The Ship That Launched a Nation

Posted on July 24th, 2015 by

The JMM’s current exhibition, Cinema Judaica, has inspired me to spend my evenings watching old movies. Some of these films I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and just never got around to doing so while others caught my interest while studying the film posters on display or learning about them from film scholar and exhibit curator, Ken Sutak.

One film I have always meant to watch is Exodus and despite reading (and loving) the book it is based on by Leon Uris, never seemed to find the time to do so.

Exodus - poster now on view in Cinema Judaica!

Exodus – poster now on view in Cinema Judaica!

The 1961 epic film tells the story of the fight to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine after the tragedy of the Holocaust and is based on a true life event, the attempt to resettle hundreds of Jewish refugees who were living in DP camps by sailing them through the British blockade to Palestine.

Some people might be surprised to learn that the actual story of the Exodus has a Maryland connection. The ship that became known as the Exodus started out in 1928 as the SS President Warfield, a flagship of the “Old Bay Line” and originally served as a luxury overnight steamer that sailed between Baltimore and Norfolk.

Old Bay Line

Old Bay Line

In 1942 the U.S. government requisitioned the vessel and loaned it to England as an amphibious training vessel.  Returned to the U.S. Navy in 1944, it became the command and control ship for the Allied invasion fleet off Normandy Beach and later a troop transport.  The Hagana, a Jewish underground organization, purchased the ship and converted it in Baltimore to a Jewish refugee ship to run the British blockade of Palestine (the events depicted in the film).  Unlike the film, which presents a fictionalized account of the ship’s safe arrival in Palestine (with the approval of the British), in reality, while still in international waters British warships rammed the boat, and royal marines boarded it. These actions resulted in 3 deaths and 149 injuries to the refugees who were returned to Europe.  However, although unsuccessful in its mission, this dramatic final voyage and its aftermath drew world media attention to the plight of European Jewry and helped turn public support in favor of the establishment of Israel. The Warfield/Exodus,1947  became the “ship that launched a nation.” (Click here for more details about the historical events.)

Thanks to the efforts of former JMM staff member and Exodus scholar-extraordinaire, Dr. Barry Lever, we have several related artifacts in our collections. Dr. Lever spearheaded a community-wide commemoration in 1995 which resulted in the creation of a tapestry,

This tapestry was designed by Alex Gelfenboim in 1995 and stitched with the help of community volunteers

This tapestry was designed by Alex Gelfenboim in 1995 and stitched with the help of community volunteers,

a ship model,

a ship model,

the issuing of a commemorative stamp,

the issuing of a commemorative stamp,

and the dedication of a plaque at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (in front of the World Trade Center).

If you have not had a chance to see the film (or have not seen it in a while), I enthusiastically recommend doing so. While it is indeed long (clocking in at about 3 ½ hours), having the chance to watch Paul Newman as hero, Ari Ben Canaan, is definitely an enjoyable way to pass some time!

 

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Happy Birthday, Israel!

Posted on April 23rd, 2015 by

On April 23, 2015 Jews throughout the world celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaot, Israel’s Independence Day.  In honor of Israel’s 67th birthday, today’s blog post highlights the contributions of Harry Greenstein who was involved in the resettlement of European Jews in Israel after the Holocaust. Thanks to the efforts of many, including Greenstein, Israel lived up to its mandate of serving as place of respite and shelter for Jews in need of a homeland.

Harry Greenstein was the Executive Director of the Associated Jewish Charities (today known as The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore) for 37 years from 1928-1965. His involvement in providing assistance to European Jewish refugees in the 1940s led to a federal appointment as the head of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) for Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia. (For more information about the UNRAA, check out this article.)

In 1949, the Secretary of War appointed Greenstein Advisor on Jewish Affairs in post-war Germany. Part of his duties included assisting the United States Army in closing the Displaced Persons (DP) Camps in Germany and Austria, helping to rehabilitate Jewish life in Europe and aiding in the resettlement of Jewish refugees in Israel.

