Posted on April 16th, 2014 by Rachel
Part of my role at the museum is to handle the reservations of one of our travelling exhibits, Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 – 1968. The exhibit has been in storage for several months but is currently on display until April 14th at Beth Israel Synagogue.
In addition to displaying Jews on the Move, we also had an evening lecture there last week about some of the themes it highlights. The lecture, titled Jews on the move: A Conversation, was led by Dean Krimmel, a museum consultant who was a member of the team that developed the exhibit. The talk gathered a great audience and created a huge amount of conversation.
Dean Krimmel at Beth Israel
Dean started the lecture by asking a few questions, and he asked those who answered “yes” to stand. We were asked:
- Were you part of the suburban exodus?
- Were you born here in Baltimore?
- Have you lived here for your adult life?
- Are you a newcomer?
Getting some exercise at Beth Israel!
Unsurprisingly, the first two questions had a huge response, with most of the room standing. The final question, received a much smaller response, but it was interesting to see what people considered a newcomer to be. I knew I certainly would fit within this category, having only been here for a year. What surprised me was that people who had lived here their entire adult life still considered themselves newcomers! However, I quickly learned that, unless you went to high school in Baltimore, some will consider you a lifelong newcomer. This also led to another interesting point: this city is unique in that, when asked “what school did you attend?” you are not being asked about college but rather about high school.
The high point of the evening was hearing all of the conversations that were inspired by the program, both during the lecture and after, around the exhibit. People discussed their memories of moving to the suburbs, the reasons for doing so and some of the restrictions that they faced. Many people had similar experiences with regards to their suburban exodus, especially relating to their experiences with real estate agents.
We were also treated to a little of the history of Beth Israel and its movements by Bernie Raynor.
There was also plenty of reminiscing prompted by images in the exhibit, especially regarding schools and shopping centers.
We also looked at some of the original advertisements for the newly built homes during the suburban exodus.
Overall, everyone had a lovely evening. The chatting continued for an hour after the lecture finished. Everyone shared memories and even remembered some things thought long forgotten.
Blog post by Program Manager Trillion Attwood. To read more posts from Trillion, click here.
Posted on March 27th, 2014 by Rachel
We are just a few days away from the opening of Project Mah Jongg. Throughout the last month the team has busily been preparing. Ilene has been developing activities for kids, Trillion has been working on program concepts and Rachel has been applying her creativity to ways to let people know the exhibit is here.
As for me, I’ve been using my weekends to research a little bit about the history of Jews and board games. This is a convenient convergence of the needs of the project and my personal interests. I have been in the museum business 25 years, but I’ve been playing board games – nearly continuously – for at least 55 years; moving from the childhood classics (Candyland, Monopoly, Risk, Stratego) to the 3M games of the 1960s to Baltimore’s own Avalon Hill war games of the 1970s to the rail games of the 1980s and the Eurogames of the 1990s. I have somewhere around 150 board games in the basement, not enough to make me a collector, but more than enough to have my wife wince every time she sees a new box come through the door. To prepare for the exhibit I have also learned Mah Jongg (it’s tough work, but someone has to do it).
A staff Mah Jongg lesson.
Since we signed up for the exhibit, I have been intriguing audiences with the question “how did a game for Chinese menbecome a pastime for Jewish women?” The empirical answer to this question involves Jewish flappers of the 1920s and Jewish charitable fundraising in the 1930s. But this statement of facts sidesteps a more interesting question about Mah Jongg as an example of cultural adaptation. Mah Jongg is just one example of many things that both Jews and non-Jews would point to as culturally Jewish that have no theological basis, no connection to Torah or Talmud – e.g. bagels on Sunday morning, Borscht Belt shtick, discount camera supplies.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Abba Eban-narrated PBS series, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews. The point of the series was that Judaism had not merely survived 4,000 years of contact with other cultural communities, it had actually helped shape (and in turn was shaped by) those contacts. With the passage of enough time we often loose our awareness of cultural adaptations and assume that our customs are native to our history. In researching games, I found a fascinating example: dreidel. Like many of you, I grew up thinking that the game of dreidel was contemporary with the Maccabees. But with a little on-line searching I learned that the game probably becomes a part of Hanukah in the 17th century. The dreidel is based on a top called a teetotum and a game known as “put and take” that originated in England in the 1400s. In the following century, the top moves to Germany where it gains some familiar letters – G for “ganze”, H for “halb”, N for “nicht” and S for “stell ein” meaning “put in”. It became a popular Christmas game in Germany. Like “potato latkes” (19th century) and “gift giving” (20th century), dreidel is a piece of the Hanukah celebration borrowed from our neighbors and given new meaning in a Jewish context.
Of course at this time of year my senses are more likely to be excited by the anticipation of matzah kugel than the memory of latkes. However, Passover too is a great example of the history of cultural adaptation – running the gamut from ancient rites of spring to the Roman custom of free men reclining to the contemporary examples of suffering and depredation often invoked during the recounting of our bondage in Egypt. I have often looked at the seder as an archeological dig, not only through Jewish history, but through all the cultures we have touched.
So perhaps it is not as unusual as it seems to include Mah Jongg among our adapted treasures. We have made the meld and now it’s a part of us.
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin, click here.
Posted on March 19th, 2014 by Rachel
On March 13, I attended a program at the University of Maryland’s Health Sciences Library in conjunction with a traveling exhibition that the Library is hosting, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. This exhibit, created by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has been traveling throughout the country for several years. The exhibition explores the rise of eugenics in Nazi Germany and how the quest to create a master race resulted in a public campaign to rid society of “undesirables” including those with mental and physical disabilities as well as individuals who were considered members of inferior races, such as Jews.
The exhibition’s curator, Susan Bachrach, gave a lecture to a crowd of medical students, University of Maryland administrators and professors, and community members. Dr. Bachrach’s riveting talk included background on the history of the eugenics movement, both in Weimar Germany as well as in other countries including the US. Many in the audience were unaware of the fact that forced sterilization was legal in several states in the US in the first half of the 20th century. While Maryland did not have such a law, in one notable 1927 Supreme Court case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion upholding Virginia’s law in the 1927 case against Carrie Buck. (For more on this case, check out www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/VA/VA.html.)
Although the exhibit is difficult to view from the point of view of its deeply disturbing content and imagery, the subject matter is incredibly important and relevant for contemporary audiences especially in light of current debates on medical ethics. Dr. Bachrach’s lecture included video testimony from Holocaust survivors including siblings who were sent to Auschwitz where they were subjected to the notorious Dr. Mengele’s experiments on twins. Following this emotional testimony, it was hard to look at a photograph of Dr. Mengele in which he looks like a “normal” doctor going about his business. We so often think of the perpetuators of the Holocaust as evil monsters and it is difficult to grapple with the fact that their appearance does not always conform to this characterization.
The USHMM has created a virtual exhibit on their website that features more information as well as images.
The JMM and BJC are co-sponsoring a teacher training workshop taking place at the University of Maryland’s Health Sciences Library on April 2. The program is open to educators of all backgrounds.
Deadly Medicine is on view through April 30.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah, click here.