Posted on December 18th, 2013 by Rachel
An assignment this week to create a list of the most memorable JMM activities of 2013 (see JMM Insights, December 19, 2013 – coming on Friday!) inspired quite a bit of discussion among our staff, and turned out to be a fun exercise. The pace here at the JMM is often so fast and it is rare that we have time to reflect on events that have taken place and to savor our successes as there is always something new that demands our immediate attention. Winnowing the list down to include twelve memorable events (we just couldn’t stop at 10) proved challenging, an indication of the many wonderful things that took place this past year across all departments.
As I reviewed the list that made the final cut, one activity really stood out from the pack, and that was the debut of our newest living history character based on the life of beloved Baltimore icon and caterer extraordinaire, Bessie Bluefeld.
Actor Terry Nicholetti performing as Bessie Bluefeld
When I first arrived at the JMM thirteen years ago, one of my first assignments was to begin work on an educational activity that would serve as a resource for Jewish day and congregational schools on the topic of immigration history. That kit became the Immigrant’s Trunk which explored the lives of two Jewish immigrants who settled in Baltimore in the early 20th century, Ida Rehr and Saul Bernstein, through reproductions of JMM collections items such as photos, immigration documents, and Jewish ritual items.
A photograph of immigrant Ida Rehr with her siblings before she left her home in Ukraine to settle in Baltimore
The concept of the trunk grew to encompass a living history component complete with professional actors who portrayed the lives of the immigrants whose experiences are explored through the trunk contents.
Actor Katherine Lyons who portrays Ida Rehr with the trunk
These performances proved popular, not just with Jewish students but also non-Jewish students attending public and Catholic school and adults too. Over the years it has been amazing to watch as this program that started with such humble ambitions has evolved in the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk, one of the JMM signature programs for audiences of all backgrounds, including versions of the trunk designed for preschool audiences as well as for individuals with visual impairments.
Actor Tim King portraying Saul Bernstein at a performance for Cross Country Elementary students
And now we have added a brand new character, Bessie Bluefeld, who has already proved enormously popular with audiences. Bessie’s story encapsulates so many rich themes as the performance begins with her arriving fresh off the boat in Baltimore’s Locust Point where she marvels at just how different her new home is from what she has left behind and goes on to dramatize the extraordinary effort she places in creating a home for her husband and children and her determination to save the family from financial ruin after a bad business deal.
Bessie arriving in Locust Point
One of the joys of this particular living history character is that so many Baltimoreans have fond memories of Bluefeld Catering and loved sharing the stories of their special events during the Q&A session following performances.
Bessie answering questions following a performance
We have also been privileged to talk to members of the Bluefeld family including Bessie’s son Louis and grandchildren who have shared treasured family stories and photographs. At the performance debut this past spring, we were delighted to welcome so many members of the Bluefeld family.
Members of the Bluefeld family at the spring performance debut
Bessie greeting a member of the Bluefeld family following her performance
It was evident that the performance resonated with the members of the family in attendance and there was hardly a dry eye in sight when one of her grandsons stood up to thank the JMM. In his words, “You gave me back my grandmother.” This simple expression of gratitude sums up exactly what it is that the JMM strives to do. As I reflect back on a year of so many successes, this is my number one moment!
We are grateful to everyone whose hard work and dedication brought Bessie to life with a special thank you to script writer Jonathon Scott Fuqua, director and producer Harriet Lynn of Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium, and actor Terry Nicholetti. We are also most appreciative of the Leo V. Berger Fund for their continued support of our Immigrant’s Trunk program.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here.
Posted on November 14th, 2013 by Rachel
Having traveled for more than a year from the city to the suburbs and back, Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945-1968 has finally ended its run.
Here we are installing the exhibit at its first venue in Hodson Hall at Johns Hopkins University. From there, it traveled to several suburban synagogues, the Owings Mills JCC, the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Library and the Edward A. Myerberg Center.
