Lessons from Across the Pond

Posted on May 14th, 2014 by

Over the Passover holiday I traveled to England, meeting up with my wife, who took a vacation from her dissertation research in Turkey.  I am normally quite reticent to share tales of my journeys, probably due to being subjected to one-too-many travelogues from my myriad aunts and uncles.  But Rachel has persuaded me that a few of my observations/adventures might be of more general interest.

1. One Site, Many Dimensions

My favorite site on the whole trip was Hampton Court Palace.  It is the home that King Henry VIII took off the hands of Cardinal Wolsey after he sent him to the Tower.  It continued to be “improved” by English monarchs up through the mid-1700s.

Anne Boleyn has a fight with her mother for the entertainment of 21st century guests.

Anne Boleyn has a fight with her mother for the entertainment of 21st century guests.

The custodians of this site showed tremendous imagination in interpretation.  They created separate tours for different time periods and though Henry VIII may be somewhat better known than George II, they managed to find attributes (like chocolate making) that evened the field.  They broke common museum labeling conventions, often pinning labels to tapestries or draping them on tables rather than pasting them on foam core.  It made the experience much more organic.  They also managed to use a wide variety of techniques simultaneously, including living history performances, audio guides and high-tech slide presentations.  I thought that the combination of techniques, great history to work with and truly beautiful paintings and gardens made this a historic site with very wide appeal… proving that sometimes More is More (and I don’t just mean Sir Thomas).

A truly impressive trump l'oeil from Hampton Court Palace.

A truly impressive trump l’oeil from Hampton Court Palace.

On the long bus ride out to the Palace we passed by a field with the targets set up for what appeared to be a professional archery tournament.  Wish I had taken a picture, especially after we passed by the scoreboard which identified the teams as London Welsh vs. Nottingham!!  Did I really lose my chance to meet Robin Hood?

2. Like No Other Night

When we decided that we’d meet over Passover, I thought I would try to find an interesting Second Night Seder.  I e-mailed Michael Leventhal, who runs the annual Gefiltefest in London, to ask for a recommendation.  He connected me to a group called the Carlebach Minyan which was holding its seder at a private home in the North London borough of Finchley.  Much of the ceremony was reminiscent of seders I’ve had here in Maryland or Illinois (with the exception of a Sephardic custom of lashing your neighbors with scallions during the singing of Dayenu).  But the dinner had an exceptional theme – “Eat Your Way Through the Plagues”.  The dinner had ten courses each course took its inspiration from the plague.  For course one, for example, each guest was given a plastic syringe, a thimble of tomato juice and a thimble of vodka or water – and it was our task to “turn the clear liquid of the Nile into blood”.  Course five, beasts, was brisket and potatoes but the potatoes had been dried to form a rampaging hippo as seen in this photo.  When we got to course eight, the host came in to proudly inform us that locusts were kosher and that this course was exactly what it sounded like.  Here I drew the line – I am not a grasshopper eater.

The "beast" rampages through the potatoes at the Second Night Seder.

The “beast” rampages through the potatoes at the Second Night Seder.

During the seder I was invited to share a story… I shared the tale of the Lloyd Street Synagogue’s own “wicked son” – Rabbi Illowy and the lessons we learned from America’s Civil War.

3. Expectations and Audience

I did take the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum of London.  It is a little challenging to find, but worth the effort.  We have some elements in common with our London counterpart, including the exhibition of one of the oldest mikveh in our respective countries (well, ours is 1845 and theirs is mid-13th century).

This is the rather subtle entry to the Jewish Museum of London.

This is the rather subtle entry to the Jewish Museum of London.

The Jewish Museum of London has three exhibit floors.  The first level is “what is Judaism?”… objects that explain Jewish rituals and observances.  The second level is “the history of Judaism in Britain” and the third level is a changing exhibit gallery.  I found it interesting that such a large portion of the total footprint was dedicated to explaining Judaism in general.  It seemed to reflect an expectation that a significant portion of their audience was unfamiliar with Jewish practice… an expectation not often reflected in American Jewish museums.

This screen from the computer interactive of Jewish settlements in England tells the story of the Jews of Bristol (home of Mendes Cohen's mother).

This screen from the computer interactive of Jewish settlements in England tells the story of the Jews of Bristol (home of Mendes Cohen’s mother).

On the second floor there were some interesting display concepts.  The tailor shop section of the exhibit included tools partially encased in plexi – visitors could lift the iron or the scissors and feel their weight without risk of injury from sharp edges.  There was also a video that blended a historic photo with live actors.  The interactive that allowed you to look up dozens of communities in England and find out their Jewish stories was particularly well done.  I wouldn’t be surprised if someday you could do this with towns of Maryland at a certain museum in Baltimore.

How heavy were those scissors?

How heavy were those scissors?

The temporary exhibit in April was on Jewish participation in World War I.  I thought it was an excellent treatment of a difficult topic.  Naturally, the focus was on the Jews of Britain – but they did a credible job of explaining the participation of the much larger populations of Jews who fought for the Central Powers (Germany and Austria).

London's oldest mikveh was moved to the museum.

London’s oldest mikveh was moved to the museum.

4. York and Memory

We ended our visit to England with a trip to York, a beautiful, walkable small city in the north of the country.  It has an incredibly rich history… underneath the soaring Gothic York Minster lie the remains of the original Roman fort at Eboracum.  There is also a slightly hokey attraction focused on York’s Viking heritage in town.

