Renewal and Revival: Indecent and the Education Department

Posted on July 5th, 2017 by

Blog post by Education Intern Sara Philippe. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

 

This past weekend, I saw the Broadway show Indecent in New York City. It is a play about God of Vengeance, a Yiddish play written by Polish Jewish writer Sholem Asch in 1907 that was performed across Europe in Yiddish, and eventually in the United States where it was translated into English and performed on Broadway, and then again in Poland during World War II where it was performed in an attic in the Lodz ghetto. The show is a powerful testament to the power of art and theatre, especially in its capacity to preserve history and make it relevant in the present. It is proof that what may seem a mere remnant or artifact, is in reality, a leaving, breathing thing. Among other things, Indecent brings to life the Yiddish language and its near-extinction as a result of assimilation of Jews in the US and the Holocaust in Europe.

The opening scene of Indecent. Captions are written in English and Yiddish or Hebrew throughout.

The opening scene of Indecent. Captions are written in English and Yiddish or Hebrew throughout.

It is in this effort to tell stories that are in danger of being lost that Indecent reminds me of my work at the JMM. As Education interns, Erin and I have been working on an educational resource for the upcoming exhibit Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage, which involves us in work guided by the same overarching principle that values history and heritage for its perpetual importance. In designing activities that will allow students of all ages to have more enjoyable and meaningful experiences of the exhibit, we have endeavored to treat every aspect of the contents of the exhibit as a reflection of living people and traditions as well as of people and traditions that existed in the past. Indecent’s writer Paul Vogel, and its director Rebecca Taichman, emphasize their desire to connect the material of the play to ongoing questions of xenophobia and immigration, for example, that pertain to the present day just as much as they did in early 20th century America. They tackle these issues in explicit terms and make no attempt to tell the story of God of Vengeance as if it has ended.

As we work towards a comprehensive education reference, our goal is always to encourage the future users of the resource to see the artifacts displayed in the exhibit as more than artifacts. A badly damaged schoolbook written in Arabic and used in Iraqi Jewish schools is not a collation of pages, but rather an opportunity to discuss efforts to ensure the survival of Judeo-Arabic, spoken by Iraqi Jews, and other minority languages that may be under threat. A tik, the Torah holder used in Iraqi Jewish communities becomes an opportunity to marvel at the evolution and varied uses of language, as we create an activity that asks students to re-interpret the word “tik” through actually making their own tik inspired by what they have learned about the word’s modern-day uses in Hebrew.  The story of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Baghdad in 1941 that led many to flee their native country, are an opportunity to consider minority persecution and displacement of peoples around the world and in Iraq today.

A tik from the Iraqi Jewish Archive.

A tik from the Iraqi Jewish Archive.

The stories of the past that animate Indecent as well as the Iraqi Jewish Archive offer us so much more than just a look at a time and people gone by. They are evidence of the resiliency of any people and the continuing desire we have to discover and recover, and to turn a richness that could have been lost and relegated solely to the past, into art and education. What I am learning in the Education department is the importance of turning everything behind a glass wall in an exhibit into a living creature with meanings and implications that must not be forgotten. Though it is often impossible to bring back to life what has been lost or destroyed, it is possible to enrich the lives of people today using the creations of the people of the past.

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Padding and Stuffing Galore: What It Really Takes to Exhibit Textiles

Posted on June 19th, 2017 by

Blog post by Amy Swartz, Collections Intern. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

This past week was spent helping Joanna Church, the Collections Manager, set up the newest exhibit at the museum: Just Married: Wedding Stories From Jewish Maryland. Some of the main components of the exhibit are textiles such as dresses and tuxedos. I spent the majority of my week focusing on these artifacts. I had no previous experience of working with textiles in any of my past internships so I was very excited to have the chance to learn about caring and displaying these types of artifacts in an exhibit. I also always had an interest in historical fashion and whenever I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I always bee-lined it straight to the textile wing. And anyways, who doesn’t love a pretty dress?

Hard at work steaming the wrinkles out of a dress.

Hard at work steaming the wrinkles out of a dress.

Well the answer to that question was to be tested this week as I learned how much more work it goes into displaying textiles and dresses than simply putting it on a manikin. I began the week with loads and loads of steaming. Many of the dresses were either from the JMM collection or from donors, many of whom kept the dresses in boxes for years on end. So needless to say, there were some intense wrinkles. About four dresses were in desperate need of steaming so armed with a steamer and helped by the education interns: Sara and Erin, I was able to steam all of the dresses in a day. But steaming was only the beginning.

One of the dresses in the exhibit that required very careful handling and needed padding for shape.

One of the dresses in the exhibit that required very careful handling and needed padding for shape.

The next step consisted of moving the manikins and dresses through the building and into the exhibit, which is easier said than done when contesting with a hoop skirt. Once the manikins were in place, we had to make them look more real for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would look silly if a dress was just hanging off a manikin, who if measured would probably be a 00 in dress size and has unrealistic proportions. Secondly, fabrics need support in order to keep their shape and to support larger pieces of fabric, such as tulle skirts, there needs to be some form of structure. Not supporting the textiles properly could lead to further damage.

The dress with the largest skirt, which required a lot of steaming and paper tissue to enhance the petticoat underneath.

The dress with the largest skirt, which required a lot of steaming and paper tissue to enhance the petticoat underneath.

