Every Family Has a Story to Tell

Posted on June 19th, 2019 by

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

When students from Annapolis Area Christian School visited this past May, they had a special guest visit with them. Students used their imagination and went back in time to 1941 where they met Ida Rehr, a Ukrainian immigrant who made the journey to Baltimore in 1913 and went on to work in the garment industry. Ida came to talk with the students about her experiences as a Jewish immigrant to the United States

Ida’s story is one of many stories about Jewish individuals immigrating to Baltimore that can be found in the collections of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Immigrant’s Trunk: Ida Rehr is performed by actress Katherine Lyons of one of the JMM’s Living History Performances. During this performance students are immersed in a real, first-person account bringing to life stories of immigration that they are learning about in the classroom.

Annapolis Area Christian School students meet Ida Rehr to hear about her journey.

A performance rich with content, Annapolis Area Christian School students were able to connections to their own lives. A personal favorite is when Ida shared her family heirlooms with the students.

Ida pulled two silver candlesticks from her trunk. She asked the students why did she choose these candlesticks above anything else she could have taken? Students chimed in with answers. Maybe she took them to sell if she needed money? Maybe because they provided light and warmth? Maybe to light on the holidays? Maybe to light for Sabbat dinner?

Ida lights the candle sticks that she brought with her.

Ida said that these candle sticks were in her family for a long time. They were an heirloom, passed down from generations. They were a reminder of her family.

Ida asked students, “What do you have in your house that has been passed down?”

Again, students’ hands shot up in the air with answers. Students told Ida about their great grandmother’s china, a uniform from World War II, a grandfather’s army canteen, family photographs, their grandmother’s recipes, silverware from a great-grandmother. A teacher even shared about their hutch that was their grandmother’s.

“Why not buy new furniture?” Ida asked, “Why do we save these things and take care of them and bring them when we move?”

“Because they are special,” responded a student.

“You know someone who had them before,” suggested another.

“To never forgot your family,” added another.

Ida shared that when she asked that question to another students, they had responded, “it is your legacy.” And when Ida asked what they meant by “legacy” the students said it was “a memory that you carry in your heart.”

Ida went on to share with students the menorah that her mother packed for her. She carried it all the way to America.

Students were able to ask Ida Rehr questions about her experiences.

In 1913, when Ida was seventeen years old, she decided to come to America. She left her family, her home, and her country to come. While it was not an easy trip, she was able to have a better life.

Ida’s story was brought to the Museum by her granddaughter. Everything in the story is real. Her granddaughter received an assignment at school to interview a family member. Over several visits, she interviewed Ida. Ida wrote down on notecards pieces of her story. The family made a scrapbook and included photographs. Like Ida’s story, the JMM houses numerous stories brought to us from family members.

Every family has a story to tell. Ida asked the students, “What might your family’s story be?”

Ida Rehr is portrayed by Katherine Lyons. 

Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues. The cost for the living history program is $300 plus mileage reimbursement at $0.50/mile. To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Paige Woodhouse, School Program Coordinator, at pwoodhouse@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443.873.5167.


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Working at a Museum- What Does That Actually Mean?

Posted on June 18th, 2019 by

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

Easily the worst question I’ve gotten in college — after “what do you hope to do one day?” and “since you go to Hopkins, are you pre-med?” —  is “what are you doing this summer?”

Until you’ve locked down exactly what you’re doing for three months of supposed freedom, the correct response, I’ve learned, is to laugh and change the question.

Oddly, after a few weeks, the reaction changes. Finally something falls into place, and you suddenly have a plan for the next few months. Once you do have a response to the dreaded question, you look forward to it. Since I’m writing this post, you can guess that I currently fall into the second category.

So, what am I doing this summer? The easy part of the answer: I’m an intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I’m primarily working with the Education and Programs departments.

The hard part of the answer: what does that actually mean?

Well, the difficulty behind that question is part of the reason I chose to work here this summer.

Let me give some context. I’m a rising junior at Johns Hopkins University, where I’m majoring in Writing Seminars. As of this spring, I decided, I’m also minoring in Museums and Society and in Marketing and Communications.

It was a long journey before I decided that that would be my path through college. I always knew I wanted to study writing but didn’t have many plans beyond that. I’ve done marketing previously and enjoyed the experience, so decided to add a minor in the subject. As for museums, though, I was mostly just curious when I signed up for my first classes.

After taking three museums courses at school, and visiting dozens of museums throughout my life, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do after graduation. I want to work in museums. The problem was, I didn’t know anything about how that worked.

Enter the Jewish Museum of Maryland. My goal for myself: learn how museums function and decide if I want to work in one someday.

This summer, my job for JMM is pretty broad. For Education, we’ve been working on a curriculum for the Jews in Space exhibit. After a crash course in outer space and how it relates to Judaism, we had to design a teacher’s guide to the exhibit. It was really exciting! I never knew that Jewish people had so much of an influence in space exploration and science fiction, or that astronomy and astrology meant so much to Jewish religion. Even after going to Jewish school for thirteen years, this was completely untapped territory for me.

