From Scrap To Screen

Posted on December 30th, 2016 by

Earlier this month you may have read about celebrations of Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday.  Issur Danielovitch (the future Kirk Douglas) was born December 9, 1916 – though it appears that due to his mother’s misunderstanding of American custom, his birthday was always celebrated on Dec. 14th in his childhood.  When most people think of Kirk Douglas, they think of Spartacus or maybe Vincent Van Gogh… I think of scrap.

A young Kirk Douglas

A young Kirk Douglas

As I explained in last month’s JMM Insights  we are currently in the process of creating a national exhibit on the transforming business of scrap (update: one of our first transformations was the exhibit title – many people were confused by American Alchemy  – so our new, and hopefully final, title is Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling).

Now scrap yards have a significant place in popular cinema – playing “starring roles” in films as diverse as Goldfinger (the car crusher), Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (Anakin Skywalker’s first job), and Stand By Me (with “legendary” junk yard dog, Chopper).  Even animated films like Iron Giant and Wall-E feature aspects of the scrap business.

The Ragman's Son

The Ragman’s Son

However, the scrap business also has played a role in “inspiring” people to enter the world of film and television.  Kirk Douglas’ first autobiography, The Ragman’s Son (1988) describes his life growing up in Amsterdam, NY as the child of an immigrant junk peddler – his father apparently attempted to make a living with both scrap rag and scrap metal.  In Douglas’ case his dad, who he describes as more fond of booze than work, is an unsuccessful peddler.  He manages to take all the money Douglas saved from his childhood jobs and all of his bar mitzvah money and invest it in purchasing a load of scrap.  Unfortunately, the purchase is made in 1929 and the metal loses all its value in the commodities crash that follows the stock market crash.  Kirk Douglas still manages to make his way to college, winning a scholarship to St. Lawrence University.  Reading his book, I sensed little nostalgia for his father or the scrap business, except as obstacles he escaped.

 Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 - 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935.  (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 – 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Douglas was by no means the first to make it from scrap to screen – that distinction may belong to Louis B. Mayer, the guiding force behind Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio.  According to Scott Eyman’s biography, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Mayer was born near the current Ukranian/Belarus border in July of 1884.  Shortly thereafter his parents moved to New York, where his father Jacob was a scrap peddler on Long Island.  By 1892 his family had moved on to Saint John, New Brunswick where Jacob and his son Louis would spend nearly a dozen years collecting and selling scrap.  Aware of the difference in social status, Louis B. Mayer made the claim that the business was always metal, never rag.  Sometimes this meant salvaging shipwrecks that were not uncommon off the coast of New Brunswick – Louis and his brothers learned to dive to scavenge for metal.  Like Douglas, Mayer had an overbearing father and a childhood filled with hunger and hardship plus more than a little anti-Semitic harrasment.  But unlike Douglas, Mayer was unable to continue his formal education past age 12.  He did manage to get out of Saint John, taking a job with a scrap dealer in Chelsea, MA in 1904.  His scrap ventures failed but he did manage to land a job as manager at a small burlesque theater in 1907.  He had the idea of turning the theater into a movie house – “the home of refined amusement devoted to…moving pictures and illustrated songs”.  From then on, his only scrap would be celluloid.

Mandy shows off his trains

Mandy shows off his trains

For my third scrap to screen story I didn’t have to read a biography.  I actually witnessed my cousin Mandy Patinkin working in our family’s scrap yard.  Our grandparents, Max Patinkin and Simon Pinckovitch (a pair of brothers-in-law) had founded People’s Iron and Metal in Chicago in the early 1900s.  Mandy and I – we’re the same age and in the same class at Hebrew School – both worked at the yard in the summers of our teen years.  My recollection is that Mandy as the “extrovert” got the job in the air-conditioned office, kibitzing with the truck drivers when they weighed in and out.  As the “introvert”, I had the job operating the hydraulic press bailing metal in the oppressive heat.  Mandy and I have lost contact over the years so perhaps he remembers it differently – but my lesson from the scrap business was it’s better to be an “extrovert.”  Of course, both of us left the business behind but not without a fair amount of nostalgia.  Follow this link to the 60 Minutes piece where Mandy shows off his model train complete with a miniature of People’s Iron.

