JMM Insights, June 2015: Farewell to Mendes

Posted on June 19th, 2015 by

As the nation celebrated Flag Day this past Sunday, the JMM made one last connection to the life of Jewish Baltimorean extraordinaire, Mendes Cohen, through activities and a talk with conservator Michelle Pagan that explored one of the most iconic objects on display in the exhibit, the flag that Mendes.  Mendes created the flag in 1832 as he sailed up the Nile River proudly displaying his love for his country. This event marked the culmination of our ten month celebration of the life and times of Mendes Cohen and his family. We were thrilled by the positive response we received from visitors, many of whom expressed their surprise at never having heard of Mendes before, as well as their delight in finally ”meeting” this amazing man.

The following is a summary of exhibit highlights:

Accolades – Coverage of the exhibit on WYPR and MPT, as well as in articles in the Jewish Times, the Forward and Humanities (the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities), helped spread the message encouraging people to come and discover the story of Mendes Cohen. It was hard to top the Forward’s review which encouraged readers to “Forget the National Aquarium: The Cohen exhibit – along with the museum’s permanent exhibit, “Voices of Lombard Street” makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland a must visit for tourists to Baltimore.” To cap things off, the JMM was a recipient of the 2015 Leadership in History Awards Winners for The A-mazing Mendes Cohen by the American Association of State and Local History.

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

PartnershipsThe A-mazing Mendes Cohen is an example of a model collaborative project and was brought to fruition through several important partnerships. We opened the exhibit during weekend festivities celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore which gave us the opportunity to partner with several local agencies and to be part of such anniversary events as the commemoration of the Battle of Bladensburg and the Defenders Day Celebration at North Point.

Mendes at Bladensburg

Mendes at Bladensburg

The Maryland Historical Society, as the repository of the bulk of the Cohen family papers, was vital to the exhibit’s success. We are so grateful to Burt Kummerow, president of MHS and his staff, for granting us access to their rich collections of material and to lending us such important documents such as the firman that Mendes received from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire allowing him entry into Palestine and his travel diary.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

As we began planning the exhibit, JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert had a brainstorm that proved transformational.  He reached out to Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes and the notion of capturing the twists and turns of Mendes’s life through a physical maze design was born. Kelly became an enthusiastic member of the Mendes Cohen Fan Club and contributed not only to the exhibit design but also to content and image research. Thanks to weekly meetings (by phone as Kelly is based in Seattle) we enjoyed a high degree of collaboration with our designer whose strong vision for the exhibit helped shape its final outcome.

New Findings – Each new exhibition involves extensive research in the JMM’s archives and collections as well as at other repositories. While we thought we knew a lot about Mendes Cohen and had previously created an educational resource kit exploring his connections to 19th century Palestine as well as published an article in Generations, our knowledge about Mendes and his family continued to expand as we uncovered new information through many different sources. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of researcher, Joseph Abel, Ph.D, who transcribed the bulk of the letters that Mendes wrote home from abroad, we were able to place Mendes at many seminal 19th century events including the student revolts in Paris, the coronation of a new king in England and the installation of a new Pope in Rome.

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

The most wonderful new piece of research was unveiled at our penultimate program, an exploration of the Cohen Family Tree. The exhibit claims that there are no known descendants of Israel and Judith Cohen. Genealogist Dick Goldman decided to challenge this assertion and was able to find new branches of the family descended from Alan Cohen III who changed his name to Clarke (hence, our difficulty in finding relatives) after he converted to Catholicism. Alan’s grandson Ronald Brown was one of our very last visitors to the exhibit on Sunday.

The Ghost of Mendes Cohen – The exhibit served as inspiration for the development of the JMM’s newest living history character, none other than Mendes himself, who comes back from the grave to revisit select moments from his incredible life. After debuting performances during many of the War of 1812 commemorative events that took place last summer, Grant Cloyd, the actor who portrays Mendes, has been busy visiting schools, synagogues and other venues. We look forward to continuing to offer performances even beyond the duration of the exhibit.

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Education – More than 300 teachers and 2100 students participated in field trips and living history performances in conjunction with The A-mazing Mendes Cohen. Students from local public, private, parochial along with Jewish day and congregational schools visited the JMM.  We also had student groups visit from the outlying counties, including Howard, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Anne Arundel County. Students visited from Forest Hills, New York and Philadelphia,  and also came from Ashkelon, Israel – Baltimore ‘s Sister City in Israel.

JMM educators created a rich array of educational resources including archival exploration activities (giving students the opportunity to explore primary sources related to his life), puzzle making games and scavenger hunts. Because Mendes’s life connected with so many important worldwide events, we were able to tie in school visits and resources with a wide array of curricular objectives.

The Gunpowder Challenge

The Powder Magazine Challenge

All of the students loved the interactives in the exhibit- especially the powder magazine and the world map stringing activity.  Students loved racing against the clock to ensure that the magazine did not explode.  Students loved learning where Cohen travelled and learned names of countries and cities throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Students also loved hearing about Cohen’s journal entry of July 4, 1832, documenting his travels on the Nile River, hoisting the flag made by Cohen’s Egyptian crew. Students also thought that it was “very cool” to see the actual flag that was hoisted on Cohen’s ship as well as  some of the Egyptian antiquities that Cohen brought back to Baltimore.

