JMM Insights: Dear Abby – The Mendes Cohen Edition

Posted on September 12th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

My wife and I have an unfortunate tendency of putting things off—even past the last minute, sometimes! It’s quite a problem in our lives, as you might imagine. But what saddens us the most is when we just barely miss seeing an exhibit at the JMM.  And it’s always like that—we came to see the Civil War exhibit just a month after it closed, and we came to see The Electrified Pickle just one week after that closed.

We really don’t want to miss this next one—the Mendes Cohen exhibit—so, for once in my life, I’m going to (gulp!)…plan ahead! Unfortunately, my wife and I will be out of town this weekend, when the exhibit opens. I hope the exhibit will be here for more than just a few weeks! Please tell me, how long will the Mendes exhibit be on display?

And while I’m asking about it, could you clarify for me what the exhibit will be like? Nothing against mazes, but that sounds like the exhibit is geared more towards kids than adults. Is that true?

Thanks for your help!

Always A Little Late 


Dear Always Late,

I can certainly relate to procrastinating every once in awhile (OK, maybe it’s a little more than just “once in a while”!). Fortunately, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen is going to be with us for a long time. We will have the exhibit on display here for a whole nine months! It opens this Sunday, September 14, 2014 (just in time for the Star Spangled Spectacular celebrations), and it will close on Sunday, June 14, 2015. That should give you plenty of time to plan a visit here. Also, if you are on our email mailing list, you will receive several reminders each month of all the wonderful public programs we’ll be having.

We always strive to have something for everybody in our exhibits, and this is no exception. The Mendes exhibit includes both artifacts and thoughtful content about the life of Mendes Cohen in the context of what was happening in Baltimore, in the country, and in the world. While history is not always enough to capture the attention of some, we hope that the interactives scattered throughout the maze (and the very concept of the maze itself) will do the trick.

See you soon (I hope)!


Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Editor’s note: The following letter to Dear Abby arrived in the form of a telegram. We have reproduced the message as authentically as possible. We previously had no idea telegrams were still possible.



MESSAGE: Have not yet received my pass to the members opening [STOP] Not a member, but should be OK [STOP] You know who I am, right? [STOP] Will be on 0500 train from NYC Fashion Wk. to Balt. Penn [STOP] Am looking forward to private tour of Mendes exhibit [STOP] Pls. confirm w/my P.A. at [STOP] Thanks [STOP] Ta! [STOP]



Dear Ms. Smith,

I received the telegram from your boss, Mrs. Jacob B. Fancypants. Wow, who knew you could still send a telegram? It must be really interesting being her personal assistant. But I digress…

Please inform Mrs. Fancypants that, while the opening is only open to current members of the JMM, she is more than welcome to—in fact she is encouraged to—buy a membership when she arrives at the Museum. We will be happy to have her at our event!

While the exhibit, with its small spaces, does not lend itself easily to docent-led tours, groups may call in advance (to me) by at least a week to book a docent to take them through. However, I believe that the exhibit has so much detail and information that walk-in visitors who self-guide through the maze will come out with just as rich an experience. Additionally, we are developing a special tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in honor of the Mendes exhibit. Because Mendes Cohen and his family were always at the forefront of using the latest technologies available, the tour will shed light on technological firsts in Baltimore and at the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

This tour will take the place of the 3:00pm tour and will debut on November 9, 2014.

I hope the two of you will be able to come to our members’ opening this Sunday evening, and many other programs as well! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if either of you have any questions (though perhaps email or phone would be easier than telegram.)

Best Wishes,


Mendes Intro Panel_v4

Dear Abby,

All my life, I have been inexorably  drawn to the intricacies of the physics of the time-space continuum, and over the years, I’ve become a self-educated expert on the topic. Therefore, I was delighted to hear that your museum will be displaying an exhibit dedicated to the truly extraordinary life of Mendes I. Cohen.

