Talmud to Tik: Iraqi Jewish Heritage Day

Posted on November 17th, 2017 by

JMM Insights: November 2017

On October 15th the Jewish Museum of Maryland opened our latest exhibit Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage. We have held six public programs in connection with the exhibit in its first month, averaging an audience of 75+ for each event. However our biggest program is yet to come. I have asked Trillion to outline the festivities we have planned for the first Sunday in December. 

Thanks,

Marvin


Talmud to Tik: Iraqi Jewish Heritage Day is a full day celebration of the rich culture developed by the Jewish community in Iraq and preserved by their descendants across the globe.  I believe our guests will find something suitable for all ages and all tastes and that we will enable greater Baltimore to make a personal connection with that culture.

What can you expect on the day? Here are some of the highlights.

Rabbi Haim Ovadia will be joining us from Washington, DC to perform two concerts that will explore the origins and diversity of Jewish Iraqi music. The morning concert at 11am will be especially designed for kids and families, while the afternoon concert at 2 pm is for everyone.

Feel like dancing?  Enjoy and learn some of the traditional dances of the Iraqi Jewish community with the Silk Road Dance Company. This troop of dancers will actually put on three different performances on the 3rd, starting at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 pm.

If there is music and dance, can food be far behind?  Get a real taste of Iraqi Jewish culture, literally. Jackie Feldman of Sephardic Jews in DC, will lead a workshop making Baharat, a spice mixture eaten across the Middle East which is a critical building block for most Iraqi Jewish recipes. This tasty mixture can be taken home and combined into a variety of delicious recipes.

And one more treat for our youngest visitors.  We will also be joined by Violet Battat, representing SHIN DC who will be offering a special Jewish Iraqi story times. Violet will share with us stories passed down through her family, combined with singing and an exploration of Iraq. These sessions are specially designed for children aged 3 to 7 though the young at heart are also welcome.

If that isn’t enough we will also have several arts and crafts opportunities. Activities include making evil eye bracelets, decorating your own tik (the container traditionally used to hold an Iraqi Torah) and even making some delicious date balls to take home, or eat immediately, if you are feeling peckish!

The day is certain to be fun filled, we couldn’t have managed such an extravaganza were it not for the support of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

For more details or to buy your tickets please check our event page here. 

Hope to see you there.

~Trillion

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Journey with JMM

Posted on October 20th, 2017 by

JMM Insights: October 2017 

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

Students explore Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

Students explore Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

JMM exhibits and programs often transport our visitors to another time and place, whether to mid 19th century Palestine in The Amazing Mendes Cohen, pre-Holocaust Poland in Remembering Auschwitz, or one of our recent lectures in conjunction with Just Married! “Sephardic Weddings: Traditions of Yesterday and Today.” We are pleased to carry on this tradition with our newest exhibition, Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage which opened this past Sunday to a crowd of 100+ visitors, including a special student group from Oheb Shalom.

Created by the National Archives and Records Administration, with generous support from the U.S. Department of State, the exhibit documents the long and rich history of Jewish life in Iraq which flourished for hundreds of year, beginning with the Babylonian exile through the middle of the 20th century. Evidence of this long history is on view in the exhibit through such artifacts as a Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, and a Haggadah from 1902. Records including school primers and business correspondence testify to the community’s strong presence up until the mid-20th century when Jews faced increasing antisemitism in connection with the rise of the Nazis in Europe. In the aftermath of World War II and the creation of the State of Israel, most of the Jewish community emigrated and today, only five Jews remain.

A case of books preserved by the National Archives.

A case of books preserved by the National Archives.

While the artifacts on display tell a fascinating narrative of a once storied community, the story of how the exhibit came into being is equally remarkable. During the Gulf War in 2003, American troops entered a bombed building that had housed Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services. They found, in the basement under four feet of water, thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq that had been gathered by the secret police. Thanks to the efforts of the National Archives, a team of conservation experts flew out to Iraq to assess the damage and to make recommendations for how best to preserve the material.

What a great audience for our opening day speaker!

What a great audience for our opening day speaker!

We were pleased to welcome Doris Hamburg, former Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives as our opening speaker on Sunday. Ms. Hamburg spoke about the challenging conditions she and her colleagues faced as they tried to save these documents while operating in the midst of a war zone. Despite the many obstacles they encountered, they were able to ship more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents to the US where conservation and preservation efforts continued as well as the creation of a traveling exhibit. JMM is proud to be the 6th stop on its national tour.

