Mendes Cohen and the Battle of North Point

Posted on September 11th, 2014 by

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The City of Baltimore is abuzz this week gearing up for the 200th anniversary celebration of the historic Battle of Baltimore in 1814, the scene where Francis Scott Key got his inspiration for the words of our nation’s anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.   We have been gearing up for our own celebration of the Jewish presence during that battle and the opening of the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.  This past weekend, our own amazing living history character, the “ghost” of Mendes Cohen had his first performance at The Defender’s Day Celebration at North Point located at Fort Howard Park.

The beautiful view at Fort Howard Park!

The beautiful view at Fort Howard Park!

Mendes Cohen takes the stage!

Mendes Cohen takes the stage.

North Point is situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just east of the Patapsco River leading to Fort McHenry.  The Battle of North Point occurred a few days prior to the strike on Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814.  On September 12, 1814 over 4,000 British troops landed at North Point, Maryland. The plan devised by the British was to march towards the City of Baltimore and to capture the port city.  The British had already captured and devastatingly burned the nation’s capital, Washington D. C. in late August.  The British were hoping to repeat their success with a similar attack on Baltimore.

The audience is enraptured!

The audience is enraptured!

Under the command of Major General Robert Ross, troops and supplies were unloaded upon the Maryland shore at North Point. A rather small force of just over 250 Maryland volunteers, led by Brig. Gen. John Stricker, commander of the 3d Brigade of the Maryland militia met the marching British troops at North Point in an attempt to delay the British advance towards Baltimore. Ultimately, the British failed in capturing Baltimore.  The land attack failed and  Fort McHenry withstood the heavy British bombardment by sea.  Francis Scott Key watched the proceedings at the fort and wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner, which eventually became the U.S. National Anthem.

Re-enactors walk along the water's edge.

Children in period wear walk along the water’s edge.

The Defenders Day celebration was complete with re-enactors both from the British company- The Wellington Fencibles led by Major General Robert Ross and the Maryland militia led by General John Stricker.   Re-enactors helped stage the actual battle that occurred at North Point, but also highlighted how people lived during the early 19th century.  Women and children were present in period clothes, showing teaching visitors about daily life during the time.

Mendes introduces himself.

Mendes introduces himself.

The highlight of the morning was our own “ghost” of Mendes Cohen, taking stage and sharing with the audience his recollections of the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.  This was the first performance “on the road” for professional actor, Grant Cloyd, and he did an amazing job!

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More pint-size re-enactors!

Be sure to check out the Amazing Mendes Cohen exhibition that opens this weekend at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Check the website often www.jewishmuseummd.org to learn about all of the amazing programming and the upcoming performances of the living history character, the “ghost” of Mendes Cohen that will take place in connection with the exhibit.

Don't miss the opening, THIS SUNDAY, September 13th, 10am - 5pm!

Don’t miss the opening, THIS SUNDAY, September 13th, 10am – 5pm!

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Living History – United Two Families

Posted on April 9th, 2014 by

I think museums are such fascinating places. They are wonderful spaces that promote learning and engagement.   Over the years at the JMM, I have enjoyed creating both public programs and educational programming that encourage both discovery and discourse with our visitors.  I love how history museums can enable individuals to make meaningful connections to the past.  Last spring was no exception, with the creation of our latest living history character from the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk – Bessie Bluefeld.  I wanted to share with you an extraordinary circumstance that has united two families, showing just how important a role museums play in our lives.

Bessie & Charles, CP 69.2012.001

Bessie & Charles, CP 69.2012.001

Bessie and her husband, Charles Bluefeld immigrated to Baltimore by way of Locust Point in 1906.  Concerned about her husband working in construction, Bessie persuaded Charles to open a grocery store in Fell’s Point, and by the 1920s the Bluefelds were operating a stall in Lexington Market.  Bessie opened a food stand on a beach near Baltimore, and it became the seed for the Bluefeld Catering business. Traveling to Atlantic City and Florida, Bessie developed her refined taste that would later be known as the “Orchid touch” that gave Bluefeld Catering its edge as one of the premier kosher catering businesses in Baltimore – a business that would include her entire family. From 1937 to 1941, Bluefeld Catering blossomed, and Bessie was at the center of everything.    Although Bessie died suddenly in 1941, her husband and children maintained the kosher catering business she had worked so hard to build.  For decades, Bluefeld Catering was synonymous with elegance and quality in Baltimore’s Jewish community and beyond.

The JMM hired the actress, Terry Nicholetti to play the role of Bessie.  Terry wanted to learn more about Bessie, so we went to Bethesda to meet one of Bessie’s children, Mrs. Freda Bluefeld Cohen.  We had a lovely afternoon with Freda and she shared some of her memories of her parents and of her early years growing up in Baltimore along with 8 other siblings.  As I witnessed Terry and Freda chatting- I knew that these two women were destined to become special friends.

Terry brings Bessie to life.

Terry brings Bessie to life.

On April 30, 2013, Terry premiered the role of Bessie Bluefeld at the JMM to a crowd of 100 people.  Many of our visitors that evening were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Bessie.  Following the performance, one of Bessie’s grandsons stood and was visibly moved by the performance.  He expressed his gratitude to the JMM for helping him to meet his grandmother that he never had the opportunity to meet as she had died prior to his birth.

Last week, I received a call at the JMM from one of Bessie Bluefeld’s granddaughters.  She had just learned that her Aunt Freda Bluefeld Cohen had passed, and she wanted to reach out to Terry Nicholetti to let her know, as she knew of the special relationship that Terry and Freda shared. I spoke to Terry the following day.  She told me that she was so touched to be notified by the family, and so sad because of the sweet connection that she shared with Freda.  Terry went to visit the family during the Shiva and Freda’s family welcomed Terry as if she were a member of their own family.  Terry shared with me, “When I took on this role, I had no idea how deeply I would be connected to so many dear people in Bessie’s life. I feel blessed.”

Terry and Freda

Terry and Freda

The Jewish Museum of Maryland plays such an important role in our community in helping people find connections and meaning to history. The Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk: Bessie Bluefeld Living History Performance is just another example of how our institution creates those meaningful connections.   This incredible performance has enabled one family to connect to its own history; but it has also given meaning to Terry Nicholetti, the actress who portrays Bessie- who has found personal meaning and contentment in her role.

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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