You are probably wondering right now what does Mendes I. Cohen have to do with the time-space continuum. And well you might ask that! This unique individual has come to my attention through my studies because of his uncanny appearances all over time and space. Not only is he present at the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1814, but he also serves as president of the Maryland Historical Society in the early 1900s. Since he was born in 1796, that would make him at least 104 years old at the start of his tenure at the historical society—a feat that was virtually impossible in those days! It is my belief, then, that Mendes I. Cohen was—or rather, is—a time traveller.

I am further supported in my belief by other “impossible” sightings: just last weekend, he was sighted at the anniversary celebrations of the Battle of North Point, and I have reason to believe, from careful scrutiny of contemporary photographs, that he was present at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy! There is clearly something very mysterious about Mendes I. Cohen. In fact, he will be the subject of my next scholarly book, Mendes I. Cohen: Secrets of the Universe and its Time Travelling Assassin, which will—fingers crossed!—be published sometime next year. You will probably hear from me then about having a book talk at the museum. (Please see attachment with 1000 page excerpt from the manuscript.)

In the mean time, I would be much obliged if I could request some assistance from you. Judging from the level of detail contained in your exhibit, it would seem that you have some special connection or knowledge of Mendes I. Cohen and his whereabouts. Again, I would be much obliged if you would arrange a tête à tête for the two of us. We have so much to discuss! When we do have this meeting, is it permissible to take photographs? It would be purely for purposes of scientific evidence, I assure you.


Doc D. Lorean 


Dear Doc,

While your theory about Mendes Cohen is fascinating, I must point out at least one part of your argument that I know to be incorrect. The Mendes Cohen who was president of the Maryland Historical Society is not the same Mendes Cohen who fought in the Battle of Baltimore—the former was the nephew of the latter! It can be very confusing when close relatives have identical names, so the mistake is an understandable one.

Barring a sèance, I probably can’t arrange a meeting between you and the real Mendes Cohen. Probably. What I can do, however, is arrange a performance of our living history character version of Mendes Cohen, played by the very talented Grant Cloyd. Mendes Cohen has joined our lively lineup of living history characters based on real Baltimoreans, including Ida Rehr, Saul Bernstein, and Bessie Bluefeld. Each of them can be hired to perform a one act play based on their lives that lasts about 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for questions) for either adult or school age audiences.  They can also be hired to walk around in character at an event. If you want to book them, or just find out more information, please contact me and I will do my best to help you!

Photography at these performances is generally allowed—though please don’t use flash as that can disturb the actor. At the exhibit here at the Museum, it’s a similar guideline (photography without flash is allowed), with a few exceptions: the case of Egyptian antiquities, the travel documents, and the passport are all items that we have borrowed from other museums, and so we cannot give general permission to photograph them.

I hope this was helpful to you. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out!

Best Wishes,



Greetings and Salutations Mmlle. Abigail,

I sincerely wish you do not think me too forward for sending you a letter without a formal introduction, but I am told that you are the one to approach on matters regarding visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland and its lovely souvenir and books shop. Although Baltimore is my homeland, these days I am but a weary traveler of many places and dimensions, and am no different than the majority of tourists who enjoy collecting mementos from the various stops on their journeys.

Word has reached my ears that your historical establishment is about to present an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of one Mendes Cohen (or have you done so already? Forgive me, I sometimes get confused about this sort of thing). I must confess, I am unusually familiar with this particular character, and I would care to have some memento of his new-found general notoriety.

If it would please you to catalog the items relating to Mr. Cohen that will be for sale in your shop for the duration of the exhibition, I would be most grateful. In addition to a desire to expand my own collection of sentimental trinkets, I believe that it never hurts to have a store of potential gifts for future occasions.

Ever your humble friend,



Dear M.C.,

Of course I don’t think you’re too forward! I receive letters, emails, and phone calls from perfect strangers all the time. It’s just part of my job.

