Connecting the Past to the Present: Immigration Stories and Community

Posted on June 16th, 2015 by

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

One of my first projects at the Jewish Museum of Maryland was to adapt the Ida Rehr immigration trunk lessons for a new program for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. The education department is creating new partnerships with organizations like the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and local schools to help students learn about Jewish history, the history of the Jonestown neighborhood, and of the greater Baltimore area.

While working on the project I myself learned about Jewish immigrants’ experiences. I learned why they came to America between 1880-1924 and the Ida Rehr story. Looking through the immigration trunk and the lessons, I realized that there are some connections to immigration issues today. Ida Rehr, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine came to Baltimore to create a new life for herself. When she came to America she lived with her older sister and her uncle at 116 S. Bond Street, a Jewish enclave in Baltimore. She was a factory worker and attended night school to learn English and how to become an American citizen. She also married a Jewish immigrant, Daniel Rehr, at Anshe Sphard Synagogue.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Ida Rehr’s immigration story is relevant today because Baltimore still has a large immigrant population. The Education Department is modifying the immigration trunk to discuss how immigrants are adapting to life in America and Baltimore today. Discovering Ida Rehr’s naturalization papers, passport, and the process she went through in order to become an American citizen made me think about what new immigrants have to go through today. Even though the immigrants that came over in the late 1800’s were from Southern and Eastern Europe, and the new immigrants are coming from other parts of the world, they share some of the same experiences. The immigrants who are coming to America today are from many different countries. “In 2012, 11.6 million foreign-born residents—28 percent of the foreign-born population—came from Mexico; 2.3 million immigrants came from China; 2 million came from India; 1.9 million came from the Philippines; 1.3 million came from both Vietnam and El Salvador; and 1.1 million came from both Cuba and Korea.” [“The Facts on Immigration Today.” 23 October 2014.] The new immigrants that are coming to U.S. are coming for some of the same reasons that Ida Rehr immigrated to this country in the late 1800’s.

The new immigrants are coming for economic and educational opportunities, as well as political and religious freedoms. The older immigrants had to struggle with similar issues that new immigrants are facing today which include applying for citizenship, finding housing and employment, maintaining their cultural heritage, and trying to adjust to life in America.

I also learned about immigration service organizations in the city that are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become American citizens. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee, CASA of Maryland (Multicultural Center Office), Baltimore Field Office for US Immigration and Citizenship services, and Justice for Our Neighbors Baltimore Office, are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become US citizens and adjust to living in Baltimore.

I developed a lesson plan that gives the Girl Scouts an opportunity to create their own immigration trunk. Through a guided questions activity that I designed the Girl Scouts could learn more about the immigration experience in Baltimore. I enjoyed working on this project because as an intern here from New York, it helped me learn about how Baltimore is still an immigrant city today.  This program also demonstrates that the Jewish Museum of Maryland is making an effort to encourage younger generations to learn about immigrants’ experiences and issues today. The museum is taking an initiative to connect immigration stories of the past to the experiences of immigrants that are living in Baltimore now. I feel honored to be involved in getting conversations going about these issues and helping the museum show their support for people in our community.

Falicia EddyA blog post by Education and Programs Intern Falicia Eddy. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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The Immigrant’s Trunk Goes to Preschool

Posted on February 11th, 2015 by

Exploring the Immigrant's Trunk.

Exploring the Immigrant’s Trunk.

A few months ago, Bet Yeladim, a preschool in Howard County inquired about the Museum’s preschool educational offerings.  We quickly scheduled an outreach program  for late January –and the education staff got busy making sure that the Immigrant’s Trunk for Preschool was in tip-top shape and ready for 50 preschoolers.

The JMM received funding from the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Education Fund to create a preschool program in connection with our very popular Immigrant’s Trunk program.  The Immigrant’s Trunk program was created for elementary and middle school students to help them make concrete connections to historical immigration.  An interactive trunk filled with photo reproductions, artifacts and a curriculum give teachers the tools to teach about immigration in the classroom.

Piecing together a photo puzzle.

Piecing together a photo puzzle.

In order for the Immigrant’s Trunk to be developmentally appropriate for 3-5 year olds or preschoolers,  we created a trunk filled with interactives that included sewing cards, memory games, threading spools, and reproductions of  period clothing.  These hands-on materials  are intended to help younger ones understand the story of brave  Ida (a Ukrainian immigrant who arrived in Baltimore in 1913) and her journey across the ocean, so that she could meet her older sister Minnie who lived in Baltimore (The Golden Land).

Playing a matching game using objects from the trunk.

Playing a matching game using objects from the trunk.

As soon as we entered the classrooms the preschoolers were immediately curious about the trunk and its contents.  We explained that we worked at a history museum and immediately the children thought we worked at a museum that told stories about dinosaurs. We explained that we were going to tell a story about a brave young girl who travelled on a boat and that the trunk was filled with items that the young girl took with her on the trip.  We asked the children to brainstorm some things that they would bring with them on a long trip.  These children would be well –prepared.  Their answers included medicine, towels, food, and toys.

The children listened intently to the tale of young Ida travelling all by herself to meet her big sister.  They learned how Ida dragged her trunk with her up the plank of the ship and how she had to sleep in bunks in the “belly” of the ship, and the only thing she had to eat was watery soup and boiled potatoes.

