Jewish Marylanders, Both Born and Made, Breaking Barriers in History

Posted on September 27th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


What is a barrier? Barriers can be physical – a material that blocks or inhibits movement. Barriers can be natural – such as oceans, rivers, or mountains. They can be immaterial – ideas, laws, or attitudes. The 2020 National History Day theme is “Breaking Barriers in History.”

National History Day, a non-profit that “creates opportunities for teachers and students to engage in historical research” (National History Day 2020 Themebook, pg. 4). This program begins in the Fall as students select their topic and begin researching. The program culminates with students presenting their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites, or documentaries and entering in local, regional, and potentially the national competition hosted at the University of Maryland at College Park.

This year, students in Baltimore and across the country will be researching individuals, communities, organizations, engineering and technologies, medicines, legislations, and more throughout history that have broken barriers.

JMM’s exhibits and collections tell stories of Jewish Maryland. This includes a variety of stories of individuals or communities breaking barriers. The Maryland Jewish community has produced many leaders who have made lasting contributions on a local, regional, national, and international scale. Issues range from labor relations and civil rights to helping the vulnerable to refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more. Below are three examples to get you started!


Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold was a Jewish Marylander whose leadership and ingenuity helped improve the lives of people in the United States and Israel.  JMM 1992.242.7.4.7.

Born in Baltimore in 1860 to Jewish immigrants Benjamin and Sophie Schaar Szold, Henrietta would spend her young adult life in Baltimore, teaching at her alma mater, Western Female High School. In the 1870s, Henrietta and her father would go to the Baltimore docks to greet new Jewish immigrants, mostly arriving from Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1889, Szold worked with the Isaac Baer Levinsohn Literary Society to form a night school for these immigrants to teach them English and American history.

In 1907, Henrietta joined the organization in which she would truly make her mark. Szold joined the Hadassah Study Circle, a Zionist women’s organization. Two years later, she traveled to Palestine with her mother. Horrified by the lack of medical supplies, Henrietta returned home determined to improve the conditions there. She founded the Hadassah organization to raise money to send nurses to Palestine. While serving as Hadassah’s president, she also became involved with the American Zionist Medical Unit, and later helped establish the Rothschild-Hadassah Hospital in Palestine and the Hadassah School of Nursing. Eight years later, Szold retired from Hadassah, but continued her work in Israel, serving as an elected official on the Yishuv’s National Council.

With the rise of Nazi power in Germany in 1933, she became the director of yet another organization, Youth Aliyah. She oversaw the resettlement and training of 11,000 refugee Jewish children for life in Palestine. On February 13th, 1945 Szold died at the age of eighty-five in the hospital that she helped build.

Inspire your students with the true story of Henrietta Szold through JMM dramatic living history performance. Performances can take place in your classroom. We are happy to provide a school discounted rate of $100 for the performance. Book Henrietta Szold today.


The Jew Bill

With the passage of An Act Concerning Religion, or the Toleration Act, in 1649, Maryland Jews and other non-Christians lost the ability to serve in municipal or state office, join the military, or practice law. However, there were very few Jews in Maryland at that time. Not until the late 1700s did Jewish families begin to appear in the growing port city of Baltimore.

When it was ratified in 1776, the Maryland State Constitution stated “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State … and a declaration of belief in Christian religion.” Even after the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the State of Maryland did not change its practices as the provisions of the First Amendment were considered to apply only to the Federal government.

In 1779, Solomon Etting, a prominent Jew in Baltimore, petitioned to have the state constitution amended to end discrimination of Jews. The Jews of Maryland did not sit idly by. They actively petitioned the legislature in 1824 for the bill’s passage. They wrote to editors in local and national newspapers, which began to run editorials in favor of the Jew Bill. Many people were offended to learn that such religious discrimination still existed in the government, nearly fifty years after the Constitution was established.

Thomas Kennedy of Hagerstown took up the cause of Maryland’s Jewish community.

