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Jewish American History is American History

Posted on December 5th, 2019 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the opening event for the Maryland Historical Society’s latest original exhibit,  Spectrum of Fashion.

This beautiful show is arranged not chronologically, but by color, as the title might suggest. It features parts of MdHS’s textile collection that were lost to memory for nearly 30 years and rediscovered only in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

That fact alone makes for a fascinating story, and what they rediscovered is incredible.

I had the luxury of walking through the gallery with my colleague, Joanna Church, who is able to correctly identify the decade of origin of dresses based on the shape of their bustle. I, on the other hand, merely gawked, open mouthed, exclaiming things like “pretty!” “wow!” and occasionally, “how did she sit down?”

Wandering the exhibit with Joanna, we also took note of names of original owners we recognize from our own collections. From the Hutzler family to our dear friend Barbara Katz, there were many names on the MdHS labels that also appear in our collections. Joanna and I had repeated conversations where we asked one another why we don’t have that artifact at the JMM, and, upon checking the label, we realized the artifact had been in the collection of MdHS from before the JMM or even the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland existed.

And as we came around to the last platform in the exhibit (at least the way we walked it), there was a banyan from the 1780s worn by Solomon Etting.

On the label copy for the artifact, the curator notes “Etting is often remembered for his championing of Jewish civil rights. He fervently fought for the ‘Jew Bill,’ an act passed in 1826 that overturned Maryland legislation responsible for prohibiting Jewish men from holding public office. Shortly after the bill’s ratification, Etting successfully ran for Baltimore City Council and became one of Maryland’s first Jewish men to hold an elected office.”

I admit, at first, I was just plain jealous. I wanted this artifact of Maryland Jewish history to be in our collections at JMM. “Why should MdHS have it instead of us?” I thought. Then I looked closely at the label. The accession number 1918.06.58 indicates this article of clothing was received by the Historical Society in 1918. When Etting’s heirs gave it to the Society, the Lloyd Street Synagogue still housed Shomrei Mishmores HaKodesh, and the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland and its daughter, the JMM, weren’t even a twinkle in Wilbur Hunter’s eye.

Quickly, my jealousy turned to awe which turned to gratitude.

I was experiencing the push and pull that Jewish individuals and institutions so often feel in American society: we want to be wholly American, just like everyone else, while at the same time celebrating and protecting that which makes us different.

Though I still would love it if the JMM held artifacts of Solomon Etting’s life in our collections, I am also so happy and grateful his story is told through the holdings and exhibits of the Maryland Historical Society. At JMM we regularly make the case that American Jewish history is American history. By including Etting and the Hutzlers and other Jewish Marylanders in their collections and in their exhibits, the MdHS proves the Maryland corrollary: Maryland Jewish History is Maryland History. As a JMM staffer and a Maryland Jew, I am grateful for the reminder.

JMMers Paige, Rachel, Joanna and me, Tracie, all had a great time!


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Ten Best Things about Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling

Posted on October 18th, 2019 by

JMM Insights: October 2019 comes traight from the top – JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert shares his highlights behind our newest exhibit, Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, which opens on Sunday, October 27, 2019! Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


I started working on our Scrap Yard exhibit more than four years ago. It opens to the public in just 10 days, so I think my excitement is understandable. But in case you’re still looking for a reason to get pumped, I thought I would share a few features that might perk your interest.

1. This is the first national traveling exhibit on the American scrap industry, an industry that came of age on the shoulders of immigrant junk peddlers of the early 20th century, grew into technologically sophisticated scrap businesses by the middle of the century and entered into global recycling in the decades preceding the millennium. It’s the story of the transformation of the families who transformed waste into useful raw material.

2. Based on an informal survey, if you are Jewish, I’ll bet you either had a relative in the scrap business or knew people who dealt with scrap. In 1930, Forbes magazine estimated that 90% of scrap dealers in America were Jewish.

3. If you or someone in your family is into BIG stuff, this exhibit is for you. We’ve got scale. Drone footage of a contemporary scrap metal yard, vintage film of ship breaking after WWI, and you can even view infrared footage of cars being swallowed whole by a shredder.