Davidson moving truck, CP 57.2012 – while we did not need quite so large a moving truck to handle the exhibit’s travel, my trusty old minivan certainly got put to good use as we hauled the exhibit panels from site to site.
We were delighted by how the exhibit was received by the many different individuals who had the opportunity to view it and I thought I’d take an opportunity to share some of the visitor feedback that we received in the exhibit comment book.
Pratt Library Installation
“Thank you for taking us down memory lane as we enjoyed reliving our childhoods. Our grandchildren enjoyed the exhibit as well.”
“Very interesting, would be interested to see where that trend [of suburbanization] is today and also how this shift changed government funding of urban v. suburban projects.”
Model home, Pikesville, CP58.2012.11
“Those ranch homes on Old Court Road were the landscape of my childhood. How cool to see them with new trees, eight years before my parents moved to the neighborhood! Thanks for the exhibit.”
Har Sinai Groundbreaking, 1995.126.023
“My friend is in the front row of the groundbreaking of Har Sinai photo. We became friends in kindergarten and are still friends 57 years later.”
“As a Jew from Bmore, who grew up in Pikesville, whose grandparents grew up in the inner city of Baltimore, you have essentially depicted my history. Thanks!”
Jews on the Move was developed in collaboration with the Museums and Society Program at Johns Hopkins University through the generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We are grateful to Professor Elizabeth Rodini, Jennifer Kingsley and the JHU students who helped us organize this exhibit.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here.
Posted on October 18th, 2013 by Rachel
Nearly 200 people joined us at the JMM this past weekend (Oct. 12 and 13) to celebrate the opening of Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. The exhibit comes to us from the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum and has been enhanced by the JMM to include artifacts and stories that reflect the role of Maryland Jews in the war.
The exhibit sheds light on both how the Jewish community (which numbered 150,000 in 1860) participated in the war as well as how the war impacted the community.
Here are some of the opening event highlights:
guests in gallery
At Saturday evening’s members’ preview, guests enjoyed viewing the fascinating artifacts on display especially those that told local stories. It was fun hearing the chatter in the gallery as people constantly exclaimed how surprised they were to learn about the extent of Jewish involvement in the war effort.
Guest using the stereoscope viewer
The JMM installation featured several new activity stations. Here a guest explores the section of the exhibit on Civil War era photography by testing out a stereoscope viewer.
2nd South Carolina String Band
With their authentic period costumes and instruments, music of the Second South Carolina String Band gave the lobby a Civil War-era feel.
Karen leading tour
JMM curator Karen Falk led two filled-to-capacity exhibit tours where she shared stories about individual artifacts and stories on display.
Marvin leading tour
JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert premiered our new 1861 themed tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue for guests at Saturday’s event. This tour takes visitors back in time to the 1860s as they explore what Jewish life was like in Baltimore at this time as well as the important role that the Lloyd Street Synagogue (then Baltimore Hebrew Congregation) played in the debate on slavery. This new tour will be given daily (Sun-Thurs) at 3pm.
We are so grateful to the two students from the Baltimore School for the Arts who attended the event in period costume. It was especially fun watching Amelia navigate tight corners in her hoop dress. Thank goodness fashion trends have changed!
guests viewing objects in case
Our member’s preview was followed by a successful opening to the public on Sunday. We were delighted to see many people – both longtime friends to the JMM and first time visitors – take in the exhibit. Many people brought their children who enjoyed playing with the exhibit’s activity stations.
visitor talking to re-enactor
On Sunday, we were privileged to have two Civil War re-enactors attend in authentic soldier uniforms. Guests enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with them as they learned about their uniforms’ details and items of significance.
Jonathan Karp, former director of the American Jewish Historical Society and one of the exhibit’s project directors, provided fascinating insights on the development of the exhibit and shared some of his favorite stories with our guests.
Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland through February 28, 2014. We hope you will stop by for a visit.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here. All photos by Will Kirk.