Performance Counts: The Book of Joseph

Posted on May 11th, 2018 by

Our monthly look at JMM “by the numbers” comes to you this week from Director of Collections and Exhibits, Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Our lobby exhibit The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family may take up only a little over sixty square feet of space in the orientation space, but nonetheless it requires many hours to research, write, and install even small displays like this one.

I had the privilege of looking over the primary source material, reading the book based on the family story, watching the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s production of the play, and talking to Richard Hollander, whose family’s story is told through all these different media.

In 1939, Joseph Hollander and his wife left Poland just days before the Germans invaded, and after an arduous journey through Europe, they ended up – accidentally – in New York. While they were fighting to keep from being deported, Joseph’s family in Cracow wrote hundreds of letters to him about the worsening conditions under which they were suffering. Despite his work to secure them safe passage, and later attempts – after the letters stopped in 1942 – to find them, Joseph never learned the fate of his family. Nor did he tell the full story to his son Richard, instead carefully storing all the letters, photos, and other memories away in a briefcase.

Richard only discovered the case, and the stories it contained, after his father’s death.

Some years later, he delved into the material, had the letters translated, and with scholar Christopher Browning wrote the book Every Day Lasts a Year. Playwright Karen Hartman then turned the family’s story into the play “The Book of Joseph,” first produced by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and enjoying its East Coast premiere at the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.

In order to narrow this history – relating the lives of 14 people, over the course of six years – down into something that could be conveyed in a small exhibition, the full story had to be known.

To that end, I cataloged 157 letters and postcards written between 1940 and 1942 by the Hollanders in Poland to Joseph Hollander in the U.S.; matched those letters up to the translations in the book; and selected letters that could best illustrate important elements of the family’s story, even to those visitors unable to read German or Polish.

Even though each letter tells its own small piece of the story, only 23 of those letters ended up in the exhibit itself. (If you haven’t had the chance to read the English translations of the full collection in the book Every Day Lasts a Year, I strongly encourage you to do so.)

In addition to the exhibit itself, I and our Marketing Manager, Rachel Kassman, have been collecting and developing additional content to augment the story, including an interview with playwright Karen Hartman and Joseph Hollander, blog posts highlighting individual letters not included in the exhibit, and news coverage related to both the exhibit and the play. You can check out that bonus content here.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibit, three actors from Everyman Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Book of Joseph,” along with the play’s director, and Richard Hollander himself, joined us at the JMM on April 26th for a special reading of two scenes, and a question-and-answer session with the audience. 89 people attended this unique opportunity to compare two very different ways of experiencing this poignant story: through the original handwritten letters themselves, and through spoken, dramatic interpretation.

The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family is on view at the Museum through June 3, 2018. “The Book of Joseph” is now open at Everyman Theatre and runs through June 10th.

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Celebrating Students, Finding Their Stories

Posted on March 16th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights comes to us from Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Learning and Visitor Experience.

At the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are storytellers.

It’s one of the things we do best. Whether the stories of the “old neighborhood, Jonestown,” the voices of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, or one of the thousands of stories of individual Jewish Marylanders, we use story to connect our visitors and audiences to others and themselves. We also help others tell stories. We’re especially interested in helping students and families living in their own communities find and tell their stories. To make that happen, we have been developing partnerships with area schools for years.

Why do we do what we do? How does telling our stories benefit future generations?

Research has shown children who know more about their families display more confidence and are more resilient. Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist of Emory University, has conducted research that shows family stories are a critical part of adolescents’ emerging identity and well-being. Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.  Research shows children who know their family and community stories have a strong “intergenerational self;” they know that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

In other words, stories connect the past and present to the future.

The month of March is extremely exciting for JMM storytelling. The JMM’s Education department is working on two programs in partnership with area schools and institutions: My Family Story and Morrell Park: PROJECTED. Each helps students develop their own family narrative, through a different medium. Through these partnerships, the JMM has been able to reach to a wider audience. We are a valuable education partner and resource to the larger community. Keep reading for more on both of them.


Earlier this year, area students from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Beth Israel Congregation and Bolton Street Synagogue embarked on an exploration of their own heritage with a project that goes beyond the usual family tree.

Through rigorous research and inspiring creativity, these students have produced beautiful art pieces illustrating their personal exploration into their family roots, and connections to the greater story of the Jewish People.  On March 8th, we held a special opening for My Family Story, celebrating this education initiative in partnership with Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Thousands of other students from around the world are also on their own My Family Story explorations, with the best projects from each school to be entered in Beit Hatfutsot’s international competition later in June.

Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to visit students in their classrooms as they created art to represent their family stories. I loved seeing them point out specific elements to illustrate the research they have done. Their faces shone as they shared their family stories.

I invite you to come celebrate with us the creativity, hard work, and beauty represented in these student-created works of art. The My Family Story exhibition will be on display through March 25th. My Family Story here at the Museum is generously supported by the Ronnie and Alli Russel Charitable Foundation.


Baltimore City Public Schools

In addition to our partnerships with religious schools and day schools, JMM has strong partnerships with five area Baltimore City Public Schools, where we provide a more customized and intensive educational enrichment for students and teachers.

All these programs are offered at no charge to  our partner schools, thanks in part to generous education program donors like the Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation, the Maryland State Department of Education, Larry Boltansky, and many of our Museum members.

