Keeping the “tribe” without the “tribalism”

Posted on January 27th, 2014 by

What do political scientist Norm Ornstein, the Pew Study and the American Civil War have to do with one another?  I can’t speak to their relationships in the real world, but I would like to share some thoughts about they have started to link up in my mind.

Ornstein, author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, has been speaking recently about a phenomenon he calls “tribalism”.  There are many aspects to his analysis, but at its core he defines the situation as one where people start to care more about who is making the argument than about the content of the argument.  Politicians switch positions on issues depending on which party or which leader has made the proposal.  Tribalism makes compromise nearly impossible – because while it’s conceivable to find middle ground on an issue there is no middle ground on identity.

It has occurred to me that this type of tribalism is a feature of the modern world that is by no means restricted to Washington.  The Pew Study is the most recent effort to slice and dice the American Jewish community and discern its subgroups.  I am aware of the controversy over the methodologies of the studies but I don’t think anyone would deny that differences within our community sometimes impede our collective well-being.  There are real disagreements about matters of policy, but I am often struck by the fact that the fiercest struggles are matters of identity.  At a recent forum it happened that a panel was introduced only by their names.  About midway through the policy discussion, a clearly distressed audience member raised her hand and said “we all have prejudices, tell us something about who you are so we will know your prejudices.”  The single item I found most striking in the Pew Study was that when the questions weren’t about labels or rituals, but instead about values – there was a surprising level of commonality across all groups.  I manage a museum, so I have a vested interest in the preservation of the inanimate objects we imbue with meaning (what flags we fly, how we dress, what we use to worship), but I find myself wondering whether we sometimes put so much value in the distinctive aspects of our material culture that we lose sight of the human bonds that tie us all together.

And this takes me to the topic of the Civil War.  When Ornstein was recently asked if this is the worst state that Congress has ever been in, he conceded that it was worse in the years immediately prior to the Civil War…but added, who wants to use that as a standard of comparison?  Our current exhibit points out that the war not only divided the Union but exacerbated divisions within the Jewish community.  As “who” became more important than “what”, factions became irreconcilable.  In many cases people stopped talking to their neighbors and shut themselves off from alternate points of view.  In the echo chambers that emerged, progressively more radical solutions started to seem normal.  Families and congregations were split forever.

I think that identity is a basic human need, and that museums like JMM perform a public service by expanding understanding of elements of both our common identity and of the distinctive sub-segments of the Jewish experience.  However, I hope we always keep in mind that identity should not be a wall but a window, something that draws us into new worlds and helps us reexamine our own assumptions.

Civil War cropped 1A blog post by executive director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click HERE.

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Iron Will in Hoopskirts: Jewish Women in the Civil War

Posted on November 11th, 2013 by

November’s theme here at the JMM is Jewish women in the Civil War. We’ve kicked off the month with a wonderful talk yesterday by historian Dr. Lauren Strauss. Her talk has the distinction of having the Best Title Ever (IMHO): “Kosher Southern Belles and Yankee Bubbies Face America’s Greatest Crisis”.

Lauren Strauss presents

Lauren Strauss presents

Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

The Levy Sisters, Eugenia (left) and Phoebe (right)

The Levy Sisters, Eugenia (left) and Phoebe (right)

Lauren told us about a handful of distinctive Jewish women who did remarkable things during the war. The most dramatic of them were the two Levy sisters: Eugenia Levy Phillips was a Confederate spy and was incarcerated twice for it, and her sister Phoebe Yates Pember was a stalwart nurse at the Chimborazo Hospital, where she made her mark by feeding the wounded with her chicken soup.

A few ladies of the Civil War

A few ladies of the Civil War

Next week, we continue celebrating the remarkable women of the Civil War, this time with a visit from a very familiar name: Clara Barton will be gracing us with her presence and her memories of the battlefields at 1pm next Sunday. Don’t miss it  – for more info, check out our programs page!

Britt Olsen-Ecker as Clara Barton

Britt Olsen-Ecker as Clara Barton

abby krolik copyA blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts by Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Museum Matters – November 2013

Posted on November 1st, 2013 by

Iron Will in Hoop Skirts

They ran shops and hospitals.  They established charitable organizations, raised funds and supported those who could not support themselves.  They included authors and agitators, organizers and spies.  Some were imprisoned in the war and a few dozen put on military uniforms (and in the guise of men) went off to fight.  These are the women of the Civil War, and they are the stars of this month’s programs.

The exhibit, Passages Through the Fire:  Jews and the Civil War tells the story of many of these women, from abolitionist and feminist, Ernestine Rose to died-in-the-wool Confederate partisan Eugenia Levy Phillips.  It also deals with the struggles of woman caught in-between, like Annie Jonas Wells, whose father was a friend of Lincoln but had two brothers join the Confederate army.

