Museum Matters: May 2014

Posted on May 2nd, 2014 by

Global stories

1992154001One of the remarkable aspects of working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland are the constant reminders that the events that have occurred in the Jewish community here in Maryland are ultimately tied to experiences across the globe.  On my recent visit to the Jewish Museum of London, I had a chance to see the exhibit on Jewish participation in World War I – a link that connects to the sixty volunteers from East Baltimore who joined the British military unit known as “the Jewish Legion.”

Shanghai_ghetto_in_1943This month our attention turns to the other side of the globe as Rabbi Marvin Tokayer shares his insights on the Jewish refugees from Shanghai in our Risch Memorial program.  This year I learned that there are actually still members of the Shanghai enclave and their descendants living here in Baltimore.  You won’t want to miss this fascinating program hosted by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 18.



Upcoming Programs

Please note that unless otherwise noted, all programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore, MD 21202). For more information and to RSVP for specific programs, contact Trillion Attwood: (410) 732-6400 x215 / For more information on JMM events please visit

While you’re marking your calendars, take note, the Museum WILL be open on Memorial Day, May 26th and will be closed for Shavuot on June 4th and 5th.


Mothers Day Family Mah Jongg Marathon

Sunday, May 11, 11:00am-5:00pm

Program Free with Museum Admission 


What better way to celebrate the important women in your life then coming to the JMM for a day of Mah Jongg Madness!  All members of the family are welcome. Lessons will be available for Mah Jongg novices and we will have plenty of experts on hand to help explain this fascinating game. This event is open to players of all ability and we will have separate beginner and advanced level tables. Everyone will have a chance to win and prizes will include a variety of Mah Jongg goodies! We will be playing with the National Mah Jongg Leagues 2014 card. Registration is not required but is recommended as table space is limited!


The 8th Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration:

From Poverty to Culture: The Refugee Community in Shanghai During World War ll

Speaker: Rabbi Marvin Tokayer

Sunday May 18, 2:00pm

Admission is Free

This program takes place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (7401 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21208)

JMM_Risch_PC_NEW-page-001The Risch Memorial program is the largest and most important annual event in our calendar year.  Each year it focuses on a different aspect of the topic of immigration.  This year, as JMM looks at cultural ties between China and the Jewish Community through its Project Mah Jongg exhibit, we have invited a very special expert on the Jews of East Asia, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, to be our featured speaker.  Rabbi Tokayer is the former chief rabbi of Tokyo and author of the Fugu Plan. You won’t want to miss this powerful evocation of how the 20,000 Jews of Shanghai struggled against impossible odds to not only survive, but thrive in this unexpected site of refuge.

Support for the Risch Memorial Program is provided by Frank and Helen Risch through the Risch Memorial Endowment Fund at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.


Late Night on Lloyd Street: The Wheel and the Star:  Do the Shapes Fit?: Buddhism and Judaism Meet in the Modern World    

Thursday May 22, 6:00 to 9:00pm

jubuDid you know the first American to convert to Buddhism on American soil was Jewish?  Charles Strauss converted in 1893 at an exposition on world religions. Join us for this panel discussion on the connections between Judaism and Buddhism.

As with all Late Night on Lloyd Streets there will be plenty of snacks and drinks.

Late Night on Lloyd Street programs are FREE thanks to generous support from the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund.



Annual Meeting: Will Our Grandchildren be Jewish? The Future of American Jewry


Sunday, June 1, 1:00pm

Speaker: Len Saxe

Admission is Free

Annual_Meeting_PC-1The recently released Pew Research Center report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” has unleashed a veritable tsunami of commentary.  The results of this study have been interpreted in so many ways. According to some, the American Jewish community is dissolving, while others maintain that the community has never been larger. The lecture will assess competing views of the state of American Jewry and the prospects for future decline or growth.  The perspective will be one of optimism: How Pew’s findings should be regarded as positive and how understanding the data can help the American Jewish community address challenges.

Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., is Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy at Brandeis University where he directs the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute.

The program begins at 1:00pm with a presentation of the FY 15 slate of nominees to the JMM’s Board of Trustees for election by the Museum’s membership. The lecture will follow. Refreshments will be served.


More Programs

The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit or check out BIYA on facebook.




Current exhibits

Exhibits currently on display at the JMM include Project Mah Jongg (on display through June 29), Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore, The Synagogue Speaks!