I would be happy to tell you all of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen themed items we will be selling in the giftshop. Esther, our gift shop manager, is very excited about our offerings! We’ll have early 19th century children’s toys and games as well as a more modern artistic take on Mendes Cohen in paper doll form. Going off of the maze aspect of the exhibit, we will be selling maze games for all ages—several of them are 3D mazes, and one even has lasers!

For those who think they’re too old for games and lasers (not sure who could possibly be too old for lasers, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere!), we’ll be offering the special opportunity to buy a vintage edition of our publication, Generations, which includes an article by Dr. Deborah Weiner on the life of Mendes Cohen.

And, most excitingly, we will be selling beautiful mugs with the exhibit logo and an image of the flag that Mendes Cohen made to hoist on his boat as he floated down the Nile. This is not an item you can get off!

Hopefully, at least one of these items will tickle your fancy or strike you as a worthy gift for someone!

Happy Travels, my friend!

Yours Truly,



abby krolikDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: Dear Abby June 2014

Posted on June 13th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

When I was a young whippersnapper, I traveled extensively to lands near and far, and I acquired a precious ring on one of these journeys. Several years ago, I donated this ring to the JMM for safekeeping, because it was causing an inordinate amount of strife within my family. I would like to check up on the ring on my next visit the museum, will I be able to see it? I understand that you have topnotch security—which is why I chose your establishment in the first place.


Your Friend from Middle Earth


Dear Middle Earth,

If you want to make sure that you will see your precious ring when you visit us, I would recommend that you make an appointment with our Collections Manager several weeks ahead of time. Many museums, including the JMM, have more things in our collections than we could possibly put on display at any one time. If your donated item is going to be used in an exhibit, we will be sure to let you know. Otherwise, it is probably safely tucked away in an acid-free box in our basement.

Best Wishes,



Dear Abby,

I recently retired from my high-energy job, and I am already bored, bored, bored! I just can’t get used to having all that free time and quiet in the house. There are only so many times you can get coffee or lunch with your friends until you’ve run out of things to gossip about. And you know you’ve got it really bad when you’ve rearranged the furniture so many times that you’ve worn out the carpet you only bought 6 months ago. I have lots of energy and I need some way of using it! Do you take volunteers at the JMM? How do I sign up? I don’t have any museum work experience, so do you provide training?

Yours Truly,

Bored Out of My Mind


Dear Bored Out of My Mind,

We have many, many wonderful volunteers here at the JMM! And we honestly, we don’t know what we would do without them. If you are interested in volunteering with us, the first step is to call or email our amazing Volunteer Coordinator, Ilene Cohen, at (410) 732-6400 x217 or

Ilene will tell you about the various volunteer opportunities that we have. These include giving tours (being a docent), helping in the shop, and manning our front desk. All of these are very important positions. Being a relatively small staff with big ambitions for serving our community, we often find ourselves stretched too thin. That’s where our incredible volunteers come in. We depend on you to help us fill in the spaces where we can’t be.

Ilene will also work with you to find what your expertise and interests are, to see how we can best utilize your talents. She will also take the time to tell you everything you need to know for your position and give you the time and space to practice.

Generally, we ask that our volunteers commit to coming in at least twice a month. Typical daily volunteer shifts are from 11am to 4pm, though it can be changed a little to suit the individual volunteer’s schedule. The only exception to this is for the docents, who only come in for 2-3 hours at a time for very specific times of the day.

As a volunteer, you enjoy some perks here at the JMM. In addition to getting a 20% discount at the giftshop, there are a few opportunities during the year when we have special programs and field trips for our volunteers. And of course, you get the inside scoop on everything that’s happening at the Museum!