So the question became, how to support these dresses, because real women, with rather exact measurements, had worn them in the past. We, in the Collections department, turned to padding, tulle, and even paper tissue. Many of the manikins needed busts and butts so we started by putting bras or slips on the manikins and then stuffing the bra area if the dress needed it. We added paper tissues to petticoats in order to make them more full. One of the harder tasks was creating butts for the manikins, which went by trial and error. I began by folding padding up into a square and then pinning it to the manikin at the right height. But more often than not, I needed to add one or two more pieces of padding in order to make them seem more realistic. The last step was to create arms for the dresses, using stockings and padding. This could also be tricky as it was much harder to put dresses on manikins with arms, however with a few hands, it was certainly doable.

Last week provided me with real insight into how a textile exhibit is made and how much careful work must be put into each dress. It definitely makes me wonder if other museums have different techniques or resources based on their size and funding. Although the exhibit did require a bit of grunt-work and careful handling, the beauty of the dresses and the addition they make to the exhibit was invaluable and I cannot wait to learn more about handling different types of artifacts this summer.

 

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Reflections on Remembering Auschwitz

Posted on June 16th, 2017 by

This month’s Performance Counts comes from Deputy Director Deborah Cardin!

The exhibit is really wonderful!  As upsetting a subject as it is, you did a beautiful job of showing not just the history, but the memories and the humanity that followed.  The collages [in the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project] are amazing!  (Visitor Comment)

School of the Cathedral

School of the Cathedral

During its three-month installation, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity had a tremendous impact on our visitors, volunteers and staff. By focusing on Jewish life in Oswiecim (the town that became known as Auschwitz after German occupation in 1939), the construction of the camps on the town’s outskirts, what it means to commemorate sites like Auschwitz today and the diverse experiences of our local community of Holocaust survivors, we succeeded in shedding new light onto a familiar topic.

The Opening of Remembering Auschwitz

The Opening of Remembering Auschwitz, photo by Will Kirk.

With more than 3,400 visitors, including 800 school children and teachers, Remembering Auschwitz proved popular with visitors of diverse backgrounds. School groups from the Talmudical Academy, St. Mary Catholic School (Hagerstown), the Green Street Academy (Baltimore City) and partner schools, John Ruhrah and City Springs, among others, participated in exhibit tours and a follow up activity in which students worked together in groups to create collages based on what they saw in the exhibit. The positive feedback we received from teachers indicates that the exhibit served as a powerful educational tool.

Together We Remember

Together We Remember

Exhibit-related programs expounded on additional themes and attracted large audiences. We offered visitors opportunities to hear first-hand testimony from survivors of Auschwitz (Bluma Shapiro and Golda Kalib) as well as from scholars, artists, educators, filmmakers and even a former tour guide of the camp who reflected on how the interpretation of the Memorial at Auschwitz has evolved in the 70 years since its liberation. One particularly moving program, Together We Remember, invited audience members to recite the names of victims of worldwide atrocities – not just the Holocaust – in an effort to remind ourselves that the horrors of the Holocaust are still ongoing in other parts of the world. Surveys collected after each program reflected high visitor satisfaction with program content and format and included comments such as “This entire series [of programs] on the Holocaust was amazing – so important, especially for someone like me, a Holocaust survivor and child of survivors.”

IMPACT night at the JMM

IMPACT night at the JMM

We were delighted to host several groups during the exhibit’s run. An educator’s night, sponsored in partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) and the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University, attracted more than 40 teachers and administrators from local public, independent and parochial schools. More than 80 young adults gathered for an exhibit tour and reception sponsored by Impact and the BJC’s Holocaust Remembrance Commission. The event featured the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who shared their grandparents’ stories with their peers. More recently we hosted a reunion of men who have participated in the Associated’s Chairman’s Mission to Israel and a board meeting of the Jewish National Fund. Each of these groups took the opportunity to participate in exhibit tours as part of their visit.

When What's Past is Prologue

When What’s Past is Prologue

The exhibit’s success was due, in part, to the publicity we received in the Baltimore Jewish Times and JMORE. Thanks to sponsorship from Maryland Humanities we were invited to record a promotional spot as part of its Humanities Connection on WYPR. In addition staff appeared on On The Record with Sheilah Kast to discuss the exhibit which provided tremendous exposure. Programs were also highlighted in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post which helped attract visitors beyond our usual demographic.

Holocaust Memory Reconstruvtion participants.

Holocaust Memory Reconstruvtion participants.

Remembering Auschwitz marks an important milestone in the JMM’s ongoing commitment to serving as a center for Holocaust commemoration and education. Our reputation as a leader in the field of education has been enhanced through our annual Summer Teachers Institute as well as one-day workshops offered throughout the year, in partnership with the BJC. The Memory Reconstruction Project provided us with the opportunity to develop closer relationships with our local community of Holocaust survivors and their families as well as to forge partnerships with other organizations. As we continually heard from visitors, Remembering Auschwitz offered new information and perspectives while allowing opportunities for reflection and conversation on important topics. We look forward to continuing the dialog begun with visitors through future programs and exhibits.

We are grateful to our sponsors: The Herbert Bearman Foundation, The Charles Crane Family Foundation, Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation, Larry Boltansky, Maryland Humanities, Klein Sandler Family Fund, Alvin and Louise Myerberg Family Foundation, Mirowski Family Foundation, Henry and Barbara Rosenbaum and John and Gloria Segall for making the success of Remembering Auschwitz possible.

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