Getting the wiggles out!

Getting the wiggles out!

The children demonstrated empathy when they learned that Ida’s tummy felt sick on the boat during the storms crossing the ocean.  They children were excited as they heard how Ida sailed on the ship up the Patapsco River and saw the American flag waving at Fort McHenry, and they were excited that she would be reunited with her older sister, Minnie.   The students learned how Ida made a life for herself in Baltimore- she went to school, worked as a seamstress and eventually married Daniel Rehr.  The trunk filled with inter-actives, photo reproductions and artifacts, along with storytelling and songs, helped to reinforce the children’s understanding of Ida’s heroic journey across the ocean to Baltimore and her new life she made for herself in Baltimore.

It's a hands-on learning experience!

It’s a hands-on learning experience!

To learn more about the JMM’s Immigrant’s Trunk for Preschool, and other education materials and resources on immigration, and field trip opportunities for students in grades (PreK through 12), please contact the JMM’s Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon at 410.732.6400×214; or idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org

ilene A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts from    Ilene click HERE.

 

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Top Twelve Countdown

Posted on December 18th, 2013 by

An assignment this week to create a list of the most memorable  JMM activities of 2013 (see JMM Insights, December 19, 2013 – coming on Friday!) inspired quite a bit of discussion among our staff, and turned out to be a fun exercise. The pace here at the JMM is often so fast and it is rare that we have time to reflect on events that have taken place and to savor our successes as there is always something new that demands our immediate attention. Winnowing the list down to include twelve memorable events (we just couldn’t stop at 10) proved challenging, an indication of the many wonderful things that took place this past year across all departments.

As I reviewed the list that made the final cut, one activity really stood out from the pack, and that was the debut of our newest living history character based on the life of beloved Baltimore icon and caterer extraordinaire, Bessie Bluefeld.

Actor Terry Nicholetti performing as Bessie Bluefeld

Actor Terry Nicholetti performing as Bessie Bluefeld

When I first arrived at the JMM thirteen years ago, one of my first assignments was to begin work on an educational activity that would serve as a resource for Jewish day and congregational schools on the topic of immigration history. That kit became the Immigrant’s Trunk which explored the lives of two Jewish immigrants who settled in Baltimore in the early 20th century, Ida Rehr and Saul Bernstein, through reproductions of JMM collections items such as photos, immigration documents, and Jewish ritual items.

A photograph of immigrant Ida Rehr with her siblings before she left her home in Ukraine to settle in Baltimore

A photograph of immigrant Ida Rehr with her siblings before she left her home in Ukraine to settle in Baltimore

The concept of the trunk grew to encompass a living history component complete with professional actors who portrayed the lives of the immigrants whose experiences are explored through the trunk contents.

Actor Katherine Lyons who portrays Ida Rehr with the trunk

Actor Katherine Lyons who portrays Ida Rehr with the trunk

These performances proved popular, not just with Jewish students but also non-Jewish students attending public and Catholic school and adults too. Over the years it has been amazing to watch as this program that started with such humble ambitions has evolved in the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk, one of the JMM signature programs for audiences of all backgrounds, including versions of the trunk designed for preschool audiences as well as for individuals with visual impairments.

Actor Tim King portraying Saul Bernstein at a performance for Cross Country Elementary students

Actor Tim King portraying Saul Bernstein at a performance for Cross Country Elementary students

And now we have added a brand new character, Bessie Bluefeld, who has already proved enormously popular with audiences. Bessie’s story encapsulates so many rich themes as the performance begins with her arriving fresh off the boat in Baltimore’s Locust Point where she marvels at just how different her new home is from what she has left behind and goes on to dramatize the extraordinary effort she places in creating a home for her husband and children and her determination to save the family from financial ruin after a bad business deal.

Bessie arriving in Locust Point

Bessie arriving in Locust Point

One of the joys of this particular living history character is that so many Baltimoreans have fond memories of Bluefeld Catering and loved sharing the stories of their special events during the Q&A session following performances.

Bessie answering questions following a performance

Bessie answering questions following a performance

We have also been privileged to talk to members of the Bluefeld family including Bessie’s son Louis and grandchildren who have shared treasured family stories and photographs. At the performance debut this past spring, we were delighted to welcome so many members of the Bluefeld family.

Members of the Bluefeld family at the spring performance debut

Members of the Bluefeld family at the spring performance debut

Bessie greeting a member of the Bluefeld family following her performance

Bessie greeting a member of the Bluefeld family following her performance

It was evident that the performance resonated with the members of the family in attendance and there was hardly a dry eye in sight when one of her grandsons stood up to thank the JMM. In his words, “You gave me back my grandmother.” This simple expression of gratitude sums up exactly what it is that the JMM strives to do. As I reflect back on a year of so many successes, this is my number one moment!

We are grateful to everyone whose hard work and dedication brought Bessie to life with a special thank you to script writer Jonathon Scott Fuqua, director and producer Harriet Lynn of Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium, and actor Terry Nicholetti. We are also most appreciative of the Leo V. Berger Fund for their continued support of our Immigrant’s Trunk program.

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here.

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