Mendes' hand-made flag, 1832

Mendes’ hand-made flag, 1832

Programs – The JMM held a record number of public programs this year and many of them were inspired by the life experiences of Mendes. Through panel discussions, scholarly and author talks, performances and family workshops, we explored such topics and themes as the War of 1812, 19th century travel, Egyptology, the fight to pass the Jew Bill, textile conservation and genealogy.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

We were especially pleased with our Mitzvah Day program, inspired by Mendes’ attempts to piece together his identity, we made puzzles for children spending the holidays in The Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital. It was a wonderful day that saw families work together to create something really special. In total we made enough for all of the children visiting the hospital over the holiday period.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

This year our Annual Meeting was also inspired by Mendes, specifically his time spent in office. We were honored to welcome Senator Ben Cardin to the museum to be our keynote speaker. A surprising success was our Sephardic Lecture Series, inspired by Mendes’ own heritage. We had two great programs exploring Sephardic history and Ladino.

During the course of the exhibit we started to record some of our programs, if you missed one of the lectures above check our website, you may still have a chance to explore a little more of Mendes Cohen’s life.

The maze is packed and out the door, the flag and jacket are back in our vaults – Mendes, like Elvis, has left the building – but the legacy is still with us.  As a team, we had so much fun with this project.  Don’t be surprised if Mendes and his siblings join us again in a future project.

 

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Connecting the Past to the Present: Immigration Stories and Community

Posted on June 16th, 2015 by

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

One of my first projects at the Jewish Museum of Maryland was to adapt the Ida Rehr immigration trunk lessons for a new program for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. The education department is creating new partnerships with organizations like the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and local schools to help students learn about Jewish history, the history of the Jonestown neighborhood, and of the greater Baltimore area.

While working on the project I myself learned about Jewish immigrants’ experiences. I learned why they came to America between 1880-1924 and the Ida Rehr story. Looking through the immigration trunk and the lessons, I realized that there are some connections to immigration issues today. Ida Rehr, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine came to Baltimore to create a new life for herself. When she came to America she lived with her older sister and her uncle at 116 S. Bond Street, a Jewish enclave in Baltimore. She was a factory worker and attended night school to learn English and how to become an American citizen. She also married a Jewish immigrant, Daniel Rehr, at Anshe Sphard Synagogue.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Ida Rehr’s immigration story is relevant today because Baltimore still has a large immigrant population. The Education Department is modifying the immigration trunk to discuss how immigrants are adapting to life in America and Baltimore today. Discovering Ida Rehr’s naturalization papers, passport, and the process she went through in order to become an American citizen made me think about what new immigrants have to go through today. Even though the immigrants that came over in the late 1800’s were from Southern and Eastern Europe, and the new immigrants are coming from other parts of the world, they share some of the same experiences. The immigrants who are coming to America today are from many different countries. “In 2012, 11.6 million foreign-born residents—28 percent of the foreign-born population—came from Mexico; 2.3 million immigrants came from China; 2 million came from India; 1.9 million came from the Philippines; 1.3 million came from both Vietnam and El Salvador; and 1.1 million came from both Cuba and Korea.” [“The Facts on Immigration Today.” 23 October 2014.] The new immigrants that are coming to U.S. are coming for some of the same reasons that Ida Rehr immigrated to this country in the late 1800’s.

The new immigrants are coming for economic and educational opportunities, as well as political and religious freedoms. The older immigrants had to struggle with similar issues that new immigrants are facing today which include applying for citizenship, finding housing and employment, maintaining their cultural heritage, and trying to adjust to life in America.

I also learned about immigration service organizations in the city that are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become American citizens. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee, CASA of Maryland (Multicultural Center Office), Baltimore Field Office for US Immigration and Citizenship services, and Justice for Our Neighbors Baltimore Office, are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become US citizens and adjust to living in Baltimore.

I developed a lesson plan that gives the Girl Scouts an opportunity to create their own immigration trunk. Through a guided questions activity that I designed the Girl Scouts could learn more about the immigration experience in Baltimore. I enjoyed working on this project because as an intern here from New York, it helped me learn about how Baltimore is still an immigrant city today.  This program also demonstrates that the Jewish Museum of Maryland is making an effort to encourage younger generations to learn about immigrants’ experiences and issues today. The museum is taking an initiative to connect immigration stories of the past to the experiences of immigrants that are living in Baltimore now. I feel honored to be involved in getting conversations going about these issues and helping the museum show their support for people in our community.

Falicia EddyA blog post by Education and Programs Intern Falicia Eddy. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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Once Upon a Time…09.19.2014

Posted on May 26th, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

2001.113.17Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  September 19, 2014

PastPerfect Accession #:  2001.113.017

Status:  Unidentified – do you know anyone from this Talmud Torah class? We think it might have taken place in the Annapolis, MD area.

 

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