Posted on May 10th, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to take a trip through our collections to see what kinds of things I could find that related to the topic of mothers. I started by typing in the word “mother” into our collections database. 1,087 records appeared. And with that I was off and running as I pulled up record after record of objects, photographs, and archival documents that captured an array of fascinating stories.
So what wonderful treasurers did I unearth? Many letters written from family members (usually sons) documenting travels and other important news such as engagements and births. I found one letter from “Mosie” (Moses Rosenfeld) to his mother written in July 26, 1899 (1968.22.13) and postcards from artist Reuben Kramer sent to his mother while he was traveling in Greece (1994.84.224). Some letters document sadder occasions reflected in one (1963.43.3) sent to Jacob Moses in October 1921 from the Keren Hayosod Committee offering condolences on the loss of his mother.
Mothers also show up in our art collection as the artist’s subject including works by noted Baltimore artist, Herman Maril. One painting, “My Mother’s Bread” (1955) (1989.125.1) depicts a glass of wine and loaf of challah. Another work, an ink drawing “Mistress of the House,” (1992.279.1) is of his mother Cecilia Maril Baker. Clearly his mother was influential in his life!
[photo of lithograph – 1975.022.002 - My search also turned up a beautiful lithograph that was used as an advertisement for Vienna Yeast from around 1897 and shows a mother, father, and son gathered around the Shabbat table.]
Looking through the object records, I found many artifacts that paint a story of women’s domestic life in the early 20th century including sewing machines, dishes, and silver. They also reflect the importance of objects owned by mothers as family heirlooms such as the silver Kiddush cup brought to the US that belonged to her mother by Rose Goldberg after World War II (1988.77.1). One of the more poignant items in our collection is a tombstone from Russia and dates to around 1910 that has this inscription, “In memory of dear mother, Mrs. Yutta, daughter of Reb Pinchas Kashan, passed away on the 18th of Elul, 5667 (August 28, 1907). I’d love to learn more about the journey of this object from a western Russian cemetery to the JMM’s storage room!
Much of my time, of course, was spent looking through our photograph collection. Here are some of my favorites:
1985.046.003 – Two women standing in front of cherry blossoms in Druid Hill Park, 1953 with the inscription “mother and Irene”
1987.019.038 – Phil and Ralph Levin standing with their mother
1988.075.009 – the Katz Family – mother is on the far right
1988.12.9 – I love this photo – Miriam Rothschild her daughter Edith on a ship wearing pirate costumes
By the time I had finished (and I have to confess that I did not actually have the time to look through all 1,087 records), I felt as though I had come away with a crash course on the impact of women in the lives of Maryland Jews spanning a course of two centuries and running the gamut from birth to death. Plus a much better understanding of the breadth and variety of our collections!
To learn more about our collections, feel free to check out our free on-line database!
So to all the mothers out there, I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day!
Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post from Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.
Somewhere along the way in my twenty-five year journey in the museum world, I asked me the question “Can you remember the first exhibit you ever saw?”. I thought for a moment and answered “Sure I can, I was at a long dinner table and someone held up a plate of matzah and asked mah zot?” It had all the elements of an exhibit – an artifact of historic significance, label copy in the Haggadah, it was interactive and at least when we got to the Hillel sandwich – multi-sensory.
I share this by way of confession that while I have a theological appreciation for other holy days, none holds a place in my heart like Passover. I have so many fond memories of seders spent with friends and family that its easy to wax nostalgic about all of them.
There is one seder in my past, however, that truly stands apart. A night unlike all other nights. It was 1978, 35 years ago this season. Passover fell late that year (April 21). I was in Seoul, Korea serving as a “Junior Officer in Training” with USIA. At age 25, I believe I was the youngest American officer serving at the post. So I was somewhat surprised to receive an invitation to the Ambassador’s residence…it was highly unusual for a junior officer to share a social occasion with a senior ambassador. Nonetheless, as there were only five Jewish American officers in Seoul at that time – the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission, the administrative assistants to both the Ambassador and the DCM and me – I was invited to seder at the residence. I can’t remember all the details but I’m sure my wife gave me some helpful coaching on dinner table manners for such a fine event.
