Performance Counts May 2014: Planning Ahead

Posted on May 16th, 2014 by

In the past few months you have read quite a bit about our current and upcoming exhibits:  Project Mah Jongg, the Electrified Pickle, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen and Jews, Health and Healing.  We also are preparing for some wonderful events including the 8th Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch program this Sunday, featuring Rabbi Marvin Tokayer and our June 1 Annual Meeting with Dr. Len Saxe.

Yet even as we busily engage in the business of creating, funding and presenting these exciting current projects, we still keep one eye focused on the road ahead.  You will recall that in the fall of 2012 the Board’s ad hoc “Futures Committee” produced a new vision document for the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  The vision reinforced our focus on some of the attributes that make a museum successful, the so-called “four Ds”:  destination, documentation, discourse and discovery.  This vision has guided us in much of what’s been accomplished in the last eighteen months – the doubling of our public hours, the dramatic growth in our attendance, the strengthened relationship with The Associated, our reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums and even the painful decisions that have led us to a balanced budget in FY ’14.

This summer we will enter into a second phase of institutional planning.  A new ad hoc “Planning Committee” will be formed with the goal of diving into the next level of the question “What is the Jewish Museum of Maryland?”.  The concept is to build on the work from 2012.  For example, we have made the commitment to focus on becoming a destination – now we’ll ask the question, “what are the distinguishing features of that destination?”.  How are we similar or different from other Jewish museums?  from other Baltimore museums?  How do we make the most of our unique assets?  This stage of planning will be critical as we look ahead to the way we develop our core environment, the historic synagogues and our permanent or signature exhibit.

Simultaneously with this search for “who we are?”, we are launching a second planning process this summer that seeks to answer the question “how do we fit in?”.  This neighborhood vision/plan is being conducted in partnership with The Associated and in conjunction with the Jonestown Planning Council.  As an anchor institution of historic Jonestown, JMM is a key stakeholder in the future development of our community.  The success of the museum is ultimately dependent on what is built around us, not just on what we build.  JMM has contracted with the firm of Mahan Rykiel to serve as our consultant for a planning process that will attempt to understand the needs and interests of current residents and businesses, the downtown Jewish community, and the potential museum audience to craft a compelling vision of what this area might become.  Mahan Rykiel will also work with JMM, The Associated and the community to give some thought to the “branding” of Jonestown and its identity as a great place to live, work, play and visit.

Both planning processes are open to your thoughts.  We will speak to many people over the next few months, but you don’t have to wait for us to call, you can hit the “reply” button to share your ideas.

Marvin Pinkert

This month’s Performance Counts was written by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here. To read past issues of Performance Counts, click here.

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JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

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JMM Insights April 2014

Posted on April 18th, 2014 by

Above the Sea

Each year the Jewish Museum of Maryland offer a major presentation on immigration made possible through the generous support of Frank and Helen Risch.  Frank’s parents, Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch, sought refuge in Baltimore in 1937, fleeing the storm of Nazi persecution.

In the first seven years of this program, we have focused on the experience of emigration and exile in America, offering performances, stories and lectures on immigrant populations from the great wave of Eastern European Jews of the late 1890s to the most recent arrivals from around the globe.  This year we are offering insights into another way station of refuge, thousands of miles from our shores.  Shanghai, whose name literally means “above the sea” was high ground for thousands of Jews escaping from the same forces that brought the Risch family to Baltimore.

Mark Your Calendar!

Mark Your Calendar!

Helping us explore this topic is an exceptional expert, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. Rabbi Tokayer previously served as United States Air Force Chaplain in Japan. Upon his discharge he returned to Tokyo to serve for eight years as rabbi for the Jewish community of Japan. In addition to numerous Japanese-language books and contributions to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Rabbi Tokayer is the author of The Fugu Plan, and co-author of the newly published Pepper, Silk and Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East.

Additions for the "to be read" pile!

Additions for the “to be read” pile!

Rabbi Tokayer has entitled his talk:  “From Poverty to Culture: The Refugee Community in Shanghai During World War ll.” This will be a powerful evocation of how the 20,000 Jews of Shanghai struggled against impossible odds to not only survive, but thrive in this unexpected refuge. The program will be held Sunday, May 18th at 2:00pm and will take place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, located 7401 Park Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21208.  The program is free to the public – so be sure to invite all your friends!

To coincide with the Risch Memorial Program we are putting together a small lobby display using materials from our collections, which will be on view during the month of May.   It turns out that Baltimore and the Jewish Museum of Maryland both have some strong connections to the Jews of Shanghai. You may have noticed the photograph used in this year’s Risch Memorial Program publicity, which pictures a couple sitting in a rickshaw. We would like to introduce you to that couple: Wilheim Kurz and Selma (Hirschfeld) Kurz. Wilheim and Selma were both Holocaust survivors. They met as refugees and theirs was the first Jewish wedding in the Shanghai Jewish colony!  They moved to Baltimore in 1947 and Wilheim was kind enough to bequeath his Jewish materials (including photographs and archival documents) to the Museum. We are hard at work transcribing an oral history done with Wilheim in 1979 and look forward to sharing more of Wilheim and Selma’s story with you as it is revealed.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

We know there are more legacies of the Jewish Colony in Shanghai out there! We’ve identified at least two other individuals associated with the city who now reside in the metro area.  We encourage you to contact us with your stories and your materials. And if you know anyone who lived in Shanghai, we would love to invite them to the program – please send us their contact information. If you have any information to share, contact Trillion Attwood at tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org /410-732-6400 x215.

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

If you’re interested in learning more about the Jewish Colony of Shanghai, there is actually a pretty good start at Wikipedia, but we know our JMM explorers will want to go further. If you are seeking a list of the numerous books and memoirs about the experience, including Rabbi Tokayer’s The Fugu Plan, you can find a great collected list here at the The Shanghai Jewish Tours website. If you happen to be traveling, you might want to stop by China’s Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum – last year they sent their “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)” exhibit on a three city tour of the US.  There’s even a Chinese animated family film (and graphic novel) called A Jewish Girl in Shanghai – and you can rent a streaming copy here. 

Check the JMM website for an upcoming blog post on Jewish-Chinese connections and if you are looking for the lighter side of that connection – find a foursome and visit (or revisit) Project Mah Jongg.

 

 

 

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