If you want to hear more about what our volunteers do, you can read our Volunteer Spotlight blogposts here:

Best Wishes,



Dear Abby,

I clean house for a family of seven bachelors. They are hard working fellows, but they track in a ridiculous amount of mud around the house—I can barely keep up with them with the mop! I would like to have a full day with them out of the house, so that I can give the house a nice, deep clean. Maybe I’ll even bake them an apple pie for when they return home…

Anyway, I saw an ad for your museum in the newspaper, and I thought this could be the perfect place to send those little men for a day of much needed culture! Do I need to make a booking for them to visit the Museum? How do I do that, and what is the admission fee? If I book a tour for them, what will that tour cover?

Thank you for all your help!


The Fairest Housekeeper of Them All


Dear Fairest Housekeeper,

You’ve already completed the first step to booking a tour at the Museum—talking to me! I arrange all group visits to the museum—including school groups, synagogue groups, social groups, you name it! That being said, our definition of a “group” that is eligible for the group rate discount is ten people, so if your seven bachelors have three friends they’d like to bring with them, and they (or you) schedule their visit in advance with me, then they can pay only $5 per person. If not, then they will have to pay the normal individual admission rate, which you can find here:

Since group visits are scheduled in advance, we can arrange for tours of almost anything you want—within reason, of course! Most likely, we won’t be able to give you a tour of the collections unless you call our Collections Manager well in advance of your visit and talk it through with her. We always give tours of the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues five times a day (for the full schedule, read here: For scheduled group visits, however, we offer the additional possibility of having a docent lead your group through our special exhibitions.

I hope this answers all of your questions, and if it doesn’t, please call or email me—I would be happy to talk it over with you.

Best Wishes,

Abby Krolik


Dear Abby,

My family is planning our vacation to Baltimore for late July this year (I know, it seems like the worst time to come to Baltimore, but don’t you worry, we’re from Texas, so Baltimore will feel positively cool to us!). It’s common knowledge that no visit to Baltimore is complete without stopping by the JMM, so you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be there! I see that the Project Mah Jongg exhibit will be closed by then, and that The A-Maze-ing Mendes Cohen won’t open until September, so what will we be able to see in July? Will there be something family-friendly for all ages? We’ve got a wide range of ages in my family—both actual and mental!

Thank you for your help!


Your Fans from the Lone Star State


Dear Lone Star State,

Never fear, there is always something exciting happening at the JMM! Not only can visitors always see our two historic synagogues and our permanent exhibits, Voices of Lombard Street and The Synagogue Speaks, but we’ve also got something brand new coming this July. Last year, we noticed that we were going to have several “dark” weeks between the close of Mah Jongg and the opening of Mendes, so we’ve decided to try something we’ve never done before, and we’re calling it The Electrified Pickle!

Pickle_logo4For five weeks, starting on July 13th, the Feldman Gallery (where our temporary exhibitions usually are) is turning into a Makers’ space, where people of all ages can explore innovation through the ages with a mix of displays of old fashioned technology and hands-on workshops. Each Sunday during this time will have a different theme. The first one will be “Power This!,” with a focus on electricity and girl power. The following Sundays will be “Print This!”; “Fly This!”; “Imagine This!” and “Code This!.” There will also be a community art project component to which all of our visitors will be able to contribute.

As we get closer to the date, be sure to check for more information about our programming for The Electrified Pickle on our website,!

We can’t wait to see where this new project will take us, and we definitely want you and your family to be  part of the experience!

Best Wishes, Abby

abby krolik copyDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: Dear Abby

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

I’m very excited to hear that the JMM will be opening a new exhibit all about my favorite game: Mah Jongg! I’m actually from Boston, but I have a sister-in-law in Baltimore, so I’ve heard about your museum, and I’ve been curious about it for awhile. This spring seems like the perfect time to finally make a visit, and I’d like to bring some of my girlfriends with me.

My girlfriends and I are in an unusual kind of “mahj” group: we do destination Mah Jongg! This means that we like to play in special locations. For example, last Mother’s Day we ditched the hubbies and played Mah Jongg for 48 straight hours in Las Vegas. It was such a thrill! If you can imagine it, it was kind of like one of those big poker tournaments that they have on TV, but with kosher food and better gossip.

