a century’s worth of time. It provides detailed information wherever the exhibit lacks the space, including articles about the pre- 20th and late 19th century state of Jonestown, close-by Little Italy, and the area after the departure of most of its Jews towards the second half of the 20th century, among other topics.

An image from “A Different Kind of Neighorhood”

An image from “A Different Kind of Neighorhood”

I was really interested in the article A Different Kind of Neighborhood: Central European Jews and the Origins of Jewish East Baltimore because it touches on a part of the history of the neighborhood that is largely left out in the exhibit itself. While in the exhibit and on the synagogue tours, the shifts between Central and Eastern European immigration over time is discussed, there is little mention of what Jewish Baltimore looked like before the influx of Eastern Europeans towards the end of the 19th century. I appreciate how this article explains the reasons for the dispersal and lack of a principal residential area for Jews before mass industrialization took place causing ethnic enclaves like the Lombard Street neighborhood to form.

An Image from “Public Notions, Private Lives”

An Image from “Public Notions, Private Lives”

Public Notions, Private Lives: The Meanings of Place in an Inner City Neighborhood charts the history of the neighborhood as the Jewish population began to diminish significantly in the 1930s and the rise of the Flag House Courts housing developments in the 1950s. I love how the article focuses on the residents of the Flag House Courts in a way that Voices cannot given the extensive timeline it covers, while also detailing the ever-present racism that made Jonestown look as it did over time. It does a good job of detailing the role of racial segregation in the neighborhood and the factors that always allowed for white upward mobility. The article makes clear the factors that led to the transformation of the Flag House Courts as a racially mixed development to one that was 97% black. However, I believe the article falls short in analyzing the white flight that led East Baltimore’s Jews to move to other areas of the city and to the suburbs in the first place, while also depicting what that “exodus” looked like. Both the exhibit and the catalogue make me want to no more about this period and the phenomenon of white flight specifically as it affected Baltimore and the communities that were its victims rather than its benefactors.


 

Catalogue Review: Lives Lost, Lives Found

By Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi

Catalogue Cover!

Catalogue Cover!

I read the exhibition booklet for Lives Lost, Lives Found; Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1945. I never personally attended the exhibition that this book expands upon, so I cannot comment on how it ties to the physical presentation. However, this means that I can better interrogate the book as a lone production. I believe the publication works well as a standalone. The five essay sections are easy to follow and full of human detail that brings the facts of this period to life. The essays build a comprehensive picture of the reality of these immigrant’s lives. I most enjoyed the essay, “Knocking at the Door: The German Jewish Refugees and the U.S. Immigration Policy,” which focuses on the immigration of Bernard Mansbach and his subsequent fight to bring his family to the US.

Taken by Leo C. Hess on April 3, 1994 in Druid Hill Park. Bernard Mansbach is furthest right. To his left is his wife, Hertha Mansbach. (JMM 1994.142.062.001)

Taken by Leo C. Hess on April 3, 1994 in Druid Hill Park. Bernard Mansbach is furthest right. To his left is his wife, Hertha Mansbach. (JMM 1994.142.062.001)

The content of this exhibition was particularly suited to book form. I’m sure there are some objects that appeared in the physical exhibition that could not be represented well in the book, but a lot of materials associated with immigration, family photos, visa papers, newspaper reporting, and government documents, all lend themselves to inclusion in the print form. Although, my favorite part primary source inclusion is the quote collection which makes up the last section. They are fantastic to read. The one thing that I wish the section included was some manner of getting additional information on the experiences each quote references. This could have either been captions that give slightly more context to each quote or perhaps a page number from within the essays where the topic the quote references is discussed. This would also encourage readers to return back to the essay sections they may have skimmed on their first pass through the catalogue.


 

All of these exhibit catalogs are available for purchase at Esther’s Place, the JMM Shop!

Stop in or contact Devan Southerland, Shop Assistant at 443-873-5171 / dsoutherland@jewishmuseummd.org.

 

 

 

 

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