York Minster, I believe it is the second largest cathedral in Europe.  It stands where Constantine was made Emperor of Rome.

York Minster, I believe it is the second largest cathedral in Europe. It stands where Constantine was made Emperor of Rome.

York plays a role in Jewish history as well, though not a happy one.  It seems that when Richard the Lionheart ascended to the throne in 1189 a rumor spread that it was the king’s wish to deal with infidels at home before heading on a Crusade against infidels abroad.  The small Jewish community of York, numbering about 150, fled the castle keep (a place later reconstructed in stone as Clifford’s Tower).  A mob descended on the keep and the Jews inside made the decision to kill themselves by burning down the keep rather than expose themselves to torture, forced conversion and/or death from the mob.

Memories of York were still fresh in my mind when I boarded the plane back to the US.  I had bought myself a wonderfully illustrated magazine for the long trip home – The Medieval World, published by National Geographic.  Its 127 pages of text and graphics attempted to summarize the major places and events of the thousand year span from 400 to 1400 A.D.  Not surprisingly, York made it into the list  of great places of the age.  The magazine attempted to give a balanced portrayal of the struggle between Christians and Muslims across this millennium.  But somewhere over the North Atlantic, I began to notice something was missing: the Jews.  Not just missing from the sidebar on York, but from the discussion of Moorish Spain and central Germany… as best as I could tell, missing from all 127 pages!

What struck me was how easy it is to erase a people from history… and how important it is that institutions like the Jewish Museum of London (and the Jewish Museum of Maryland) keep it alive and accessible to the public.  I came back from my journey, exhausted, refreshed and ready to go back to work.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here.

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MS 125 The Mansbach Family Papers

Posted on March 22nd, 2012 by

Family collections can take genealogy beyond the family tree.  Not only can genealogists dig out familial connections, birth and death dates, but they can sometimes see objects that their ancestors touched or even created – a letter written in their great-grandfather’s hand perhaps, or their great-aunt’s wedding dress.  But family collections are also useful to historians in general.  Where a genealogist sees a new branch to add to the family tree a professor might see a new perspective on immigration, a deeper understanding of culture, etc.  The following collection contains information about one family, but also information about immigration and the Holocaust

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Shabbat Challah cover used by the Masbach family. 1994.136.10

Mansbach Family

Papers, n.d., 1866 – c. 1975

MS 125

The Jewish Museum of Maryland

ACCESS AND PROVENANCE

The Mansbach Family Papers were donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland by Irene Mansbach Russel in 1994 as accession 1994.136 and 1994.142, in 2001 as 2001.074 and in 2003 as accession 2003.101.  Robin Waldman processed the collection in 2003.  Additional materials (including folders 80-85) were added in 2004 as accession 2004.47 and the finding aid was updated in April 2005 to reflect these additions.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual procedures.

Leo Mansbach taken in Germany, 1939. 1994.142.55

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES

Bernhard Mansbach (1900-1981), son of Hermann Mansbach and Sophie Loewenstein Mansbach, left Germany in February 1939 and arrived in England March 1939.  He had a tourist visa that did not permit him to work.  He lived with his brother, Leo Mansbach, and his parents, who came to England shortly after Bernhard, until October 1939 when he left England for the United States.  Hermann and Sophie settled in England, and Leo came to Baltimore in 1948.  A third brother, Edmund Mansbach, b. 1896, was never successful in leavingGermany.  He died in a concentration camp c. 1940-1942.

Hertha Phillips Mansbach (1905-1996) was born in Oberhausen, Germany to Bernhard Phillips and Jetchen Oberdorfer Phillips, and later lived in Mulheim.  Hertha left Germany in December 1939.  She traveled via train to Antwerp where she boarded a Holland-Amerika ship in January 1940 and sailed via South Hampton, England to New York, arriving January 20, 1940. Hertha Phillips married Bernhard Mansbach, whom she had known in Germany, on November 3, 1940.  They lived at 2120 Brookfield Avenue until February 1944, when they moved to 2613 Reisterstown Road.  Shortly thereafter, in April 1944, Hertha gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Irene Mansbach.

George Mansbach, who was not related to Bernhard Mansbach in any way, was an American who lived inBaltimore.  When Bernhard began writing to American citizens who bore his last name in an attempt to secure assistance in leavingGermany, George agreed to provide affidavits. Once Bernhard arrived inBaltimore, George was of further assistance, helping him to secure employment, and later helping Bernhard obtain a refund for his deceased brother Edmund’s ship fare to theUnited States.  Bernhard and Hertha invited George and his wife to their wedding, but the American Mansbachs were unable to attend.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The Mansbach Family Papers contain records that document the family’s attempts to flee Nazi Germany and establish themselves inEnglandand finally, in theUnited States.  Records include correspondence, affidavits, immigration documents and identity documents.  Both English and German documents are included in this collection.

Notes:  See database for location of related photographs 1994.142.55, 1994.142.62.1, 1994.142.62.2.  See also JMM OH #528, Irene Mansbach Interview, April 1, 2002 for further information.

Baltimore tailoring establishment where Bernard Mansbach worked, n.d. 1994.142.62.2

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Posted in jewish museum of maryland