Discovery and Recovery remains on view through January 18, 2018. We invite you to take advantage of the many companion programs that will take place the next few months to learn more about the rich history of Iraq’s Jewish community through food, dance, art, film and personal testimony of former Iraqi residents.

 

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Like Persimmon Sauce, But Better

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

It was 1979 and we were getting ready to leave Korea. I had spent eighteen months as a foreign service officer working for the United States Information Agency. My boss was an affable fellow who had a passion for Korean culture and an eye for a bargain.

Left: Japanese persimmon (variety Hachiya) - watercolor 1887 drawn by Amanda A. Newton. Right: Fuyu persimmon by artist R.G. Steadman

Left: Japanese persimmon (variety Hachiya) – watercolor 1887 drawn by Amanda A. Newton.         Right: Fuyu persimmon by artist R.G. Steadman

So neither my wife nor I were very surprised when my boss called to tell us that he had found a great deal on a case of ripe persimmons – but neither he or his housekeeper (his wife was away on travel) could figure out what to do with this massive quantity of delicious fruit. My wife jumped into action. She worked with the housekeeper to peel the fruit and improvised a puree that she put into the freezer. Unfortunately, I never got to taste it.

Fast forward to 1990. I am in my first museum job at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry working on that museum’s strategic plan. Due to the untimely death of the Museum’s business manager, I find myself temporarily in charge of the museum store. This new assignment puts me in contact with all the product vendors who supply the store. I struck up a friendship with one t-shirt designer from the West Coast who did fantastic custom shirts to match our exhibits.  The artist, Doug Kim, had been raised as an adopted child and devoted much of his free time to helping Korean adoptees rediscover their heritage.

One of the excellent shirts designed by Doug Kim.

One of the excellent shirts designed by Doug Kim.

When Doug visited Chicago on a sales trip we invited him to our house for dinner. Quite naturally, the conversation drifted to our Korean experience. It turned out that he knew my old boss.  Without being prompted he said, “You know one of my favorite memories was going to dinner at Jim’s house and getting this fantastic dessert of ice cream covered with persimmon sauce.” My wife and I were flabbergasted.

So what does this story have to do with the Jewish Museum of Maryland?

Well, as most of you know, next week we will host the exhibit Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage. We will be the sixth venue in a national tour undertaken by the National Archives and Records Administration, with generous support from the U.S. Department of State. And I have to confess that I am more than a little familiar with the exhibit.

About eight years ago, when I was still director of the National Archives Experience, my colleague Doris Hamburg (at that time Director of Preservation Programs) called me up to tell me that we needed to plan an exhibit based on the artifacts that had been recovered from the basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, the Mukhabarat.  She told me the whole amazing story about how the Mukhabarat had been divided into rooms based on the “nationality” of the subject of intelligence, how the material on Jewish life and Israel was located at the lowest level, how it had been flooded when bombs burst the pipes, and how it had been rescued by the American Army, the State Department and the National Archives.

Items recovered from the flooded basement of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, before treatment.

Items recovered from the flooded basement of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, before treatment.

You might imagine that I would be thrilled with this new assignment. But truth be told, I was quite reticent. My team was up to its ears working on a new addition to the National Archives’ museum space – including the Records of Rights exhibit. The new project, at that time simply called the “Iraqi Jewish Archives”, had many stakeholders both inside and outside of government, and it was clear that forging consensus would be a challenging task. Once I was committed, however, I put my heart in it. By 2012 we had a full exhibit development team, a new exhibit title and a plan outline. Just as the exhibit was becoming “real,” I announced my decision to leave the National Archives and take up my current duties at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

ija-logo-home

At the time I left the project there were plans for just two venues:  Washington and New York. So when I went to visit the exhibit in Washington shortly after it opened in November 2013 I thought that this would be the last time I would see this work.

In 2015 the tour was extended to include Kansas City, Yorba Linda (the Nixon Presidential Library) and Miami Beach. At a museum conference that year I learned that the National Archives was considering extending the tour so I hastened to put our name on the list.

So like persimmon sauce, sometimes our deeds follow us in unexpected ways.  But this time I get to taste it – and share it with you.

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