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.

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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.

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JMM Insights: February 2014

Posted on February 21st, 2014 by

When life leaves you in a pickle…  make a battery???

Pickle_logo4Last fall, Marvin asked the staff to think about different scenarios for the Feldman Gallery once Project Mah Jongg leaves the JMM at the end of June 2014.  The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen would not be finished until September and it did not seem like a good idea to leave an empty gallery for nearly three months.   We’ve been enjoying a steady increase in the Museum’s attendance and we did not want to lose momentum.  What could the JMM do in that space that would be fun, inexpensive and engage visitors during the summer months? During our brainstorming session, we discussed the increasing emphasis on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and we came up with the idea of hosting a Technology Fair.  Our staff liked the idea that innovation and creativity would once again be highlighted in historic Jonestown, where many immigrants got their start as innovators on Lombard Street and the surrounding neighborhood.

I have to be honest.  Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the idea. I am not a “science person” and I remember struggling through my physical and natural science classes at university.  I am not a MAVEN about anything technological and Marvin asked me to spearhead this project!   I am pleased to say that what has happened over the past few months has been magical, informative and lots of fun.  We have been meeting people from throughout our community who are passionate about technology and science, and are excited about involving many people in project planning.

What has evolved from our initial brainstorming sessions has become a unique visitor experience. The Electrified Pickle is designed to appeal to budding scientists, DIY-ers and anyone curious to learn about how things work and Jewish innovations in the fields of arts and science.  With the help from our partner, The National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD, our Feldman Gallery will be transformed into a participatory lab-style environment. Visitors can discover the mystery behind scientific principles such as magnetism, electricity, solar power, and other fun and engaging interactive activities. The gallery will serve as a community gathering space where people can come to experiment, create, and learn from one another.

For five Sundays (beginning July 13), we will invite community members to come to the Museum and share their expertise and passion for specific fields such as engineering, crafts, robotics, electronics, and architecture with our visitors. Each Sunday will have a specific theme. Our kick-off  on Sunday, July 13th is Power This! with a wide range of activities and demonstrations related to batteries and electricity. Other Sunday themes are: Fly This!, Imagine This! Decode This! and Print This!  We will offer exciting hands-on demonstrations and workshops for people to try their hand at activities like robot building, 3D print imagery, barcoding with POS (point of sale) software and, of course, electrifying pickles (visitors can test which kinds of pickles – sour,  dill, sweet work best!)

The Feldman Gallery will  also include objects from our own  JMM collections, examples of technologies from the past that were vital to Jewish trades and home life but are no longer in use such as old sewing machines, kitchen implements, typewriters, and phonographs.  These items will be displayed in a way that visitors can make comparisons with newer technologies and gain insight into the process involved in scientific innovation.  The gallery experience will also include a community art project, in collaboration with a local artist that will evolve throughout the summer with the help of visitor engagement.

Be on the look- out for the cutest, little green gherkin complete with electrical adaptors letting you know that The Electrified Pickle is coming soon!

ileneThis month’s JMM Insights was written by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.

 

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