Our special Sunday programs this month, with Dr. Lauren Strauss on November 10 and Clara Barton on November 17 (see details below), amplify the content of the exhibit and offer new perspectives on both the work and lives of women during the conflict. We are also installing a small lobby display on Monday, expanding on some of these stories and introducing a few new ones. We are grateful to the Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation for its generous support of highlighting these stories in our exhibits and programs.

Come join us as we celebrate the talents, the bravery and the determination of the Civil War women.


Upcoming Programs

Please note that unless otherwise noted, all programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore, MD 21202). For more information and to RSVP for specific programs, contact Trillion Attwood: (410) 732-6400 x215 / For more information on JMM events please visit


Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

Saturday, November 9, 7:00pm

Beth El Congregation, 8101 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21208

Free Admission

Co-sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Men’s Club of Beth El, the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning at Beth El Congregation, and the JMM.


Kosher Southern Belles and Yankee Bubbies Confront America’s Greatest Crisis: Jewish Women and the Civil War with speaker, Lauren Strauss

Sunday, November 10, 1:00pm

Program is Free with Museum Admission

At the end of the Civil War, Jewish community leaders and historians rushed to document the bloody sacrifices made by “men of the Hebrew faith” to the nation’s greatest struggle. However, the contributions of American Jewish women – both Northerners and Southerners – have only recently begun to be appreciated. As nurses, teachers, homemakers, merchants, and even convicts and spies, these Jewish daughters of the Union and the Confederacy were deeply involved in their country’s fate at a crucial moment in its history. Despite deep fissures between Jewish women in the North and South, the very strength of their passions highlights the extent to which they embraced their identity as Americans -not only for its wartime relevance, but also for a longer-term understanding of Jewish integration into American society.


Special Living History Performance: Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield

Sunday, November 17, 1:00pm

Program is Free with Museum Admission

Join us at for a special performance by Living History Character Clara Barton. Hold your breath as the “Angel of the Battlefield” trods amidst the most dangerous and violent conflicts of the war to provide solace and hope to boys wounded in the fight.  See how one woman’s courage and generosity commanded the respect of every soldier.

Clara Barton is performed by actor, Britt Olsen-Ecker who has performed with The Strand Theatre, Glass Mind Theatre, and Single Carrot Theatre.  She is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University and an accomplished photographer.


Gobbles, Gelt and Gratitude

Monday, November 18, 10:30am

$5 per family (includes Museum admission)

Please register at

Join your PJ Pals for Gobbles, Gelt and Gratitude at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, co-sponsored by the Downtown Baltimore JCC and PJ library. Enjoy storytime, crafts and snacks for Chanukah and Thanksgiving. Meet and make new friends. This program is for children aged 6 months to 5 years (siblings welcome).


Late Night on Lloyd Street: “The Crowd was Hushed to Silence”: Lincoln, Gettysburg and the Power of Presidential Address

Tuesday, November 19, 6:00pm


Don your best stove pipe hat and trim your beard! Come and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address. Participate in a live-action reading of the famous speech, take a special curator-led tour of our newly opened exhibit, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, and dive in to a discussion on presidential addresses.

Generously supported by the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund.


Civil War Photography Family Day

Sunday December 1, 11:00am to 2:00pm


Divided Loyalties: Jewish Photographers in Civil War Baltimore with Ross Kelbaugh

Sunday, December 1, 2:00 pm

Both Programs are Free with Museum Admission

The American Civil War brought photography into homes like never before. Join us for a day of engaging activities for the whole family to learn about photography before the age of cell phone cameras and digital prints. Process your own cyanotype, colorize your own Carte de Visite and build your own stereoscope!

At 2:00pm visitors are invited to join us for a talk by Ross Kelbaugh, who is a well-known local photography collector and expert on the subject of the early history of photography. Though Maryland never seceded, it remained a state of divided loyalties during the Civil War.  Some Jewish photographers in Baltimore were sympathetic to the Southern Cause and found themselves embroiled in the events of the period.  Several were even imprisoned for disloyalty. This illustrated program will briefly introduce the practice of photography during this period and discuss the events that brought these Jewish citizens into conflict with Union supporters.


Late Night on Lloyd Street: Estherfest

Wednesday December 4, 6:00 – 9:00pm


Back by popular demand, Esther Weiner returns for our annual Chanukah celebration. Join us as Esther demonstrates how she makes her famous delicious latkes and entertains the audience with her hilarious stand up routine!

Generously supported by the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund.