State delegate Thomas Kennedy, a representative from Hagerstown, took up the cause of Maryland’s Jewish community in 1818. When he started the fight, he had never met someone Jewish, but he believed fiercely in religious freedom. He introduced “An Act for the relief of the Jews of Maryland,” also known as “The Jew Bill.” With heavy opposition from the anti-immigrant wing of the Federalist Party, his bill failed year after year. Kennedy continued pressing for the Bill even at the risk of his political career. In 1823 he was defeated for re-election by Benjamin Galloway running on a “Christian Ticket.” Two years later he was reelected to office as an independent and helped secure enough votes for the passing of the Jew Bill in 1826.

The Cover of “The Jew Bill” from JMM’s collection. JMM 1987.82.1.

Though the Jew Bill extended rights to Jews, other religious minorities would have to wait until 1867 for all religious requirements to be extinguished from the constitution.

Explore the JMM’s collection online for more primary and second sources about the Jew Bill here.

Experience a past program on the Jew Bill here.


Morris Schapiro & Boston Metals Company

For over 200 years, discarded metals, rags, paper, and animal hides have provided economic opportunities for immigrants and native-born Americans who collected, stored, brokered, and sold them – scrappers. The work was grueling, scrappers were stigmatized, and the industry was criticized as a source of social and environmental ills. Still, generations of individuals and families gravitated toward the work—including many Jewish scrappers. Our upcoming exhibit, Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, shares stories of Jewish families who broke barriers – overcoming socio-economic barriers and stereotypes – while building one of America’s largest industries and innovating technologies and processes within it.

On such story is that of Morris Schapiro who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 16, on the S.S. Pennsylvania. He traveled in steerage and was seasick nearly the entire journey, during which he was pickpocketed, which left him with 25 cents to his name when he landed. Though several of his cousins were already in the business in Baltimore, Schapiro struck out on his own Within a week, he had made over $100 – a fortune at the time and more than he had ever possessed. Schapiro immediately established the Boston Iron and Metal Company, collecting scrap metal from blacksmiths, machine shops, and chemical companies.

Boston Metals Company in Baltimore.

By the 1920s, Boston Metals Company had moved from a small warehouse in Fells Point to a large, waterfront yard breaking down Navy and civilian ships. In 1919 the S.S. Pennsylvania was seized by the U.S. Navy and renamed the USS Nansemond. It was put up for scrap in 1924. Schapiro identified the vessel as the very same one that brought him to United States on that dreadful journey. He bought and scrapped the ship at his Boston Metals Company in Baltimore. The fortune that Schapiro eventually built through scrap led him to other enterprises, including whiskey distilling, a “near beer” brewery during Prohibition, and the Laurel Park Racetrack in Laurel, MD.


Interested in more stories of the individuals, companies, and communities behind the scrap industry? Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling is on display October 27, 2019 to April 26, 2020. Bring your students to explore the stories of immigrant families who built the scrap industry in America.

JMM’s staff are huge supporters of National History Day and can often be found volunteering in Baltimore at school competitions and as judges at the City, State, and National Competitions. Let us take our support a step further. Our exhibits and educational programs can support your students as they practice critical inquiry and historical research – examining primary and secondary sources. We are delighted to provide complimentary admission and a complimentary bus for any Maryland Public School visiting the Museum.

Learn more about our education programs here.

Book a visit with your class today here.


 

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It’s All in the Numbers: The Magical Secrets of JMM’s Education Department

Posted on September 13th, 2019 by


Performance Counts: September 2019

For this month’s edition of Performance Counts, the Education Department shares an inside look at the many students and teachers JMM has engaged with throughout the past year. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here.


The Education Department at JMM works to link area public, private, and Jewish schools to our education programs. For our student visitors, we connect our permanent and temporary exhibits and the historic synagogues to themes of immigration and world religions.

