Our Miniature Chanukah Celebration – Part 1

Posted on December 15th, 2016 by

Nature abhors a vacuum, and collections managers abhor an empty exhibit case. Why not put such a thing to good use? So we moved a spare case to a corner of the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, and now we have to make sure it’s filled.  At the moment, we’re featuring a few items from Chanukah celebrations of the past.

Children preparing decorations for a Chanukah party, circa 1980.  Gift of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. JMM 2006.13.274b

Children preparing decorations for a Chanukah party, circa 1980. Gift of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. JMM 2006.13.274b

Compiling a small thematic exhibit like this one is fun, because it gives us a chance to pull together just a few related items that might not often get their day in the (metaphorical) sun.  Archives-based exhibits can also be frustrating, however; we get to see all the pages of the booklets and albums, but we know the visitor usually cannot. That’s where the magic of the internet comes in. (The mantra of the completist curator trying to narrow down the exhibit list: “Okay, that could go on the blog instead.”) I think the covers of our Chanukah entertainments are great, but here’s a chance to show you a bit of what’s inside.

Anonymous gift. JMM 1991.222.1

Anonymous gift. JMM 1991.222.1

First off, the smallest piece: A tiny “programme” from the “13th Annual Chanukah Banquet of the Baltimore Talmud Torah Society, Hebrew Free School, 21 N. High Street to be held at Hazazer’s Hall, 111 W. Franklin St. on Sunday, December 4, 1904.” (To see Hazazer’s, scroll down to the Hs on this site.)  Inside, we learn that the banquet featured music, speeches, prayer, and refreshments; several “pupils of the school,” namely Masters Tarshish, Shapiro, Cohen, and Freilichow, had the privilege of addressing the audience.  The Talmud Torah officers, Banquet committee, and “Committee of Appeal” are listed on the inside cover, including a few names familiar to us today such as Harry Friedenwald, M.S. Levy, and Jacob Epstein.

Anonymous gift. JMM 1991.222.1

Anonymous gift. JMM 1991.222.1

Next, an invitational handbill and the formal libretto from the “Grand Chanuka Celebration” held for the benefit of the Hebrew Young Men’s Association on Tuesday, December 9th, 1879 at Baltimore’s Concordia Opera House.

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.1, .2

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.1, .2

Although visitors can read the full invitation in the case, I must give a shout-out to the delightful introduction:

“Dear Sir: Amply as we are supplied with Jewish Festivals, there is one still, claiming a share for our rejoicing which of late we have not fully accorded to it. It is the festival of Chanuka, full of the most thrilling events described in the history of the Maccabees, and so beautifully set to music by Handel in the Oratorio of Judas Maccabaeus. Desirous of giving the festival the place due it in our midst, we are now actively engaged in completing arrangements for a  Grand Chanuka Celebration…”

(And only fifty cents admission for ladies! I’m sold.)

The cover of the libretto is informative, but there’s even more detail on the title page inside, namely the fact that the text was written by Miss Henrietta Szold (“all proprietary rights reserved”).  Further in the book, we learn the names of the musical soloists and speechgivers before we are treated to the full text of the address; song lyrics and poetry; and descriptions of each tableau vivant, because yes, like all good Grand Celebrations, there were tableaux.

Then we move on to the sponsoring advertisements, usually my favorite part of this type of document (I wish advertisers still noted “All Orders by Post will be promptly attended to,” as does A. Myers, Cabinet Maker), though the ad for Christmas presents is a tad awkward; I think in this case the tableaux are the winner. Altogether, this is a wonderful document, and I’m glad we can share it with you both in person and in virtual form.

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-4

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-5

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-6

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-7

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-8

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-9

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-10

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

1993116002-11

Gift of Herbert J. Goldsmith. JMM 1993.116.2

Next week: two (at least) more documents from our mini Chanukah exhibit – tune in!

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

 

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The Belly of the Whale

Posted on October 13th, 2016 by

On Yom Kippur we read from the book of Jonah. This ancient story of the reluctant prophet is particularly special to me. Nearly 20 years ago, as I listened to the story of Jonah on Yom Kippur, I had a revelation about myself. I was 23 years old, and recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia—a life sentence of chronic pain (I’ve since more-or-less gotten it under control, but it took more than 10 years). I was angry: at my situation, at the world, at God. And as the English was read from the bimah, I heard Jonah’s anger. I felt it.

After he finally does God’s bidding and lets the people of Ninevah know of their impending doom, Jonah goes out to the desert to watch the fireworks when the city is destroyed. God sends a gourd vine to grow up and shade Jonah from the hot sun.

The next day, God sends a worm who eats the vine and it withers. Jonah is super peeved at the loss of the vine. He cries out to God in his anger, and wishes for death. God responds, “Do you do well to be so angry?” “Yes!” Jonah replies, “Angry unto death!”

Right on, I thought. Me too.

And then God lays it out for Jonah and me: “You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight.”

In the story, God is making a point about why he has decided to spare Ninevah, but for me, sitting there in the stew of my anger and resentment and pain, God was talking about my health. God was gently reprimanding me for my anger, encouraging me to take action, to care for myself.