Eric Kripke

Eric Kripke

Now you might think that our generation would be the last to make the leap from scrap to screen but the story doesn’t end with Princess Bride.  Those of you following this fall’s history-bending series Timeless may be forgiven for not noticing the name of co-writer and co-producer Eric Kripke.  It’s one of several sci-fi series Kripke has helped create.  It turns out that when you look up Kripke Enterprises, what you’ll find is Kripke’s father’s scrap aluminum business in Toledo.  A long tradition continues.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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Summer Teachers Institute 2016: Intern Thoughts

Posted on August 10th, 2016 by

Art as Resistance

Art as Resistance

One of my favorite learning activities at this year’s Summer Teachers Institute was experiencing a lesson on the Jüdischer Kulturbund. After visiting the Holocaust Museum yesterday, I had learned a little about the Jewish cultural renewal that occurred in Germany in the face of discriminatory laws, and I was left wanting to know more. In perfect serendipity, one of today’s workshops was on exactly that. When all of Germany’s Jewish artists and performers were fired from their jobs, the Jüdischer Kulturbund formed to allow Jewish artists to continue creating, albeit within tighter restraints. We went through a practice lesson, which was designed to show kids how people use art as a form of resistance, and allow them to creatively engage in this idea. We were split up into groups, and tasked to create four pieces of art, each one with an added restriction. In order, they were: You cannot use the color red, you cannot use writing utensils, you cannot use construction paper, and you cannot portray the American flag, but you must represent the spirit of it. The activity was fun, and the wrap up questions afterward were also helpful in making the lesson more meaningful.

During my second semester at college, I taught a twice-a-week class about democracy and grassroots civic projects to middle schoolers, and lesson planning was definitely one of the most difficult parts. On the one hand, you want the students to get your Big Idea and really understand it, but on the other hand, they have to find it interesting and fun. An activity like the Jüdischer Kulturbund one I expereinced today would be the perfect blend of fun and thoughtprovoking. I could definitely see this being adapted to fit my classroom next year, and am encouraged by seeing the Maryland teachers here today share these innovative lesson plans and ideas.

-Emilia Halvorsen


Day One at Beth El Congregation

Day One at Beth El Congregation

The biggest lesson I took from the Summer Teachers Institute program was the difficulty of planning Holocaust education. When dealing with such difficult and distressing subject material, it’s very difficult to stay responsive. My natural tendency when confronted with information about the holocaust is to shut down; I feel that there is so much about the holocaust ingrained in the modern Jewish sub-consciousness that I already know all the raw facts. Rather than just presenting information, the goal of holocaust education should be to illuminate the warning signs of impending tyranny and oppression, and to avoid the mistakes of the past, rather than the revel in the suffering of the past.

–David Agronin


Holocaust survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib

Holocaust survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib

During the Summer Teachers Institute, I was able to hear Holocaust survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib’s testimony about her experiences in Poland and Auschwitz as a young girl. Her powerful account demonstrated the lengths to which she and the adults around her went to keep her safe in the face of relentless Nazi cruelty. She so effectively conjured up the image of her as a Jewish child separated from her family in Nazi-occupied Poland; I will never forget her story. Hearing Mrs. Kalib speak emphasized to me that the victims and survivors of the Holocaust are all people with meaningful life stories, not just figures in photos or statistics in books.

-Alice Wynd


Deborah Batiste presenting on "Echoes & Reflections"

Deborah Batiste presenting on “Echoes & Reflections”

The most mesmerizing part of STI was the combination of stories from the past and how they are being understood today. When we worked together in groups it helped me to understand what it means to be part of a community that does whatever they can to stand in solidarity. It emphasized what it truly means to be a person associated with a history people who have overcome tragedy through finding joy wherever they could. This circles back to the importance of supporting your community so that strength is built up in all the members of that community.

-Rachel Morin


The Real Monuments Men

The Real Monuments Men

For the summer Teachers Institute program I was able to attend two days of the program, the Beth El hosted day and the JMM hosted Wednesday event. I was captivated by the events as they focused on the arts both during and after the Holocaust. I was particularly interested in the sections centering around the cinematography of the Holocaust as it happened and the fiction and non-fiction films/documentaries that emerged years after. I am interested in video and film myself so it was really interesting to learn about the effects of this cinema in the Jewish community.

For instance, I learned a majority of concentration camp footage was from Nazi propaganda, additionally allies used video footage of the camps for propaganda as well. I was also surprised to learn that the making of Holocaust themed movies has been a fairly recent endeavor. Movies I always assumed had some degree of accuracy were also debunked as well others I thought less of such as Uprising had hidden detail I wouldn’t have known about. I was also really interested to learn of one speaker’s story detailing the exploits of her father. He was one of the monetary men serving in WW2 to track hidden Nazi money and stolen art works. Her story about how she uncovered the classified documents in storage and rooted through them until she discovered the character playing George Clooney in the film Monuments Men was in fact her father. Overall it was a very interesting experience that I learned a lot from.