4. Speaking of scale, have you ever wondered if you’re worth your weight in gold? How about copper? This is just one more of the interactive elements that test your metal. You can also feel what it was like for peddlers to carry around a 30 lb. bag of metal or see how much strength it takes to compress a small bale of water bottles.

5. Relive a few of the most memorable moments of scrap in the movies and on TV. Remember Sanford and Son? What about the iconic car crushing scene from Goldfinger? There is also a listening station for scrap themed songs. Who knew?

6. If you like your history from primary sources, you can listen in on the true adventures of real scrap dealers at our oral history kiosks (at least they told us the adventures are true!); or explore photos in our aptly named scrapbook: or maybe encounter a profiled dealer like Morris Schapiro or Louis B. Mayer or my dad… more about that in my family biography program on January 10.

7. And that’s just one of a dozen programs lined up to accompany the exhibit. Starting with a “making of” Scrap Yard presentation by curator Zachary Levine, our plans not only include lectures by scrap historians (yes, there are experts in the history of scrap) but also family days and environmental action opportunities and on Mitzvah Day, the Disney film wall-E.

8. There are, as you might expect, some wonderful artifacts in the exhibit too: a dirt bike, disassembled into its component materials, a classic International Business Machines punch clock circa 1920 (when Watson was the name of the company’s president, not its chess program), and a board game about the virtues of scrap drives in WWII called “Get into the Scrap.”

9. Our education team was inspired to create a game of our own to use the dynamics of the scrap business to teach market economics to visiting school groups especially at the middle school and high school levels. For more information about this program and our science activities for elementary schools contact Ilene Dackman-Alon at idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org.

10. Last, but not least, I hope you’ll be excited to see one of the largest credit panels in JMM history – ok, I know this doesn’t sound as cool as the first nine, but trust me, there is a very special feeling to a project put together by a whole community – both those whose lives revolved around the industry and those who were interested in exploring a novel experience. I thank them all.


Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling is made possible, in part, through the support of our generous donors: Institute for Museum and Library Services; National Endowment For The Humanities; Boston Metals Co. in Memory of Morris Schapiro; The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries; David Berg Foundation; Baltimore Scrap: David, Larry, Ken, and Joe Simon; Liebherr; The Gershowitz Family and Gershow Recycling; Integrated Shredder Technology.

Additional support provided by: Diamond State Recycling Corporation; Arnold and Joyce Fruman; The Sandy Shapiro Charitable Fund; Sue and Jerry Kline; Deborah Zager, in loving memory of my father, Sammy Kahan, founder of Ansam Metals Corporation; Ray Aizen, Maryland Core, Inc.; Pinkert Family Foundation; Melvin A. Lipsitz Family Foundation; J. Solotken & Company; Ellen Kahan Zager and Jack Zager Philanthropic Fund; Robin Wiener and Roger Nehrer; Davis Industries; Howard Fields, in memory of my Pinkert grandad and uncles; ScrapWare Corporation; Atlantic Recycling Group; Dan Pinkert and Freddi Greenberg; Brian Shine, Manitoba Corporation; Kripke Enterprises; Neal Shapiro; Dale and Betsey Pinkert.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Autumn in New York

Posted on September 16th, 2019 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


Earlier in September, my mom asked me to visit her in New York as a birthday present to her. Glad for the opportunity to visit a couple museums there, and unable to say no to my mother, I took the train up for the weekend. We enjoyed good food, a great concert by her favorite musician, and had a chance to visit the Jewish Museum in New York.

The main feature of the visit was the special Leonard Cohen exhibit, which closed on Sunday, September 8th. But before we could explore this tribute to the artist’s life, we needed breakfast. And on a Saturday morning in New York, we wanted a classic Jewish brunch.

Polish immigrant, Joel Russ, arrived in Manhattan in 1905. Bringing Polish flavors and foods to the Jewish community already established in New York, Russ worked his way up from selling herring from a push chart, to opening a storefront called J Russ Appetizers in 1914. Appetizer foods are known to the Jewish communities as “food typically eaten with bagels”, such as smoked salmon or lox, homemade salads, and cream cheeses. Appetizers would sell dairy meals and fish. This sets Russ’ store apart from our local Attman’s, as delis were known for selling cured and pickled meats.