Anyway, I hear from my sister-in-law that, in addition to seeing the exhibit, you can also reserve a few tables to play Mah Jongg at the museum itself. That would be perfect for our next destination! What do I have to do make a reservation? Does it cost anything?

I look forward to hearing from you, and to fleecing my friends of all their quarters in a rousing game at the JMM!


“Mahj” from Boston

Dear “Mahj”,

Wow, that’s quite a group you’ve got! Yes, it is true that we will have about six card tables set up in our Orientation Space that groups can reserve for 2 hour time slots. You should talk to me either by phone or email about bringing your group in to see the exhibit and playing a game or two of Mahj. There is no extra fee for reserving a table to play, so you will only have to pay $5 per person if you are bringing a group of 10 or more during our public hours.

If you wanted to bring your group here after our public hours, then the charge will be $40 per hour that we have to stay open past our usual hours. This fee simply covers our costs associated with staying open.

During the exhibit’s time here (March 30 to June 29), there will be some occasions when we will not take any reservations. Some of these are on days when we have all-day public programs that will need to use the Orientation Space (for example, a Mah Jongg Marathon—keep your eyes peeled for more news on that soon!). Other times will include the hours when we have a scheduled speaker. If you’re thinking of coming in to play on a Sunday, just know that the best times for which to sign up are at 11am or 3pm, since our speakers are usually on Sundays at 1pm.

While the tables in the Orientation Space are not for impromptu games of Mah Jongg, there will be one table inside the exhibit itself that will be set up for impromptu playing or “playing” for anyone who wants to just move the tiles around. For these tables, we ask that you write your name on the sign-up form inside the exhibit and limit your playing to about 30 minutes if people are waiting for a chance to play.

I hope that answered all of your questions. Can’t wait to see your group at the JMM!

Best Wishes,


You won't want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

You won’t want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

Dear Abby,

I am writing a novel that is a semiautobiographical-mystery-thriller family saga stretching from the turn of the 20th century to the 1980’s, set in Baltimore. I would like to do some research both about what life was like in those decades, as well as some research into my own family history. In starting the research for this book, I’ve come across a few family skeletons, including the mystery of the location of the body of my Great-Aunt Fannie, who was shunned by her family for not serving crab at her son’s bar mitzvah! Can you imagine—not a crab cake or even a coddy in sight? Since the whole family refused to attend her funeral, there’s no one left who can remember where she was buried. I know that the JMM has a lot of this kind of information in their archives, so can I stop by sometime to do my research? Is there a research fee? I think I’m a member of the museum, but honestly, I can’t remember.

Thank you for your help!


The Future Laura Lippman


Dear Future Laura Lippman,

Not to be a grouch, but I’m afraid we need to insist that on-site research can only be done here by appointment, and we need a few weeks of lead time to arrange it. We have a very small staff, with all of us wearing several hats, which means that we need a little extra time to complete research requests.

Let me first suggest that if you’re looking for something specific in our collections or trying to find where your Great-Aunt Fannie is buried, the first place to stop is our online collections database! If you go to our website ( and go to the “Collections & Research” section, you’ll find many resources, including a link to search through our collections and archives. In the Family History section, we even have downloadable spreadsheets for all of the Jewish cemeteries in Baltimore, so you can find where your ancestors were buried.

If you want more help, you will want to call our designated research phone extension at (410) 732-6400 x213 or email, if it’s a genealogy question you have, you can call this extension, (410) 732 6400 x224, or email–to submit your contact information and research question. A staff member will get in touch with you to make an appointment.  Depending on demand, this may take a few weeks.

If you are a member, then you can do research here for free! For non-members, it’s $8 per visit, and for non-member students it’s $8 per project (so you can visit multiple times and pay only once). This fee also includes admission to the museum, for when you feel like taking a break and wandering through the galleries.

I can’t wait to read your book when it’s finished!




