Happy New Year and Happy Birthday!

Posted on January 4th, 2013 by

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

Happy  New Year!  I believe that this is the first blog post for 2013….  Many families are returning from celebrating the holidays and are enjoying getting back to the routine of school and work.  I am secretly still celebrating even after the first of the year – because my birthday (SHHH… don’t tell anyone  J) follows a few days after New Year’s Day!

I love birthdays – I love celebrating with family and friends;  I love blowing out the candles on the cake; and I even love getting presents…  I wondered if there were examples of how birthdays might have been celebrated in the past.  I checked out Past Perfect  (a search engine  on the JMM’s website)- http:///jmm.pastperfect-online.com/00005cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks –  and I entered the search term “birthday” .  I was so amazed that I found 209 “hits” or items came up that were part of the JMM’s vast collection.   Here is just a smattering of some of the interesting things that I found.

1996.029.001

This is a porcelain vase showing Blanche Bamburger in the photograph, with signatures of her friends. The vase was presented to Blanche on her 18th birthday in 1893. I guess this type of gift predates the “autograph doll.”

Close up of signatures, 1996.029.001

 

1991.057.001

This is a silver Kiddush cup, with  goldwashed interior, made by the Baltimore Sterling Silver Company (Steiff Co.).  The cup includes  Hebrew text: “From the Board of Rabbis this cup has been prepared as a blessing. It is given on the occasion of the 70th birthday to its chief, our teacher, Rabbi Benjamin Szold, 1899, the 18th day in Heshvan.”  I thought this was very cool- I have my mom’s Stieff silver and everyday coming home from work, I  see the neon sign that says STIEFF as you travel north on the Jones Falls Expressway!

1989.079.035

This picture is from the collection of Rabbi Benjamin Szold’s papers – and shows Henrietta Szold planting the 83rd tree in the Henrietta Szold Forest at Maaleh HaChamishah on the occasion of her 82nd birthday, December 21, 1942. ” She’s Baltimore’s own Hometown Girl!

1996.033.007

This is a black and white photograph of the window display at Enoch Pratt Free Library for Israel’s 10th Birthday, from April 15 through May 5, 1958. Photography by Sussman-Ochs.  This picture is from the Lester Levy Family Papers.  I don’t think that the staff at the library did an accurate fact check…. Israel became an independent state on May 14/15 1948.

1995.013.037

This is black and white photograph of Rose Kornblatt with  some of her students receiving birthday spankings at Public School #20, Baltimore, MD; caption on reverse:  ” Happy Birthday” – I am certain that today that this Mrs. Kornblatt would be terminated from teaching if she gave out “birthday spankings” with a switch to her students.

1985.104.002.057

This is a black and white photograph of Louis E. Shecter holding a Japanese drawing wishing Pablo Picasso a happy birthday. The drawing was created in Osaka, Japan and mailed to Picasso by Shecter in October 1966. How COOL is that!

1995.192.270

A birthday celebration for Dr. Louis Kaplan on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Take a look at who is standing on the podium with Dr. Kaplan- Elie Wiesel spoke that evening at the celebration honoring Dr. Kaplan, who was a leading Jewish educator here in Baltimore.

1994.039.003

This color photograph is of Jenya Berdichevsky, Sophia Richen, at Fania’s apartment for celebration of Fania’s son Tamenie’s first birthday, June 1993. I love how busy this photograph is….. with so much food and libation!

2009.009.001

This is a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game made of paper. It belonged to Naomi B. Cohen (my friend Maxine’s mother) it was used at birthday parties for both Maxine and her brothers, Dr. Howard B. Cohen and Jack S. Cohen. I played this game at birthday parties when I was a youngster many years ago!

Here’s to another birthday for me but more importantly –best wishes to all for a Happy & Healthy New Year 2013!l

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Americanizing Chanukah

Posted on December 14th, 2012 by

A blog post by Historian Deb Weiner.

Last week, a reporter from the Jewish Times called to ask when Chanukah gift-giving first became popular in America. I had no clue, but I knew where to find the answer: in the book Wonders of America, by Jenna Weissman Joselit, a leading historian of American Jewish popular culture. I pulled the book off the shelf, looked up “Chanukah” in the index, and relayed the relevant details to the reporter. I thought it would be pertinent to share Joselit’s observations with you as well.

K2003.3.1a

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Joselit writes, “more American Jews were inclined to experiment with Christmas than with Chanukah. Beguiled by its charms, they adorned their homes with greenery and eagerly exchanged gifts.” Along with other Americans, Jews ignored the religious meaning behind Christmas and enjoyed its “secularized, commodified, and mirth filled dimensions.” The holiday’s appeal was not limited to “well-established Jews”—it trickled down to immigrants as well. “According to the Jewish Daily Forward, a startlingly large proportion of new arrivals took quickly to the custom of giving Christmas presents, a practice allegedly as widespread as the exchange of Purim gifts. ‘Who says we haven’t Americanized,’ the paper quoted several immigrants as saying. ‘The purchase of Christmas gifts is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn.’”