Russ’ business grew, and he moved the store to 179 East Houston Street in 1920 where it remains to this day. With all the extra work to be done, his three daughters were enlisted to help out, as Russ had no sons to run the business. In 1935, he made his daughters his full partners in the business and renamed the store “Russ & Daughters”, the first US business to have “& Daughters” in its name.

Starting the day off right with a visit to a historical and delicious restaurant.

As the business evolved and family members took turns running it, they were able to expand in 2014 by opening a Russ & Daughters Café. Their expansion continued in 2015, when Russ & Daughters opened at the Jewish Museum in New York.

This particular location is situated in the basement of the Museum, and they offer pre-paid reservations for Saturday mornings, to support visitors who observe Shabbat. This way, people who observe Shabbat would not have to handle money, which is forbidden because it’s considered work. Russ & Daughter’s Shabbat prix-fixe menu included a fresh salad, deviled eggs, a breadbasket of freshly baked treats, a board of cream cheese and smoked fish, and ended with halvah ice cream and chocolate babkah.

It was a delicious taste of New York Jewish culture, and a satisfying way to begin our visit to the Museum.

My mom’s favorite was the pickled herring. I was partial to the lox and capers.

With full bellies, my mom and I set off to explore three floors of galleries dedicated to the Leonard Cohen exhibit.

“I just set out to write what I felt as honestly as I could, and I am delighted when other people feel a part of themselves in the music.” – Cohen in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, 9/24/1995.

Leonard Cohen situated himself in words. His novels, books of poems, and many song lyrics speak to a man dedicated to the composition and power of words. Cohen’s works also express a man who grappled with questions of spirituality, social issues, sensuality and love, and the end of life. The exhibit that was on display at the Jewish Museum, organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, featured performances and works by Cohen, but was made up of videos, installations, and objects created by other artists, mixing Cohen’s rich source material into experimental presentations.

A theme throughout the galleries was Cohen’s obsession with words and language, though the many artists chose to share and present them in very different ways.

The artist Christophe Chassol literally remixed Cohen’s poem, “The Only Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward”, by scoring the poem and inviting singers to perform the music, adding Cohen’s spoken lines. By applying speech-harmonizing techniques that creates what Chassol calls an “ultrascore”, the echoing sounds made for haunting emphasis, as Cohen’s words appear onscreen.

The other artists chose different ways to play with Cohen’s work. One room on the second floor was a large, open space, with an old-fashioned organ situated in the middle. The organ was connected to several vintage speakers. As a visitor presses on the keys of the organ, Cohen’s voice rings outs, reading poems from his Book of Longing. Each key corresponds to a different poem, and so playing one after another can lead to the creation of a new poem, out of Cohen’s lines. Playing more than one key causes multiple recordings to play, allowing Cohen’s voice to fill the space.

Artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller call the installation The Poetry Machine and say, “with this piece we were attempting to create a magical machine that would be a small monument to Leonard Cohen’s brilliance.”

This exhibit was fun to experiment with, and it was especially interesting to watch people interact with the work. One visitor simply listened to one of the poems read, pressing down on only one key. Another visitor played line after line, creating their own poetic verse. I practiced pressing down on multiple keys to get the full experience, and was joined by another visitor, playing the other end of the organ, causing multiple readings to jumble up as Cohen’s words overlapped. The room filled with Cohen’s voice, immersing the people inside in his work, though the words were hard to distinguish in the noise.

There were plenty more ways that the exhibit played tribute to Cohen’s works. A humming machine played the song ”Hallelujah”, Cohen’s self-portraits were projected across a screen, and a blank room streamed his music while people could lounge on bean bag chairs and listen. All across the Museum, I saw people connecting with his words, their eyes closed or welling with tears, talking to their friends about the works, or standing silently in awe. The exhibit was immersive and unconventional, just like Cohen’s music. If you want to find out more about the exhibit, visit the Jewish Museum in New York’s exhibit page here. If you want to get a bit of the experience yourself, watch the video here.

Visiting as a museum professional, I found myself watching other people’s experiences of the exhibit, seeing how they connected with the content. I hope to bring these reflections, as well as future inspiration from visiting other museums, to the JMM, to help improve the experience of our guests, and challenge their own immersion into the exhibits.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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