Hours and Tour Times

The JMM is open Sunday-Thursday, 10am – 5pm. We offer tours of our historic synagogues each day at 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00.


Get Involved

The JMM is looking for volunteers to help staff our front desk, work in the gift shop, and lead tours as docents. No prior knowledge or training is required. All that is needed is an interest in learning about the JMM, our historic sites, exhibits, and programs and a desire to share this knowledge with the public. All volunteers are provided with thorough training. If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen at 410.732.6400 x217 or



Revamped and revitalized, membership at the JMM is now better than ever – with new categories, benefits, and discounts to enrich every visit to the Museum for you and your friends and families.

All members receive our monthly e-newsletter, along with a 10% discount at the Museum store, free general admission to the Museum, free admission to all regular programs, attendance at exclusive member opening events and discounted weekday parking at the City-owned garage at 1001 E. Fayette Street.

Your membership provides much needed funding for the many programs that we offer and we hope we can count on you for your continued support. Memberships can be purchase online! For more information about our membership program, please contact Sue Foard at (410) 732-6400 x220 or


Gift Shop


The Museum Shop is the place to shop for your favorite Mah Jongg must-have pieces…your game will be on-game!   These are only a SAMPLE of what you will find!  See you at the tables!





Esther Weiner, Museum Shop Manager, 410-732-6400, ext. 211 /



Posted in jewish museum of maryland

China & the Jews

Posted on April 30th, 2014 by

We are less than a month away from the eighth annual Herbert H and Irma B Risch Program on Immigration.  This year’s program, to be held at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation at 2 p.m. on May 18, features Rabbi Marvin Tokayer.  Rabbi Tokayer will be speaking on the topic of the Shanghai refugees, the remarkable Jewish community that not only survived WWII but also flourished in the years that followed (former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal among them).   The selection of this year’s program was influenced by JMM’s current exhibition, Project Mah Jongg, and its focus on cultural connections between Jewish Americans and Chinese traditions.

Mark Your Calendar!

Mark Your Calendar!

The connections between Jews and China are far older than most people think.  The merchant trade of the Silk Road brought the first Jews to this part of the world by the time of the 8th century Tang Dynasty.  When Marco Polo arrives in Beijing in the late 1200s he finds an active community of Jewish traders.  Kaifeng contained perhaps the largest and most enduring Chinese Jewish population, preserving kashreit and shabbat well into the 1700s.

Jews of K’ai-Fun-Foo (Kaifeng Subprefecture), China. Image via wikipedia.

In the modern era China has been a place of refuge for Jews on more than one occasion.  When the Inquisition reached Goa, India in 1560, the demand was made that Portuguese marranos and “New Christians” return to Portugal and the punishments meted out to the unfaithful.  A group of Portuguese marranos went further east to Macao instead.  “Captain” Bartolomeu Vaz Landeiro was among the most notable of these refugees. Taking on a role that combined piracy and diplomacy, Landeiro became an agent for the local Chinese authorities in their dealings with the European powers.  Without any sense of irony, his Chinese neighbors would call Landeiro, “The King of the Portuguese.”

Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain during the times of inquisition, painting by Moshe Maimon. Image via wikipedia.

Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain during the times of inquisition, painting by Moshe Maimon. Image via wikipedia.

In 1844, it was the opium trade that brought Elias David Sassoon, son of the treasurer of Baghdad, to China.  Initially setting up shop in Hong Kong, Sassoon becomes the first Jewish member of the international colony in Shanghai in 1850.  The big break for the Sassoons is the American Civil War.  Suddenly, Chinese cotton becomes an important international commodity and Elias David Sassoon its most prominent dealer.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. Image via wikipedia.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. Image via wikipedia.

In the early 1900s, Jews fleeing pogroms in Western Russia, managed to make it across the Trans-Siberian Railway to settle in Harbin, China.

And perhaps the most interesting Jewish emigre to China is Morris Cohen (known more commonly as “Two Gun Cohen”).  Cohen was a British born pickpocket, pugilist and con artist (as a boy, in a scene right out of American Hustle  Cohen is employed by glazier, breaking  windows to bring in business).  After leaving reform school in England, Cohen headed to Saskatchewan, Canada where he was hired on as a farmhand and taught to shoot with a gun in both hands.  He made an unlikely friendship with a Chinese restaurant owner in Saskatoon whom he saved from an armed robbery.  This brought him into the inner circle of Cantonese Canadians who were supporting Sun Yatsen independence movement against the child emperor PuYi (think Last Emperor of China).  He eventually became a body guard for Sun Yatsen and his family and later a “Brigadier General” under Chiang Kai Shek.