Dear Abby,

I’ve been a member of the JMM for many, many years, but lately, I’ve become a real katzisher kop, and I’m afraid that I will forget to bring my membership card with me the next time I come to visit the museum. If I do forget, will I still be able to get free admission? More importantly, will I still get my 10% discount at your fabulous gift shop? Next week, my cousin is visiting, and I plan on bringing him down to see your latest exhibit, and the fear of forgetting all of these important things is keeping me up at night! Speaking of which, should I use one of my guest passes for my cousin, or is he included in my family membership?



I. Forget


Dear “Forget”,

I’m sorry to hear that your forgetfulness is keeping you from getting your beauty sleep! Well, you can rest easy now, because there’s no reason that forgetting to bring your card should keep you from enjoying your membership benefits. When you arrive at the museum, simply tell the person at the front desk your first and last name, and they will confirm your membership status for you by looking at our list of current members. You can also do this if you can’t remember whether or not you’ve renewed your membership for the coming year.

Family memberships cover up to six members within a single household, so unless your cousin lives with you (and it sounds like he does not), then he is not included in the family membership. That being said, this is the perfect time to use one of your guest passes!  But please do remember to bring the guest pass with you when you bring your guest (perhaps put it in your bag or pants pocket the night before). Your cousin will have to fill out the back of the guest pass with his information before handing it to the front-desk person.

We’ll see you soon!



Dear Abby,

I’m planning a program for my sisterhood, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding a good speaker for the group! They’re an intellectually curious bunch, so I want to provide a speaker who will really pique their interest. Someone told me a long time ago that you offer a Speakers Bureau, but I think I’ve also heard that you no longer offer that Speakers Bureau. Which is true? Can you help me find a speaker?

Thank you for your help!


“Desperate in Columbia’


Dear “Desperate in Columbia’,

It is true that we used to have a Speakers Bureau, in which we charged organizations a fee to have a talk delivered by a member of our research or curatorial team.  We no longer do that. We have so many exciting projects ahead that we need our creative team to keep its focus on programs and exhibitions.

On the other hand, we are happy to talk to groups about our exhibits! If you have a sizable group (25 or more people), consider inviting our director, Marvin Pinkert to come speak.  Schedule permitting, Marvin is happy to talk about the latest topics in our featured exhibit at JMM. For example, in honor of our quickly approaching new exhibit, Project Mah Jongg, Marvin has developed a fascinating talk on the history of Jews and games—as both players and creators—that stretches back to the days of the Bible! Unlike our Speakers Bureau, these talks are free of charge.

If such a talk sounds like a good fit for your event, you can talk to me ( about scheduling him to come talk to your group.

Best Wishes,




Dear Abby,

My parents are finally downsizing from the home they’ve lived in for 40-odd years to a condo, and my siblings and I have been helping them sort through what we think they should keep and what they should give away or throw out. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff there is in their attic! The condo is pretty small, so they can’t keep much, but a lot of it is in pretty good condition, so we feel bad throwing it away. Could I bring down all this stuff to donate it to the museum?


Child of Hoarders


Dear “Child of Hoarders,”

It depends on what kind of “stuff” you’re talking about. If it’s a sewing machine, then probably not —we’ve got six already! It also depends on where this attic is located. Is this attic in Maryland, or does it belong to someone who lives or lived for a significant period of time in Maryland? We only collect objects that pertain to Jewish life in Maryland, so if your parents lived all their lives in Virginia, then I’m afraid we won’t be interested in their belongings. However, if these objects are directly related to people who live or lived in Maryland, then we might possibly be interested in adding them to our collections.

But please don’t just drop it on our doorstep!

First, you should call our Collections Manager, Jobi Zink, and ask her if she thinks we’ll want it for our collection, and she will tell you what to do next. If she thinks that we might be interested in your parents’ things, then she will present the objects to our Collections Committee, which decides which new objects the museum will accession.

Best Wishes,



abby krolik copyDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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