We typically see between 4,000 and 6,000 students and teachers in our onsite and offsite education programs. This past year, the Education Department connected with over 10,000 students, teachers, and chaperones from area schools. We are confident that we had such a MAGICAL year due to the HUGE success of the exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini.

In addition to our education program for our original exhibit on Houdini, we developed programs for Jewish Refugees and Shanghai, and Stitching History from the Holocaust & Fashion Statement (not to mention new programs for our permanent exhibits and synagogue). Here is a snapshot of who JMM engaged through educational programing this past year:


During the seven months the Houdini exhibit was on display (June 2018 to January 2019), we worked with 1842 students, teachers, and chaperones at the JMM for education programs in connection to the exhibit.

Houdini On-Site Numbers

>Public Schools – We had 24 visits from 14 different schools over the run of the exhibit.

>Jewish Schools –We had 9 visits from groups coming from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Howard County, DC, and Kunklestown, PA.

>Private/Other – We had 362 visitors from 8 universities, camps and private schools in the area visit the exhibit.

We worked with the curator/magician David London to develop a living history character to complement the Houdini exhibit. This living history performance was very popular and Harry Houdini performed for over 2400 students and teachers at area schools.

Houdini Offsite Numbers

>Public Schools – 1119 students and teachers from 6 area schools in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County.

>Jewish Schools – 1104 students and teachers from 8 area Jewish camps and schools.

>Private/Other – 200 campers from Camp B’more.

The Harry Houdini living history performance’s success was not limited to area schools. During the run of the exhibit, the living history character saw nearly 3200 people as part of a school, adult group, or public program. Following the exhibit, the character performed to over 1100 people at schools and synagogues. To date, we are receiving bookings for the upcoming school year.


Following the Houdini exhibit, we looked to the east and brought a travelling exhibit from Shanghai to JMM. While Jewish Refugees and Shanghai was here for only 6 weeks, we engaged with a number of area schools through educational programs.

Jewish Refugees and Shanghai On-Site Numbers

>Jewish Schools – We worked with one area Jewish school in connection to students learning in the classroom.

>Private/Other – We saw 233 students and teachers from area 8 separate universities and private schools.  Students visited from the Howard County Chinese School, Sidwell Friends, and Washington Wu Ying Public Charter School from the DC area.

Jewish Refugees and Shanghai also gave us the opportunity to provide a professional development opportunity for teachers.

We piloted the Winter Teachers Institute, where area teachers took part in a two-day learning opportunity in Holocaust education. Highlights included a visit to the People’s Republic of China Embassy in DC and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Teachers also participated in a full day of learning at JMM where they studied the plight of refugees during — and after — WWII and the reaction of the United States to the refugee situation.


In spring, we borrowed the powerful exhibit Stitching History from the Holocaust from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. The exhibit depicts the moving story of the Strnads and their attempt to flee Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Hedy Strnad tried to use her skills as a fashion designer to come to the United Stated. Our collections staff curated the beautiful exhibit Fashion Statement to complement the show. The exhibit allows visitors to think about the many ways that clothing signals one’s identity or group with which they want to identify.

Stitching History from the Holocaust & Fashion Statement Onsite Numbers

>Public Schools – 447 students and teachers from 10 different schools in Baltimore City

>Jewish Schools – 117 students from 4 groups.

>Private Schools – 213 students from 7 local private schools, universities and camps.


Back to School

Since the beginning of our new fiscal year (July 1, 2019), we have already engaged with 820 students, teachers, and chaperones from public, Jewish, and private schools and camps. As students and teachers returned to their classrooms this September, our education team is looking ahead to an exciting 2019-2020 school year.

Our team is looking to strengthen existing relationships and make new connections this year. 3500 new education brochures have been sent out to educators across Maryland. This brochure shares the variety of programs JMM offers on topics such as Baltimore history, immigration, Judaism, primary sources, and Holocaust Education.

