The other JMM

Posted on April 11th, 2018 by

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

Almost exactly one year from now, we will be opening an exhibit we’re borrowing from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee (the other JMM), called Stitching History from the Holocaust.

We’re pretty excited about this show, which brings to life the innovative dress designs of Hedy Strnad, a soul and a talent lost to the Holocaust.

The other JMM is also very excited about this exhibit, and they are re-mounting the exhibit, with some enhancements, this spring. Coincidentally my sister, Emily, lives in Milwaukee with her family, and she invited me and my family to visit for Seder.

Beshert, I thought. I could go visit the exhibit IRL, and not just the link I shared with you above. I was to be in Milwaukee from March 29 through April 2. The other JMM opened the exhibit on April 8.

Womp womp.

I didn’t get to see Hedy’s dresses in real life. However, I did get to visit the other JMM, and meet some of my colleagues there.

They shared some of what they’re working on for future exhibits. I told them about some of our plans. We shared impressions of the recent CAJM conference in Washington, DC. I also had the opportunity to enjoy their core exhibition.

Since I was there with my 6-year-old daughter and my nephews who are 7 and 4, I wasn’t able to linger the way I might have (though my sister did an admirable job of keeping the kids occupied so that I could peruse. Thanks, Em!).

Even in my somewhat abbreviated time in the exhibit, I was struck by a few things:

I was reminded that Harry Houdini (with whom this JMM is currently deeply involved, as our original exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini comes together) spent some of his youth in Milwaukee.

I was surprised to read all about the German-Russian divide in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Milwaukee Jewish community. I am well aware of the same divide that beleaguered the Baltimore Jewish community (my family’s stories include the tales of my grandmother’s grandmother who immigrated from what was then Prussia and refused to speak a word of Yiddish, referring to the language as “cussing”). Somehow I naively thought that it was a past that was unique to Baltimore.

And I was taken with a visual family tree/timeline that the other JMM did about the Jewish congregations in the city, visually representing how different schuls splintered and splintered again.

Marvin often tells visitors about how many active congregations in the Baltimore area can trace their roots back to the Lloyd Street Synagogue. The other JMM created a kind of map of those connections (spoiler alert, I’ll be looking into creating our map in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned).

In short, from JMM to JMM, it’s worth the visit!*

 

*Did you know that Premium-level JMM Members get free reciprocal admission to the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, as well as at 11 other Jewish museums around the country? Become a premium-level member today!

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A Whirlwind Tour: Seven Exhibits at Four Museums in Six and a Half Hours

Posted on March 22nd, 2018 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Oh, the trials of museum work, when you HAVE to go see an exhibit! When someone on staff needed to head to New York City to check out a few exhibitions, I nobly sacrificed myself – and, in this case, my mom as well – for the cause.  Dutifully, last Thursday we took the train up to NYC to see as many of the exhibits on my list as possible before taking an evening train home.

Every museum field trip day should begin with a Leonard Nimoy inspirational quote. This one is featured in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

First up: “Jews in Space:  Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” at the Center for Jewish History. Melanie Meyers, one of the curators, gave us a one-on-one tour of this exhibit, which may come to the JMM sometime in the future.  It covers a fascinating variety of themes under the banner “space,” looking at Jewish contributions to everything from astronomy and space travel to science fiction and popular culture. Objects and books came from private collectors, such as astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman (who did the first Torah reading in space) and the collections of the CJH’s partner institutions, including the Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO.

An 18th century printing of a 14th century astronomy text by Isaac ben Joseph Israeli, LBI collections, on display in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

Altogether this is a delightful look at a topic about which I knew very little, my dad’s Isaac Asimov collection notwithstanding. I particularly enjoyed the ritual objects loaned by Hoffman, which he adapted for space travel: a velcroed mezuzah for his bunk, a traveling menorah (no candles, of course). The first attempt at a dreidel game in space was captured by NASA, complete with an earth-bound voice on the radio asking Hoffman to explain Chanukah for “all of America.”

“Starlight: Hanging Grid II” by Cooper Joseph Studio in the Rotunda of the Museum of the City of New York.