Faith and Freedom in the Civil War

Sunday December 8, 1pm

Program Free with Museum Admission

In conjunction with our December monthly program focus on the role of chaplains during the Civil War, Barbara Franco, Founding Executive Director of the newly-opened Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, explores how the religious foment, innovation and change wrought by the Second Great Awakening influenced thinking about moral issues of war and slavery, and how Americans of all faiths who met at Gettysburg grappled not only with life and death, but with divergent ideas of faith and freedom that would shape the nation’s future.


BUS TOUR: Civil War Sites of Baltimore

Sunday, December 15

Bus departs at 9:00am from the Jewish Museum of Maryland (doors open 8:30am)

Led by Maryland Civil war expert Daniel Carroll Toomey

Cost: $48 / $40 for members

Learn Baltimore’s Civil War history first hand with this exclusive bus tour led by prominent Maryland historian and author Daniel Carroll Toomey. Seating is limited, so reserve yours today – email to register.


Mitzvahs and Monuments: Remembering Our Veterans at the Jewish Museum of Maryland!

Wednesday December 25, 10:00am to 2:00pm

Program Free with museum admission

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Volunteer Connection, B’nai Israel Congregation, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, the Baltimore VA Medical Center and Jewish Volunteer Connection.


Against the Odds: America, the Monuments Men, and Saving Jewish and European Cultural Heritage with speaker, Michael Kurtz

Wednesday, December 25, 1:00pm

Program Free with Museum Admission

For our Mitzvah Day project we will create gift packages for veterans in Baltimore’s VA Medical Center that we will deliver that afternoon.  And then at 1:00 Dr. Michael Kurtz of the University of Maryland will talk about his book that details the extraordinary story of a WWII platoon assigned the task of rescuing the world’s art treasures stolen by the Nazis (soon to be a major motion picture with George Clooney and Matt Damon).


More Programs

The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit or check out BIYA on facebook.


Women’s Yoga at B’nai starting Nov. 10

B’nai Israel is pleased to offer weekly yoga classes led by certified yoga instructor and B’nai Israel member Rena Needle (

Sundays from 5-6pm starting November 10th

B’nai Israel Congregation, 27 Lloyd Street



Women’s Farbrengen: Cooking for Thanksgivikuh

126 Lloyd Street Baltimore, MD

Sunday, Nov 3 4pm-7pm


4 Rabbis, 5 Opinions

Max’s Taphouse (737 S Broadway Street Baltimore, MD)

Wednesday, Nov 6 7pm-9pm


B-more Shabbat with Repair the World

B’nai Israel: 27 Lloyd Street, Baltimore, MD

Friday, Nov 15 6:30pm


Ice Skating and Hot Cocoa Social

Patterson Park Family Skating Center (200 South Linwood Avenue Baltimore, MD) & Van Gogh Café (300 S. Ann St., Baltimore, MD 21231)

Saturday, Nov 23 7:00pm–BIYA+style&utm_campaign=NovBIYA&utm_medium=email



Exhibits currently on display at the JMM include Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore and The Synagogue Speaks! and Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War on display through February, 28, 2014.


Hours and Tour Times

The JMM is open Sunday-Thursday, 10am – 5pm. We offer tours of our historic synagogues each day at 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00. We are delighted to announce the debut of a new themed “1861 Tour” of the Lloyd Street Synagogue that focuses on Baltimore’s Jewish community during the Civil War. This tour is offered Sunday-Thursday at 3:00pm (in place of the regular tour).

Please note that the JMM is closed on Thursday, November 28 for Thanksgiving. Our administrative offices are also closed on Friday, November 29.


Get Involved

The JMM is looking for volunteers to help staff our front desk, work in the gift shop, and lead tours as docents. No prior knowledge or training is required. All that is needed is an interest in learning about the JMM, our historic sites, exhibits, and programs and a desire to share this knowledge with the public. All volunteers are provided with thorough training. If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen at 410.732.6400 x217 or



Revamped and revitalized, membership at the JMM is now better than ever – with new categories, benefits, and discounts to enrich every visit to the Museum for you and your friends and families.

All members receive our monthly e-newsletter, along with a 10% discount at the Museum store, free general admission to the Museum, free admission to all regular programs, attendance at exclusive member opening events and discounted weekday parking at the City-owned garage at 1001 E. Fayette Street. Your membership provides much needed funding for the many programs that we offer and we hope we can count on you for your continued support. Memberships can be purchase online! For more information about our membership program, please contact Sue Foard at (410) 732-6400 x220 or


Gift Shop


Muscians Menorah by Karen Rossi



 All members of the JMM receive a 10% discount in the Museum Shop. Proceeds from the sale of merchandise in our shop support the mission of The Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Contact Esther Weiner, Museum Shop Manager at 410-732-6400, x211 /





Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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