I put a little post-it note on my computer screen at work that said “Do you do well to be so angry?” I didn’t get better, at least not right away, but I felt better. It was a pivotal moment. It was the reason, several years later, I chose to translate the Book of Jonah for my graduate Biblical Hebrew course.

A daily reminder

A daily reminder

Fast forward 17 years, and each time I read or hear Jonah, something new strikes me. This year I was struck by the truly bizarre section in the middle when God sends a fish to swallow Jonah so that he does not die at sea. This aquatic mode of transportation takes 3 days to get Jonah to his destination, during which he apparently composes poetry. After the three days, God commands the fish to spit him out on dry land.

When I returned to the Museum today, I decided to see what we might have in the collections about my favorite surly prophet.

It seems I am not the only one struck by Jonah. I found several child’s drawings from 1944 depicting our Yom Kippur haftarah.

Jonah sits below the gourd vine.  JMM 1995.28.259

Jonah sits below the gourd vine. JMM 1995.28.259

In one, Jonah sits happily below a gourd vine. In another he travels horizontally across the page from the fish’s mouth to dry land.

From out of the fish's mouth. JMM 1995.28.2.35

From out of the fish’s mouth. JMM 1995.28.2.35

Fascinatingly, these drawings were done by Max Heppner (photo of Max: 1995.105.110) while he and his family hid from the Nazis in the Netherlands.

The artist as a young boy in Amsterdam. JMM 1995.105.111

The artist as a young boy in Amsterdam. JMM 1995.105.111

And all of a sudden I am thinking about the meaning of this story to a child, in hiding from the forces of evil. Did he see the roiling sea in the foment that sent his family into hiding? Was his hiding place on the Dutch farm the belly of a fish? Was he longing for the day when he too would be spit out onto the security of dry land?

I learned this year from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Bush that there is a Midrash that says that after the first few hours, Jonah grew quite comfortable inside the whale’s belly.

This drawing makes me think young Max might disagree with that Midrash.

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

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Another New Year

Posted on October 5th, 2016 by

There are so many ways to count the year. Each of us celebrates at least a half a dozen new years every year. There’s January first, of course. But there’s also a fiscal new year (at the JMM, that is July 1). There’s also your birthday (mine is February 14, in case you were wondering). For folks in school or who teach school or who have kids in school, there’s the first day of the new school year. And then there are the Jewish New Years. There’s the first day of the year, in Nissan (the same month as Passover). And there’s Tu B’Shvat, the “new year for the trees.” And, of course, there is Rosh Hashanah.

Jewish New Years card from the Sigel family, c. 1900. JMM 1989.132.1

Jewish New Years card from the Sigel family, c. 1900. JMM 1989.132.1

The “head of the year” is actually the first day of the seventh month. So though we refer to it to our non-Jewish neighbors as the “Jewish New Year,” it’s more nuanced than that. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in his book Seasons of Our Joy speculates, “perhaps it is the head of the year because it is raised toward heaven, away from the earth–while Pesach [in the first month of the year] celebrates a more earthly liberation, the freedom of our bodies” (1-2).

That distinction between the heavenly and the earthly is interesting. Unlike our secular New Year, when we all make resolutions to lose weight or quit smoking or eat healthier, at Rosh Hashanah, we are expected to make a different kind of resolution. Instead of more trips to the gym, we aim for fewer trips to judgement; rather than counting calories, we are meant to count blessings.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of a new year, and about human capacity for change. Whether the resolution is to lose 10 pounds or to be kinder, we humans seem nearly incapable of making true and lasting change. On January first and on the first of Tishri, each year, we find ourselves in nearly the exact same situation as the year before. Even as we make the resolutions (or the confessions), we do so knowing that we will falter again–we will be right here next year. We do a dance with ourselves and with the Divine, but in the end, we always fail.

It is a depressing thought as I sit here writing on the third of Tishri.

And yet.

On this Rosh Hashanah, I had the honor of the third Aliyah at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, chanting the blessings before and after the third Torah portion was read. I delivered the blessings as intended, and received greetings from my fellow congregants and the clergy. It was lovely, and I felt truly grateful. But it was a moment as I returned to my place in the congregation that truly dispelled my recent feelings of hopelessness: my four-year-old daughter met me in the aisle, and jumped into my arms, smiling ear to ear.

The best traveling companion I could imagine.

The best traveling companion I could imagine.

As I returned to my seat in the sanctuary, now carrying 36 pounds of joy, love, and limitless potential, I felt something even before I had words for it. Yes, I am in the same place I found myself last year. I am confessing the same sins; mourning the same injustices of the past year; committing in the same way to nearly the same actions as last year. But I am not the same because she is not the same.

I intentionally brought that 4-year-old to the “grown-up” service, because I wanted her to see me fully engaged in synagogue life. I wanted her to see that striving that brings us all back to that place of commitment, year after year.

Seeing the service, the holiday, reflected in her eyes reminded me powerfully of the importance of the journey. I was mourning the destination and lost sight of the beauty of travel. That small voice in my ear “Mommy, I love you!” reminded me that while the destination is worth striving for, if I forget to notice my traveling companions, I can never reach it.

With gratitude to all of you on the road with me, I wish you a Shanah Tovah u’Metucha, a good and a sweet new year.

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

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