After a quick lunch, it was off to the Museum of the City of New York, where I wanted to check out “Mod New York” and “New York at its Core” as comparative research when planning our own upcoming fashion and core exhibits. We also took in quick trips through the galleries of “New York Silver” and “Beyond Suffrage,” though to be honest we didn’t really do justice to any of these exhibits; time was passing, and the final museum was calling us.

Our last stop for the day was the Jewish Museum. “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem” was, along with “Jews in Space,” my main reason for the day trip; several of our volunteers had praised it, and as a textile show it was even more relevant, in many ways, to our upcoming “Fashion Statement” exhibition than “Mod New York.” It was also just about to close – sorry, if you haven’t seen it already, the last day was March 18th! – so there was no time to waste.

My volunteers were right; it was a wonderful exhibit. So wonderful that I didn’t take any photos (though I doubt they were allowed, to be honest) because I was too busy looking. If I give in and buy the hefty catalog, you’ll have to make an appointment to visit the JMM Library to take a look.

I find myself always looking for the lions. Left: detail of a menorah, for which I neglected to get the info, but which I couldn’t resist including; right, birds and lions and sunflowers adorning an ark from Sioux City, Iowa, hand-carved in 1899 by Abraham Shulkin. (Note the bonus, and accidental, call-back to Leonard Nimoy.) Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Finally, we took in the new “Scenes from the Collection,” which was equally wonderful, and almost made up for the fact that I misread the café’s closing time so we ended up bagel-less. Noshing aside, the exhibit is a showcase of the broad scope of the museum’s collecting interests, from a variety of eras, places, and artforms. Judaica, stereograph photos, and textiles rub shoulders with modern art and “Orange is the New Black” clips. As I walked through the portrait section, I found old friends like Cindy Sherman and Kehinde Wiley, and new friends like this fine fellow:

Self-portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1814-1816. Would that we could all paint ourselves this confidently in our mid-teens! Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Ending our day on this high note, my mom and I made our way back to Penn Station for a noisy dinner in an Irish pub, and then a quiet train ride home. Our exhibit to-do list: Fully checked off, and then some. Sadly, it may be someone else’s turn next time such a monumental busman’s-holiday sacrifice is required, but I’m sure my time will come around again soon.

 

SPACE! My attempt at a space-y pose failed miserably.

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A Volunteer Field Trip – Right Next Door!

Posted on March 19th, 2018 by

A blog post from JMM Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis. To read more posts from Wendy, click here.

One can learn much about a building, but it doesn’t come to life until you have seen it filled with people using it for its intended purpose.    On Shabbat, March 3rd, a group of Jewish Museum of Maryland volunteers had that opportunity.  At the invitation of Rabbi Etan Mintz, we participated in the morning service and had a delicious lunch at B’nai Israel, one of the two historic synagogues on the Jewish Museum of Maryland Berman campus.  We were warmly welcomed by the congregants and the rabbi.  All of our male volunteers who were present at the service were given honors during the Torah service and I had the honor of walking with the Torah in my arms in the women’s section.

Inside the sanctuary with some of our volunteers, Phil Sagal, me, Marvin Spector, and Larry Levine.

Instead of a sermon by the rabbi, after services, Fred Shoken, a congregant who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the history of B’nai Israel spoke to the entire congregation using questions we had previously submitted as his general outline.  Did you know that when the building was built, Hebrew words were carved in stone above the exterior doorway?  It originally identified that the building was the Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the date of the building.  When B’nai Israel moved into the building, the original congregation’s name was filled in and recarved with the name of the new congregation.    When the exterior was restored in 1987, some of the filling in of the letters was removed, leaving an overlap of both names.  In the sanctuary, all the beautiful woodwork is original except for the mechitzah (the fence separating the men from the women) and the railings leading to the ark.  Rabbi Mintz showed everyone interesting historic objects from the congregation’s collection including a list of yarhtzits written on parchment.

Standing outside the synagogue.

Typical for synagogues, at the end of the service, the president of the congregation, Shelly Mintz, who is also a JMM volunteer, made announcements.  As expected, she included information about upcoming events and services. But her words also expressed how this oldest continuously operating synagogue building in Maryland is still the place of active Jewish involvement.

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