Harry Greenstein speaking in Munich on the first anniversary of Israel’s establishment, 1949 JMM 1971.20.156

Harry Greenstein speaking in Munich on the first anniversary of Israel’s establishment, 1949 JMM 1971.20.156

In 1971 the JMM received a donation of Greenstein’s papers and photographs (MS 80). The collection includes photos from his visits to Israel and Europe on behalf of UNRRA as well as his efforts to resettle Jewish Displaced Persons in Israel in the late 1940s. The following is a selection of photos documenting his work:

Photo of document checking station taken during UNRAA trip to Middle East, 1944. JMM 1971.20.155

Photo of document checking station taken during UNRAA trip to Middle East, 1944. JMM 1971.20.155

Photo taken during UNRAA trip to Middle East, 1944. JMM.1971.20.159

Photo taken during UNRAA trip to Middle East, 1944. JMM.1971.20.159

Jewish Displaced Persons board an airplane from Munich to Haifa, September 1948. JMM 1971.20.175

Jewish Displaced Persons board an airplane from Munich to Haifa, September 1948. JMM 1971.20.175

Young Jewish refugees who had been resettled in Holland by the JDC, on board the SS Negbah, on their way to Israel, Dec. 15, 1945. JMM 1971.20.176. For more information about the “Apeldoorn children” check out http://www.jhm.nl/culture-and-history/the-netherlands/gelderland/apeldoorn]

Young Jewish refugees who had been resettled in Holland by the JDC, on board the SS Negbah, on their way to Israel, Dec. 15, 1945. JMM 1971.20.176. For more information about the “Apeldoorn children” check out this article.

Greenstein was a recognized leader of the local, national and international Jewish community. The photos taken of him with Israeli dignitaries speak to his prominence on the global stage.

Greenstein (right) visits with President Chaim Weitzman at the President’s home in Rehovot, Israel, 1949. JMM 1971.20.233

Greenstein (right) visits with President Chaim Weitzman at the President’s home in Rehovot, Israel, 1949. JMM 1971.20.233

reenstein receiving a book from Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, 1949. JMM 1971.20.192

Greenstein receiving a book from Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, 1949. JMM 1971.20.192

Sixty-seven years later, Israel continues to serve as a homeland for Jews from all over the world.

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Exploring Open Source in San Francisco

Posted on March 16th, 2015 by

I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this year’s Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) conference taking place March 8-10 in San Francisco. Attended by more than 100 Jewish museum professionals from all over the US, Canada and Europe, this year’s conference theme, Open Source: Jewish Museums and Collaborative Culture was particularly appropriate for its setting in the Bay Area.

CAJM Conference 2015

CAJM Conference 2015

What a pleasure it was to leave gray, bleak and snowy Baltimore and to emerge from the BART station on Mission Street in San Francisco to a beautiful sunny day. Things only got better from there. Our first day was spent at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, one of our conference hosts.

exterior, The Contemporary Jewish Museum

exterior, The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the Museum’s design incorporates Jewish symbols and is a striking presence in the heart of a bustling commercial and cultural district. (Visit www.thecjm.org/about/building to learn more about the building)

The CJM provides many wonderful opportunities for community engagement. I was drawn to its warm and welcoming education center featuring an abundance of creative hands-on activity stations that encourage exploration.

The CJM provides many wonderful opportunities for community engagement. I was drawn to its warm and welcoming education center featuring an abundance of creative hands-on activity stations that encourage exploration.

The conference kicked off with a lively keynote address by Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Simon is known for her audience-centered approach to museum design and programming and she challenged CAJM participants to remove barriers of access that often prevent people from visiting their institutions. Her talk was one of the highlights of the conference as she presented a model for museums as participatory and experimental sites that engage in social bridging by bringing together people of different backgrounds. (You can read more about Simon’s groundbreaking views about the role of museums in her Museum 2.0 blog.)

One of my favorite aspects of CAJM conferences is the opportunity to visit other museums and San Francisco did not disappoint. Kudos to conference organizers for casting off the tradition of using buses as the primary mode of transportation and instead relying on public transportation. It was quite a feat that they managed to successfully herd dozens of conferees up and down subway platforms and onto the appropriate trains!

Sites visited included the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life where we had the chance to view Gourmet Ghettos: Modern Food Rituals, the California Historical Society and the Oakland Museum of California. Visiting the recently restored core exhibition galleries of art and history at the Oakland Museum provided inspiration for thinking about the concept of core exhibits as did a related session held that afternoon, “Getting to the Core: Options and Models”. The Museum’s executive director, Lori Fogarty, talked about the history of the project as well as its development process that actively included feedback from a wide range of community members.

A display exploring the gold rush from the new core exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California

A display exploring the gold rush from the new core exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California

One of my favorite labels ever marked the entrance to the art gallery explaining to visitors the symbols on works of art and asking that they refrain from licking the paintings!

One of my favorite labels ever marked the entrance to the art gallery explaining to visitors the symbols on works of art and asking that they refrain from licking the paintings!

By the end of the conference on Tuesday afternoon, I was simultaneously exhausted and energized and looking forward to sharing what I learned with my JMM colleagues.

Learn more about the conference HERE.

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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