The original “Jews in Space” exhibit at New York’s Center for Jewish History. In May 2020, it’s coming to JMM!

Working at a museum, I learned from Education, is about taking fascinating, important, and entertaining information and presenting it so that it’s accessible to anyone.

For Programs, so far we’ve primarily been planning for the Jonestown Festival. The Festival is an annual event hosted by JMM celebrating the history of the historic neighborhood, one of Baltimore’s oldest. This year, the theme revolves around Hamilton. While planning events and entertainment for the Festival, I have a great excuse to dive back into the mini-Hamilton musical obsession I had two years ago. (Shoutout: Jonestown Festival is this Sunday, June 23rd, at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House from 12-4 PM.)

Working at a museum, I found from Programs planning, is about inviting visitors of all ages to discover history and society by making it as exciting as possible.

JMM also takes the interns on trips to museums and institutions around Baltimore. So far, we’ve visited the Walters Art Museum and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. While both were great, I especially loved the Walters visit. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Manuscripts and Rare Books collection hosted by the museum. As a Writing Seminars major who also loves museums, this was about as amazing as it gets. The curator showed us a dozen of the Walters’ most interesting rare books. One of my favorites of these was a copy of Aesop’s Fables from the 1400s. On the outside, though, it couldn’t look less like a copy of children’s stories: it’s bound in an old copy of the Talmud!

Aesopus moralisatus,” a copy of Aesop’s Fables, printed in the mid-1400s. The stories are bound in a page from a 12th-century edition of a Talmud. We saw this book, along with many others, during a tour at the Walters Art Museum.

Working at a museum, I saw that day, is also about preserving special items, even if they don’t seem important while they’re being made. One day, they can be about the coolest items imaginable (at least to me).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been discovering a lot about how museums work. Behind the scenes, there’s a ton of planning that goes into every decision. And so far, I’ve enjoyed learning all of it!

Hopefully, it will go well enough that I’ll have an answer to the worst possible question that is posed to college students.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Object-Based Learning at the JMM

Posted on May 30th, 2019 by

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

With students growing up in an ever-increasing digital world, museums offer object-based learning that powerfully engages them in an authentic experience.

What is object-based learning? Simply put, it is using objects to facilitate learning. An object can be a kippah, a t-shirt, or a synagogue. Objects provide a direct link to the past. They are vehicles for stories. Sometimes a single story. Sometimes multiple stories. The JMM has over 12,000 objects – just imagine all the unique stories they tell about Jewish Marylanders.

The JMM’s original exhibit Fashion Statement has several never-before-exhibited objects from our collections. These objects tell stories from the late 1880s to the present day. Not all of the stories for these objects could fit into the exhibit, you can read more about them here. 

Visually, an object provides only a few clues to tell what it is and why it is important. This limited initial information provides students the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. Guided analysis of objects invites students to have an active role in the process of discovery. Students are encouraged to look at an object with curiosity. They are asked what they notice and what they wonder about an object. They “read” the object for clues about the story it tells.

During our Fashion Statement educational program, students from Annapolis Area Christian School made observations about the items of clothing on display. Students noticed whether the item is clean or dirty. Why does it have a stain? They noticed that the object is small. How old do you think someone was when they wore this?  

As a tangible remnant of the past, objects make history real and relatable for students. Using objects to facilitate discussions enables students to develop different skills, including observational skills, inquiry skills, and the ability to draw conclusions. Rather than being didactically told the correct answer, students communicate with each other to come to a consensus. Leading the discussion and asking questions as a group builds a sense of confidence in students, making them active participates instead of passive listeners.

Students from Northwood Elementary School discuss their observations before collectively deciding what the best answer to the question is.

During the education program for Fashion Statement, once students made observations about an object, they thought of open-ended questions that they would want to ask the person who wore the item. This encourages students to think about another place or another time when the object was being used. This curiosity is encouraged and transformed into creativity when students write stories about their objects.

Students are challenged to consider what we can, and what we can’t learn (without doing some extra research) from objects. Furthermore, in the Fashion Statement exhibit, students consider what we can, or can’t, learn about people through their clothing. What parts of someone’s story we can learn, and what parts we are still curious about.

Students from John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School worked together to create stories of their objects from Fashion Statement.

Looking at the objects on display in Fashion Statement, students made connections to their own lives. Do they like the item of clothing? Would they wear it? What does their clothing say about them? What can’t others learn about them from their clothing?

Object-based learning provides a tangible connection to a story. It directly connects to a person, place, time period, or event. Rather than reading a book in their classroom, students “read” an object to answer questions and draw conclusions about the past and present. The process of asking questions (and figuring out which questions to ask) about an object is just as important as discovering the answers.

The JMM houses numerous everyday objects that tell the stories of Jewish Maryland. Everybody has a story to tell. What everyday object would you choose for future students to use to learn about your story?

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