-O. Cade Simon


JMM Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon welcomes participants at the opening of our 2016 Summer Teachers Institute.

JMM Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon welcomes participants at the opening of our 2016 Summer Teachers Institute.

This week the JMM hosted the 2016 Summer Teachers’ Institute about Holocaust education.  The theme this year was Holocaust Remembrance through the Arts.  I attended both the first session at Beth El Synagogue and the third session at the JMM, unfortunately missing the visit to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.  It was, above all else, a singularly moving experience to see so many teachers brought together for the purpose of learning how to better pass on the history and the story of the Holocaust in ways that students can understand and deal with meaningfully.  It was also heartbreaking to hear and see so many stories of loss and grief, and knowing that even for those who survived they could never forget.   Even though I don’t plan to go into education, I’ve already made plans to follow up on some of the material I learned about in these sessions and I’ll remember this week for the rest of my life.

-Gina Crosby


"Skokie" and "The Wave"

“Skokie” and “The Wave”

During the summer teacher’s institute there was a lot of information to process. I found the section about Holocaust films especially interesting.  I went to a living historian workshop during the spring and they also talked about the value of using film and T.V. to start a dialogue about history.  It got me wondering about other films that could be used to tell the story of the Holocaust that might not be Holocaust films, such as “Skokie” which is good at continuing the story and showing that Nazi ideology did not die with the end of WW II, or “The Wave” which looks at a high school history experiment gone wrong to try and show students how the Nazis were able to rise to power. I feel these films would help to contextualize the Holocaust and show how its effects continued past the fact.

-Tamara Schlossenberg


Spoken Work Haikus

Participants in "Music and Art: Exploring Responses to Oppression"

Participants in “Music and Art: Exploring Responses to Oppression”

I’m not a teacher, and likely won’t become one, but that didn’t matter. The Summer Teachers Institute, especially the third day at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, was a very enjoyable experience. My favorite part was with Gail Prensky and Sarah Baumgarten during their presentation “Music and Art: Exploring Responses to Oppression.” When I first heard about its interactive nature, I admittedly felt apprehensive. I was tired and wanted another presentation like the first, where I could sit back and enjoy. The thing is, the moment we split up into groups to begin projects, I didn’t feel tired anymore. The presenter split us into groups of five and gave us the choice of either a visual art or musical project with specific restrictions. My group contained two other interns and two younger teachers, and we decided to do the musical challenge of writing a love song without the word love. We bounced around all kinds of ideas, the interns easily joking around with the teachers. Eventually, we settled on writing haikus about the love for humanity. Because this took us so long to decide on, as we were busy jotting down synonyms to love and deciding whether we wanted this to focus on a gentlemen longing for a maiden, or a maiden longing for a gentlemen (I was outnumbered), or whether it should follow the “traditional” haiku format with allusions to nature, we were still scribbling down stanzas while watching all the other groups present (everyone was amazing). Finally, I stood up to recite the spoken word poems, with the guys standing behind me and snapping for the musical element. One of the interns encouraged everyone to snap, and soon the whole room was snapping and grinning. I won’t remember the exact words of the other presenters, no matter how engaging. This experience, however, is something I doubt I’ll forget for a long time.

-Anna Balfanz


Josh Headley on incorporating graphic novels into Holocaust education.

Josh Headley on incorporating graphic novels into Holocaust education.

The Summer Teacher’s Institute took place on August 1st-3rd, the final day hosted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland and was most interesting for me. As an aspiring social studies teacher, the programming and speakers at STI discussed a plethora of topics that I am interested in. My favorite speaker was Josh Headley, the head of the social studies department at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Josh did an excellent job explaining how he has incorporated graphic novels into holocaust education. He went on to explain that by sparking his students’ interest in certain topics, he managed to inspire them to research other subjects that mattered to them. This very simple notion is often overlooked by the public school system and leads to disengaged students. Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned international educator, has said “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.” Josh is exemplifying this concept by giving his students the tools that are necessary to further their education on their own.

The speakers and programs at STI were all beneficial to me and I look forward to using the abilities I gained as a teacher in the near future.

-Ben Snyder

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