Image via.

Image via.

If these stories pique your interest, I have two resources to suggest:

1) There is a terrific on line magazine called Asian Jewish Life at  You will find much more detail on “Two-Gun Cohen” in one of their archival issues – this one to be exact!

2) In addition to his lecture in May, Rabbi Tokayer runs a series of highly-rated kosher tours of Jewish history in Asia.  His next China-Japan tour is in July.  You can find more information at

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights April 2014

Posted on April 18th, 2014 by

Above the Sea

Each year the Jewish Museum of Maryland offer a major presentation on immigration made possible through the generous support of Frank and Helen Risch.  Frank’s parents, Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch, sought refuge in Baltimore in 1937, fleeing the storm of Nazi persecution.

In the first seven years of this program, we have focused on the experience of emigration and exile in America, offering performances, stories and lectures on immigrant populations from the great wave of Eastern European Jews of the late 1890s to the most recent arrivals from around the globe.  This year we are offering insights into another way station of refuge, thousands of miles from our shores.  Shanghai, whose name literally means “above the sea” was high ground for thousands of Jews escaping from the same forces that brought the Risch family to Baltimore.

Mark Your Calendar!

Mark Your Calendar!

Helping us explore this topic is an exceptional expert, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. Rabbi Tokayer previously served as United States Air Force Chaplain in Japan. Upon his discharge he returned to Tokyo to serve for eight years as rabbi for the Jewish community of Japan. In addition to numerous Japanese-language books and contributions to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Rabbi Tokayer is the author of The Fugu Plan, and co-author of the newly published Pepper, Silk and Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East.

Additions for the "to be read" pile!

Additions for the “to be read” pile!

Rabbi Tokayer has entitled his talk:  “From Poverty to Culture: The Refugee Community in Shanghai During World War ll.” This will be a powerful evocation of how the 20,000 Jews of Shanghai struggled against impossible odds to not only survive, but thrive in this unexpected refuge. The program will be held Sunday, May 18th at 2:00pm and will take place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, located 7401 Park Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21208.  The program is free to the public – so be sure to invite all your friends!

To coincide with the Risch Memorial Program we are putting together a small lobby display using materials from our collections, which will be on view during the month of May.   It turns out that Baltimore and the Jewish Museum of Maryland both have some strong connections to the Jews of Shanghai. You may have noticed the photograph used in this year’s Risch Memorial Program publicity, which pictures a couple sitting in a rickshaw. We would like to introduce you to that couple: Wilheim Kurz and Selma (Hirschfeld) Kurz. Wilheim and Selma were both Holocaust survivors. They met as refugees and theirs was the first Jewish wedding in the Shanghai Jewish colony!  They moved to Baltimore in 1947 and Wilheim was kind enough to bequeath his Jewish materials (including photographs and archival documents) to the Museum. We are hard at work transcribing an oral history done with Wilheim in 1979 and look forward to sharing more of Wilheim and Selma’s story with you as it is revealed.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

We know there are more legacies of the Jewish Colony in Shanghai out there! We’ve identified at least two other individuals associated with the city who now reside in the metro area.  We encourage you to contact us with your stories and your materials. And if you know anyone who lived in Shanghai, we would love to invite them to the program – please send us their contact information. If you have any information to share, contact Trillion Attwood at /410-732-6400 x215.

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

If you’re interested in learning more about the Jewish Colony of Shanghai, there is actually a pretty good start at Wikipedia, but we know our JMM explorers will want to go further. If you are seeking a list of the numerous books and memoirs about the experience, including Rabbi Tokayer’s The Fugu Plan, you can find a great collected list here at the The Shanghai Jewish Tours website. If you happen to be traveling, you might want to stop by China’s Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum – last year they sent their “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)” exhibit on a three city tour of the US.  There’s even a Chinese animated family film (and graphic novel) called A Jewish Girl in Shanghai – and you can rent a streaming copy here. 

Check the JMM website for an upcoming blog post on Jewish-Chinese connections and if you are looking for the lighter side of that connection – find a foursome and visit (or revisit) Project Mah Jongg.




Posted in jewish museum of maryland