My Family Story Project, 2016

Posted on March 17th, 2016 by

I love to visit area schools and I felt such joy over the past two weekends visiting three local religious school programs that are participating in the My Family Story project, an initiative from Beit Hatfutsot’s International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies which has been funded and supported by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education.  The students participating in this project have embarked on a journey to the past, an exploration of heritage, and a project that goes beyond the usual family tree.  This journey has connected students to their personal stories, their family stories and to their story within the greater story of the Jewish People.  These students are not alone in this adventure.  Students and teachers throughout the Jewish world and Israel have also been on their own family explorations and are participating in this project.

Student project

Student project

During the 1990’s, a prominent psychologist at Emory University, Dr. Marshall Duke was tasked with researching the nature of “myth and ritual in American families.”  From his research, Dr. Duke discovered that one of the most important things a family can do is to develop a strong family narrative.  There was a lot of research at the time into the dissipation of the family.  Duke  was more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.  Dr. Duke set out to help families build and talk about their history; it proved to be quite a breakthrough.  Digging deeper in his research, Duke said, “children who have the most self-confidence have what he calls a “’strong intergenerational self”.  They know they belong to something bigger then themselves.  Leaders in other fields have found similar results, many groups use what sociologists call sense-making, the building of a narrative that explains what the group is about.

Student project

Student project

In speaking to the students from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Bolton Street Synagogue and Beit Tikvah, these children really seem to have a sense of pride about their stories that they shared with me.  They learned about places throughout the world where their ancestors emigrated from along with stories that hopefully they will pass on to future generations. One of the students told me that one of her ancestors shared in a pail of beer with President Lincoln… How cool is that!!!

Student project

Student project

The projects will be judged at the My Family Story Exhibition that will take place on Thursday evening, April 7 at the JMM.    Projects will be judged based on a rubric in areas of,   Jewish peoplehood, depth of research, aesthetics and creativity.  The projects will be scored and two winners will be picked and sent to Beit Hatfutsot in Israel along with other projects from students participating throughout the world.  The staff at Beit Hatfutsot will pick 40 winners and those winners will receive a free trip to Israel in June and meet with the international winners who also won from their communities.

Student project

Student project

The students have been really working hard on their projects….. Hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at some of their works in progress……..  We hope you will make your way to the JMM to see the creativity of area students and the interpretations of their family narratives.  Want to learn more about this awesome project? Contact Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education; idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org

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

 

 

 

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Leap Day aka Sadie Hawkins Day

Posted on February 29th, 2016 by

Today is Monday, February 29, the calendar anomaly better known as Leap Day.  As a kid, I always thought that being born on February 29th was pretty cool.  Every four years you were able to officially celebrate your birthday, but on the alternative years you could pick any day that you pleased!  I remember that in junior high school that there was a Sadie Hawkins Dance that took place on February 29th (also known as Sadie Hawkins Day). For this dance it was considered proper for a girl to ask a boy to the dance, In the 70’s, the whole equality thing had not really caught on yet.   I always imagined Sadie Hawkins to be a woman that lived in the Wild West and was sort of brazen, carrying a gun in her boots.

I was surprised to learn that Leap Day was a tradition that originated long ago in Ireland.  On this day, women were allowed to ask a man for a date or for their hand in marriage; contrary to the usual tradition of women waiting patiently for men to ask them on a date, or for his hand in marriage.  In the United States, the Leap Day phenomenon was documented as early as the 20th century. Slate Magazine features some vintage postcards dedicated to warning men about the hazards of accepting female visitors on Leap Day.

Picture women with nets chasing after fleeing men, ca. 1912, Slate Magazine

Picture women with nets chasing after fleeing men, ca. 1912, Slate Magazine

Today the Leap Day custom is kept alive by pop culture, most recently in the Amy Adams  2010 romantic comedy named Leap Year,  a film about a woman who heads to Ireland to ask her boyfriend to accept her wedding proposal on leap day, when tradition supposedly holds that men cannot refuse a woman’s proposal for marriage.