Through our partnerships, we help students become active learners for the 21st century. As a museum, one of our most critical roles is in helping students build 21st-century skills in the areas of information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy, and global awareness.


Over the fall semester, JMM staff, with the guidance of J. Scott Fuqua (an award-winning young adult author), and Johns Hopkins University film students, have been working with the 8th grade students at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle school on a new, innovative program.Morrell Park: PROJECTED is a year-long storytelling initiative that has helped students gain insight into their personal family stories. Students learned storytelling and interviewing techniques, gaining the skills to interview family and community members. They used what they learned to tell their own stories, creating short film clips using their smartphones. The resulting films will be screened for the public as a way of celebrating the diversity, culture and roots of the Morrell Park community. Morrell Park: PROJECTED is supported by an Excellence Grant from Wells Fargo.

This project has been a transformative experience for many students.In the beginning, many students expressed a hesitancy to speak to their parents. Just a few months later, some of those same students shared that this project has enabled them to talk to family members in ways that they never had before. All of the participating students expressed an appreciation for the family members that shared personal stories of their past. The students are also rightly proud of the short films they have created, of their own learning, and of mastering a new skill on their smartphones.

You can listen to more about Morrell Park: PROJECTED over at WYPR’s “On The Record” here.

I hope you will join us on March 22 at 7:00 p.m., as these eighth graders from Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School walk the red carpet at the Jewish Museum of Maryland to celebrate the premiere of the autobiographical films they’ve created. This premiere is the first component in a two-part series, and we look forward to sharing news of the second part with you in the future.

We hope that you will visit JMM during the month of March to celebrate area students as they share their family and community stories!

 

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April 10, 2018: A Decade in the Making

Posted on March 9th, 2018 by

Performance Counts: March 2018

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes to us from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Ten Years in the Making

In 1971, Isaac M. Fein, the founder of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (predecessor to the JMM), published a comprehensive history of the Jewish community of Baltimore. The Making of An American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920, was originally published by the Jewish Publication Society of America and then re-released by the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland in 1985. It is an excellent book, and one that our Senior Vice President, Dr. Robert Keehn, recommends to friends and family alike.

In 2008, JMM’s then-director Avi Decter and JMM’s then-researcher Deb Weiner started talking about the successor to the Fein book. Deb suggested they bring in their colleague, Eric Goldstein to help research and write, and so began a journey that is scheduled to reach its finish on April 10 at 6:30pm with the official launch of On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore.

Samuel and Albertina Harrison at 1216 McElderry St., c. 1890. JMM 1991.36.1

We have notes in our institutional archives from a conversation the two colleagues had on August 28, 2008. Questions they were asking themselves included: How would they structure it? How could they update and complement the research Fein had done and tell the story into the twenty-first century? How could they include some of Gil Sandler’s important and compelling storytelling work? What distinguishes Baltimore’s story from other American communities?

The questions were intriguing to Museum staff and board, as well as some important patrons. At least seven donors made the book research, writing, and publishing happen, including: the Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation, Willard and Lillian Hackerman, the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation, and the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. Additional financial support for the project was provided by the Southern Jewish Historical Society and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.

“The Masquerade Ball of the Harmony Circle, New Assemblr Rooms, March 1st 1866.” JMM 1990.44.1

Johns Hopkins University Press (JHUP) is the publisher of the work, per a contract signed between the two entities nearly five years ago. The questions from ten years ago are now answered in the JHUP/JMM publication of five chapters (plus an introduction and an epilogue) across 320 pages of historical storytelling. An additional 46 pages convey 907 footnotes. And because this is a work created by and with the Museum, more than 130 images–curated from our collections or borrowed from colleagues at more than 20 other institutions or private collections–punctuate the story.

Rosalie Silber Abrams (top left) and Governor Marvin Mandel (bottom left) at a signing ceremony for legislation Abrams sponsored. JMM 1983.88.17.1

And what a story it is! Ranging from the eighteenth century until the twenty-first, On Middle Ground presents compelling characters and absorbing dramas. The authors argue that Baltimore, with its multiple modes of in-the-middle-ness (as a port for both products and people, and as an in-between space—geographically and culturally—bordering both north and south), created an environment that made it a microcosm of the broader American (Jewish) story.

At the Museum on April 10, Deb Weiner will give a preview of the story with a book talk entitled Life on the Border: The Role of Place in Shaping the Baltimore Jewish Experience. Gill Sandler will also be there to entertain and enlighten as he is wont to do.

Temple Oheb Shalom groundbreaking, 1959. Pictured are Philip Kaufman, Scott Preterman, Arthur Feldman, Helene Sacherman, Shelby Silver, Marge Hecht, Sammy Fox, Steve Agetstein, Roy Gamse, Louis Salai, and John Katz,JMM 2002.117.11

If you can’t make April 10 (or you want to collect that second signature on your personalized copy!), co-author Eric Goldstein will join us at the Museum on May 9, sharing a different aspect of the book with a talk entitled Myth vs. Reality: The Maryland Jew Bill in Historical Context.

Whether or not you can make it to the official launch event, we hope you’ll come see us soon, and pick up your copy of the book at Esther’s Place!

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