 

Hutzler’s gift box, 1997.83.9a

 

Jewish leaders tried to promote Chanukah as an alternative to Christmas, but “no amount of rhetorical excess could disguise the fact that Chanukah’s charms paled in comparison with those of Christmas.” Joselit does not identify who came up with the idea of giving gifts as part of celebrating Chanukah, or precisely when the custom took off, but gift-giving was clearly a key part of the holiday’s revival in the 1920s. That’s when Chanukah “began to come into its own as a notable Jewish domestic occasion and an exercise in consumption.” Not surprisingly, this was a time of upward mobility for the increasingly Americanized immigrants, who were looking for ways to combine their American and Jewish identities. What better way than to fit Chanukah into modern American consumer society?

K2000.4.1

Yiddish newspapers of the 1920s “carried dozens of tempting advertisements for Chanukah gifts, from automobiles to waffle irons.”  While advertisers saw Chanukah as a way to sell a wide array of products, newspaper editors saw the products as a way to sell Chanukah. Editorials encouraged readers “to add the exchange of presents to the roster of Chanukah customs.” As one newspaper counseled, “To command the attention and affection of Jewish children, the holiday must become an occasion for storytelling, gift-giving, and merrymaking.”

K1999.30.5

In addition to its commercialization, Joselit writes, “a search for religious parity” proved to be the other key factor in Chanukah’s success in the years after World War II, “when it emerged not only as the Jewish antidote to Christmas but as its functional equivalent.” For second and third generation Americans, Chanukah became an important way to express Jewishness.  By the 1950s the celebration of Chanukah had become “one of the few Jewish ritual practices actually to grow rather than diminish in popularity.”

The perfect Chanukah gift, available from the Museum shop.

 Happy Chanukah everyone!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Lost in Transliteration

Posted on December 12th, 2012 by

A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.

I think I’ve finally adjusted to Hanukkah. I don’t mean “Hanukkah”, the holiday I’ve celebrated for 60 years, I mean “Hanukkah” the spelling that has become popular in my lifetime.

Taking the holiday decorations out of the closet is my annual reminder that transliteration can transform tradition.  I grew up with a beautiful blue banner that proudly proclaimed “Happy Chanukah” right above our menorah (a metal candle holder of very simple design that made up in weight what it lacked in elegance).  I never for a moment questioned the perfection of this spelling.

But in the 1980s, – when our kids were young and our old banner disheveled from years of Scotch tape being applied and removed – I had to purchase a new banner and discovered that a lot of options had been added to the transliteration list.  I settled on a multi-colored model with fringe and the phrase “Happy Hanuka”.  It appeared that this peculiar spelling was an aesthetic choice, as the nearly even number of letters allowed the Star of David that separated the words to be placed exactly in the middle.

For many years I continued to look for “Chanukah” cards (just one of my atavistic preferences – like my nostalgia for the German beer hall melody for “Adon Olam”).

Of course, Hanukkah and its problematic initial letter are not unique.  I understand that before we renovated the Lloyd Street Synagogue there was a lively discussion about “mikveh” vs. “mikvah”.  As a former volunteer for Congressman Abner Mikva, I confess that I would probably have come out on the losing side of this debate.

Hebrew transliteration is actually relatively straightforward compared to my experience in East Asian Studies.  I still cringe when I hear commercials for Toyota Camry (to rhyme with “lamb tree”).  The Japanese word is “kanmuri”, meaning “crown”, and there is no “‘a’-as-in-‘can'” sound in Japanese – the sound is “a” as in “Genghis Khan”.

Speaking of Genghis Khan, when I started studying history his birth name was Temujin.  But in many articles written today you will find that he was born Tiemuzhen.  This reflects one of the most dramatic changes in transliteration in the 20th century.  Until the thawing of relations with mainland China, most Western scholars used the Wade Giles system to romanize Chinese words (named for the British diplomats who developed and refined the system). The dominant system today is the “pinyin” system, the official transliteration practice of the People’s Republic of China.

In “pinyin”, Mao Tse Tung became Mao Zedong and Mah Jongg became Ma Jiang.  No matter how you spell it, it’s still fun to play (I mean “Mah Jongg” not “Mao Tse Tung”).  So I hope you’ll join us on December 25 when we all have “phun” at the Dragons and Dreidels program – no transliteration required.

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