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, Leap Year, 2010

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, Leap Year, 2010

I also learned that Sadie Hawkins was not from the Wild West, but she was actually part of U.S. pop culture and she also has Jewish roots.

Surprise!!!!  Sadie Hawkins Day was introduced in pen and ink in by Al Capp’s classic comic strip Li’l Abner. In the comic, Sadie Hawkins was a spinster at the age of 35, and her father set up a race for local bachelors. Whoever Sadie caught was going to be her husband. The town, and the reading audience loved the idea and the race became an annual fixture of the comic strip, and soon spread into real-life society, spawning Sadie Hawkins Day dances.

Li’l Abner Comic book, Sadie Hawkins edition

Li’l Abner Comic book, Sadie Hawkins edition

According to Wikipedia, Sadie Hawkins Day is a pseudo-holiday entirely created within the comic strip. It made its debut in Li’l Abner on November 15, 1937. Capp originally created it as a comic plot device, but in 1939, only two years after its inauguration, a double-page spread in Life proclaimed, “On Sadie Hawkins Day Girls Chase Boys in 201 Colleges.” By the early 1940s the comic strip event had swept the nation’s imagination and acquired a life of its own. By 1952, the event was reportedly celebrated at 40,000 known venues. It became a woman-empowering rite at high schools and college campuses, long before the modern feminist movement gained prominence.

Al Capp, the creator of Li’l  Abner  was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1909. His parents, Otto Caplin and the former Matilda Davidson, were both American-born, but their parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father’s family hailed from the Lithuanian village of Yanishok.

When he was nine, Capp was pinned under a New Haven streetcar while on his way to a haircut, requiring the amputation of his left leg above the knee.   His father was an amateur cartoonist and taught his son about the foundations of drawing during his recuperation.

Capp (he shortened his name so that it would fit inside within the cartoon panel of “Li’l Abner”) never finished Bridgeport High School, but decided early on that he wanted to become a cartoon artist. He attended three different art schools – and was expelled from each when he failed to pay tuition.

In 1932, Capp went to New York and began knocking on doors. Once he began to get work there was no stopping him. By 1934, Capp had devised the concept of a comic strip about the residents of an imaginary town in the American South that he called Dogpatch, which he sold to United Features Syndicate. “Li’l Abner” premiered on August 13, 1934, and ran until November 1977. At its peak, it appeared in 900 papers domestically and more than another 100 overseas.

Al Capp, VillageNews

Al Capp, VillageNews

In terms of both popular success and critical acclaim, Capp may well have been the most accomplished American cartoonist of the 20th century.  In 1953, novelist John Steinbeck suggested that “Capp may very possibly be the best writer in the world today.”   Sadie Hawkins Day and Sadie Hawkins dance are two of several terms attributed to Al Capp that have entered the English language.

I am not sure if there are Sadie Hawkins dances anymore –but I thought it was interesting to learn that Al Capp, a Jewish cartoonist, was responsible for coining a phenomena that was such an important  part of American culture during the 20th century.

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

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Number #2 – Check!

Posted on January 25th, 2016 by

As I write this blog, the weather reports are calling for a major blizzard to hit the Baltimore/Washington corridor.  The idea of snowstorm is kind of nice- thinking about it happening over the weekend-not really having to be anywhere except home with family, a fire, and lots of good food and drink.  However, my mind wanders back to two weeks ago, over Winter Break, enjoying 80 degree days in Hilton Head and Charleston, South Carolina.

The purpose of the trip to the south was to relax, ride bikes and visit Number #2 – Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim (KKBE).  Why did do I care about Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim.  Part of the visitor’s experience at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is to take a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  We tell our visitors that the Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS)  is the third oldest synagogue in the country still standing in its original spot.  Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island is Number #1 – built in 1759 and is the oldest existing synagogue building in  the United States.  Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim is Number #2 and we as the owners of the Lloyd Street Synagogue here at the JMM are Number #3!

Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim

Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim

The Jewish community of Charleston can be traced back to 1695.  Jews were attracted to the civil and religious liberties of South Carolina, and by 1749, these early pioneers organized the congregation, Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). Similar to the early Baltimore Jewish community, the congregation worshipped in people’s homes until 1794, they dedicated a synagogue described then as the largest in the United States, “spacious and elegant.”  The building was destroyed in the great fire of Charleston in 1838, and the new building was constructed in 1840 on the same Hasell Street site.  The building is one of the country’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture.  The Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim sanctuary is the second oldest existing synagogue building  in the United States and the oldest in continuous use.  It was designated a national landmark in 1980.

The sanctuary.

The sanctuary.

I was curious to as the similarities and differences between KKBE and the LSS.   The first thing that really struck me was the presence of an established Jewish community so early in the our nation’s history.  KKBE was established prior to the Revolutionary War- so it was very interesting to learn about the early Jewish Americans who settled in the US prior to the war.  KKBE has a letter on display from President George Washington dating from  1790 extending his congratulations to the congregation.  In thinking about Baltimore’s early Jewish community-the Jewish community is really not established until 1830, more than  50 years after the Revolutionary War.

The actual building of KKBE is very similar to  the LSS in that both buildings are built in Greek Revival architectural style.  The KKBE has six columns when compared to the LSS’s four columns.  The columns in Charleston also appear to be considerably  taller than the LSS too.   Both buildings have very  large doors for entranceways in the center of the buildings.  The Hebrew prayer and English translation of the Shma are on the outside of the synagogue in Charleston.  Both synagogue building have boot scrapers located outside the door.  My favorite detail of the “lego bricks” underneath the portico of the LSS can also be seen at KKBE.

My favorite detail of the “lego bricks” underneath the portico of the LSS can also be seen at KKBE.

The“lego bricks” of KKBE.

We walked inside the sanctuary, and the space is very beautiful and in ways similar to the LSS.  The ark is very impressive and is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.  The local tradition in the South is to keep the doors of the Ark open.   The Torah scrolls are enclosed behind glass inside the wooden frame.

The ark.

The ark.

The organ is in the back of the congregation and was installed in 1840 introducing instrumental music into its worship service. Since then KKBE has been connected with religious reform and the congregation was one of the founding members of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, making it  one of the earliest reform congregations in the country.   The organ is placed -very much in the way that I imagined the organ to have been installed by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1870’s inside the LSS. in the back of the sanctuary on the balcony level.

The organ.

The organ.

One of my favorite things at KKBE was a beautiful mural that they had displayed in the social hall that depicts the “Patriots of Beth Elohim”. The figure on the horse represents the young Revolutionary patriot and legislator Francis Salvador who was killed and scalped by Tory-led Indians.  He was one of more than 20 Beth Elohim congregants who fought in the American Revolution, symbolized by the standing figure holding a Bible who represents Abraham Alexander, a Revolutionary officer and religious leader of Bet Elohim between 1764 and 1784.  The soldier seated with the broken sword and bowed head represents some 180 Jewish South Carolinians who served in the Civil War.  The tablet with the rampant lions and flames represent the brave Maccabees who fought for religious freedom in the second century BCE.  The soldier and the flag on the left represent KKBE members who served in subsequent wars.

“Patriots of Beth Elohim”

“Patriots of Beth Elohim”

I am so happy to place a checkmark on my bucket list – I have been curious to see KKBE, especially after so many visitors to the JMM have shared their own observations and stories about the rich history of the Jewish community in Charleston. I enjoyed making the connections between the two historic  buildings and I look forward to doing more research over the next few months as we try and showcase the Lloyd Street Synagogue as, “The American Synagogue.”  More details to follow!   Stay warm this weekend!

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

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