The seder began as expected, but shortly after the first cup of wine, an embassy official entered the room and whispered something into the Ambassador’s ear. Ambassador Sneider rose abruptly and exited the room. I strongly suspected this was more than a second washing of the hands. He returned a few minutes later. After another few prayers and songs, he left the room again, suggesting that we go on with the service. The up and down pattern continued all the way to the cup of Elijah. My recollection is that at about this point the DCM may have revealed what was going on. That afternoon (Korean time) a Korean airliner that had strayed off-course on its way from Paris to Seoul had been fired upon by Soviet aircraft and forced to land on a frozen lake. The 107 surviving passengers had been transported to Murmansk. The Russians were refusing to release the passengers. When the Ambassador left the room he was actually on the phone trying to secure their safe return home. So on that night, “let my people go” had ceased to be an echo of an ancient exodus, but rather a contemporary reality that had made its way to our seder table. It took two days but the passengers did reach their destination (a much happier ending that the second shoot-down incident five years later). I’m sure that any American Ambassador would have made the liberation of the passengers a top priority, but for all these decades I have thought that the fact that a Jewish American Ambassador was a part of this effort on the very night of our own people’s commemoration of freedom was very special – a reminder of the universal resonance of our story.
This year I’ll be headed for Boston, as the torch of making seder passes for the first time to my daughter. Once more I have a feeling it will be a night different from all other nights.
Note: Please respond to this blog to tell us about a seder that you found particularly memorable. It’s one more way to share our history!
Posted on December 14th, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Historian Deb Weiner.
Last week, a reporter from the Jewish Times called to ask when Chanukah gift-giving first became popular in America. I had no clue, but I knew where to find the answer: in the book Wonders of America, by Jenna Weissman Joselit, a leading historian of American Jewish popular culture. I pulled the book off the shelf, looked up “Chanukah” in the index, and relayed the relevant details to the reporter. I thought it would be pertinent to share Joselit’s observations with you as well.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Joselit writes, “more American Jews were inclined to experiment with Christmas than with Chanukah. Beguiled by its charms, they adorned their homes with greenery and eagerly exchanged gifts.” Along with other Americans, Jews ignored the religious meaning behind Christmas and enjoyed its “secularized, commodified, and mirth filled dimensions.” The holiday’s appeal was not limited to “well-established Jews”—it trickled down to immigrants as well. “According to the Jewish Daily Forward, a startlingly large proportion of new arrivals took quickly to the custom of giving Christmas presents, a practice allegedly as widespread as the exchange of Purim gifts. ‘Who says we haven’t Americanized,’ the paper quoted several immigrants as saying. ‘The purchase of Christmas gifts is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn.’”
Hutzler’s gift box, 1997.83.9a
Jewish leaders tried to promote Chanukah as an alternative to Christmas, but “no amount of rhetorical excess could disguise the fact that Chanukah’s charms paled in comparison with those of Christmas.” Joselit does not identify who came up with the idea of giving gifts as part of celebrating Chanukah, or precisely when the custom took off, but gift-giving was clearly a key part of the holiday’s revival in the 1920s. That’s when Chanukah “began to come into its own as a notable Jewish domestic occasion and an exercise in consumption.” Not surprisingly, this was a time of upward mobility for the increasingly Americanized immigrants, who were looking for ways to combine their American and Jewish identities. What better way than to fit Chanukah into modern American consumer society?
Yiddish newspapers of the 1920s “carried dozens of tempting advertisements for Chanukah gifts, from automobiles to waffle irons.” While advertisers saw Chanukah as a way to sell a wide array of products, newspaper editors saw the products as a way to sell Chanukah. Editorials encouraged readers “to add the exchange of presents to the roster of Chanukah customs.” As one newspaper counseled, “To command the attention and affection of Jewish children, the holiday must become an occasion for storytelling, gift-giving, and merrymaking.”
In addition to its commercialization, Joselit writes, “a search for religious parity” proved to be the other key factor in Chanukah’s success in the years after World War II, “when it emerged not only as the Jewish antidote to Christmas but as its functional equivalent.” For second and third generation Americans, Chanukah became an important way to express Jewishness. By the 1950s the celebration of Chanukah had become “one of the few Jewish ritual practices actually to grow rather than diminish in popularity.”
The perfect Chanukah gift, available from the Museum shop.
Happy Chanukah everyone!