2 new education programs are being developed for our upcoming special exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling opening on October 27, 2019 – one for elementary and one for middle school and above. Through hands-on activities, students will explore one of America’s largest industries, its innovative technology, and stories of the immigrant families that built it.

2 new Homeschool Days have been developed to support families seeking specialized, engaging experiences.

The Education Department is looking forward to another magical year as we strive to create experiences for students that will enrich their classroom learning, ignite their curiosity, and foster personal connections.


Questions about our Education Programs?
Contact School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse
at pwoodhouse@jewishmuseummd.org / 443-873-5167.


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Finding History in the Collections

Posted on July 26th, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Ariella Shua. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


 

I’m not a crazy history buff – I have to hear dates and names multiple times before I can remember them. But I’ve always liked knowing how old something is, or who used to use an item. It’s especially cool when these details connect an object to history we already know.

While working at the JMM, I’ve made a few such discoveries. I wasn’t searching for any particular connection. I was just recording the facts about a person, place, or time. The importance of these items to me, to Jewish history, or even to American history were bonuses that came with the facts I was searching for.

The first moment of historical significance came on my first day at the JMM. As we went on our first tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, we were taught its story. The synagogue is the third oldest Jewish house of worship in Maryland, and the third oldest still standing in the US. I’d already known that the JMM had historic objects in their possession. I had no idea that one of those objects was a building. Even better, I was excited to know that I’d now been in two of the top three oldest synagogues in the US. I had fallen asleep in the oldest, Touro Synagogue, a few years before (long story, but I hope to go back and see it for real in the future).

Inside the museum, I spend a lot of time in the “Voices of Lombard Street” exhibit. It provides an immersive walkthrough “tour” of Lombard Street, one of Jonestown’s Jewish neighborhoods, from the early 1900s. When schools and camps visit, I usually guide the kids through the sewing machine activity.

They “sew” together creations on a replica 1914 Singer sewing machine. I’ve used a sewing machine before, but it looks nothing like this one – the Singer on display requires pushing a heavy foot pedal in order to operate.

My assumption was that kids would never recognize the machine. But during multiple tour groups, kids tell me about their own experiences, sewing on more modern machines, or seeing old-fashioned sewing machines in their grandmother’s houses. It never occurred to me that an object that seems so obsolete to me is still relevant in many people’s lives, even in a different way.

Most of the historical connections I’ve made have been in the last few weeks. I am working on a project to discover the historical significance of Windsor Hills, a Baltimore neighborhood which large numbers of Jews once called home. While researching, I’ve come across the names of former residents who I know. I don’t know them personally – all I know is their names. Hutzler, Hollander, and Wolman will all be immediately familiar to any other Hopkins student. They all have buildings or rooms named after them at the school. I never expected to run into them at the JMM, yet here they are.

I’m spending a lot of time on PastPerfect, the JMM’s collections database, while I do my Windsor Hills research. Some of the connections I’ve found point to the darker history that was once in Jonestown. While doing an innocent search for ice cream, I came across multiple results for Hendler Ice Cream Company. Most of the records, photos, and ads that showed up in JMM collections are cheery ice cream pictures.

 

One, though, stood out for its offensive imagery. A 1925 poster for a frozen watermelon snack instantly registered in my eyes as racist. Yet in the 1920s, such an ad was perfectly acceptable – a sign of how much the times have changed.

Fortunately, most of my PastPerfect searches have resulted in records that are much less offensive. During my Windsor Hills research, I’ve even found some former residents who have made their mark on American history.

Jacob Beser, for instance, shows up again and again in the JMM’s collections.

I’d never heard of him before, but I quickly learned that he was the only crew member to participate in both of the Enola Gay’s missions: bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As it turned out, he and his family lived in Windsor Hills, and he was involved in the local Jewish community. Now, some of his former possessions are in the JMM’s collections, telling their history to those who want to find out more.

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