Posted on November 30th, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Director of Education Ilene Dackman-Alon.
While working at the JMM over the past 7 ½ years, I can honestly say that each day has been different and there has never been two days that have been alike. Some days we have school groups, other days we do outreach program at schools. Some days are spent trying to develop new education curriculum and programs. Over the past year, we have been working with the playwright, Jonathan Scott Fuqua to help us develop a new living history character for our successful Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk Program in connection with our acclaimed exhibition, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture and American Jewish Identity.
Bringing a history character to life is no easy task and the JMM staff has been working on this project at a very steady pace. There are so many components involved in trying to create a living history character. First, we had to choose the character that we would try and recreate. As a staff, we had to figure out whose life we would highlight. It needed to be someone from Maryland who had a story and it was our job to do the research within our collections and figure out who that person would be …
Meet Bessie Bluefeld…… the matriarch of the beloved Bluefeld Caterers. Bessie was an immigrant who grew up during a turbulent time in Russia in the 1890’s. We have found evidence from the ship’s manifest of where Bessie and her husband Charles were born. Novgorod-Volinsk (aka Zvihil) is a large town in the Volhynia region of modern day Ukraine. We know that Bessie’s family, the Biskers, was known in the town as the go- to lodge for Jewish visitors because they ran a clean and efficient house, and would serve delicious kosher food to their guests. Bessie and Charles were married at 16 and 17 respectively.
Bessie arrived in 1906 on a ship that came directly to Locust Point in Baltimore. At the time that she arrived, Locust Point was at its height of its history – with about 40 thousand immigrants passing through each year. Part of what made Baltimore such a popular port for immigrants was that it was the starting point for the B & O railroad, and many passengers opted to buy single tickets that included a journey out west after arrival in Baltimore. But for Bessie and Charles, Baltimore was their final destination and so they likely joined the other Baltimore bound immigrants by taking a ferry across the harbor to Fells Point.
Through research of our oral history collection, we listened to the oral transcriptions from Bessie’s sons, Louis and Phillip Bluefeld, and we were better able to understand the Bluefeld family story. We learned that upon arriving to Baltimore, Charles took work in construction, and Bessie spent her time at home, raising the first children of the family. After time, Bessie felt that Charles’ work was too dangerous and she told him that things had to change. He quit his job and they used their savings to buy a small grocery store near Fell’s Point. Through the next decade they bought and sold grocery stores and real estate throughout Baltimore city. By the 1920s, the family was also working a stall in Lexington market, and they had earned enough money to purchase two cars, a rarity in that era.
Bessie and Charles Bluefeld
During this period of prosperity, Bessie traveled to Atlantic City and Florida, beginning to develop 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 the area. Bessie and her family survived the initial crash of the stock market in 1929, but in 1933 the family’s well-known financial reliability would eventually be the cause of their downfall. They were signatories for a land deal with Sunoil, which fell through and they lost almost everything
The Bluefelds were able to scrape together enough to begin working at Lexington Market again, but now they had no choice but to work on Saturdays and to sell pork (as it was the most profitable option). The whole family, including the children who were old enough, worked at this point; Louis recalls that it was this or starve. Slowly, they were able to earn back enough money for Bessie to begin volunteering with the sick benefit and relief association at the Progressive Lodge. From here, she bought a stand on the nearby beach for 1200 dollars, and started the business that was the seed of Bluefeld catering. From 1937 to 1941 Bluefeld catering blossomed, and Bessie was at the heart of things. She always sought to provide the very best for her patrons, and rarely asked for much in return. Her sons recalled one particular incident when a client suggested that he should give a deposit for Bluefeld’s services. Bessie refused, replying “I wanted to give your mother a deposit and she said, “I should give you a deposit; you are trusting your daughter’s wedding to me.”
In 1941, Bessie Bluefeld died suddenly. She had rarely even been mildly ill, but a cerebral hemorrhage struck her and she lapsed into a coma and died three days later. The week that she died her family carried on with the 13 events they had planned because they felt it was not an option to let down so many families. Though the company had really only just begun at that point, Bessie’s ideals remained the driving force behind the company long after her death. Years later her son Louis would recall, “She was our charm, she was our mentor, she was the one who had all the foresight. What we did years after was only a matter of doing what she had planned. She had set the guide rules of what our business was to be, the adding the dignity that catering was beautiful, that the responsibility was on us to do a good job for the people.”
So, as you can see… this is an incredible, Maryland family story-and we wanted others to learn and be inspired from Bessie and her family’s unbelievable determination and work ethic. Over the past two weeks the JMM has been holding auditions to cast Bessie Bluefeld with the help of Harriet Lynn, Producer/Artistic Director with Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium. Harriet sent an audition notice to various venues and we received responses from aspiring actresses living in both Baltimore and the DC area.
It has been a lot of fun over the past two Mondays morning holding auditions and got to meet some very talented and gifted actresses. Secretly, I felt like one of the judges on America’s Got Talent and I loved watching each actress perform her monologue and read from the script with her best Russian, Yiddish accent…….. It was a very hard decision to choose one person as each of the actresses brought such different gifts to the role. After a lot of discussion, we feel confident in our choice….
We look forward to sharing Bessie’s wonderful story with the community and we are excited to introduce Terry Nicolletti to the Baltimore community, as she has been chosen to play the role of Bessie Bluefeld. Terry and Harriet will be working together over the next few months to put together a rehearsal schedule and further develop Bessie’s character. Terry’s excitement about the Bessie is contagious and we look forward to bringing Bessie Bluefeld out to the community in the late spring.
Posted on August 31st, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.
This time of year always seems so bittersweet for me with the end of summer upon us, the kids going back to school. The specific date of August 29th has so many meanings for me….. this year would be my mom, Barbara Sue Levy Dackman’s 83rdbirthday. It was also the day 7 years ago when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans; which coincided with the first day that I started to work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
My employment at the JMM was not something that I had intended…My connection with the JMM seven years ago was only that I had made an appointment to meet with the JMM’s family historian, Dr. Deborah Weiner of the Robert L. Weinberg Family History Center to help me in my search for my own family’s past. My father was always fascinated with his own family genealogy and was quite proud that his father, Zelig Dachmann travelled alone at age 20, to Baltimore from Dvinsk, Latvia on the Munchen, a ship that was a part of the Bremen Lines and arrived in Baltimore in March, 1899. I was delighted that I able to get a copy of the ship’s manifest from the JMM and show it to my father.
I was amazed by the breadth of information that was available for researchers at the Family History Center. Researchers have access to Baltimore City directories dating from 1752-1963; US census records for Baltimore from 1900-1930; passenger manifests of ships that arrived in the Port of Baltimore; records of Jewish cemeteries in the Greater Baltimore area; along with the communal records of birth, circumcisions, marriages and death and so much more……. I felt like a kid in a candy store- and also thought that I could spend so much time here at the JMM trying to really document my own family’s journey to Baltimore.
Fast forward -Seven years have passed since my first introduction to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and I am sad to say that I have not finished researching all that there is -but every once in awhile something reminds to go back and delve deeper into my own family’s roots.
There are places outside the JMM where you can do research from the confines of your home. The website of Jewish-Gen which is an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York offers access into many databases all over the world. I was able to locate the surname of Dachmann from Dvinsk and I found the names of my own paternal great grandfather-Jankel Mowscha and his father-Simon Dachmann. I also noted that Simon had a brother Mordechai.
The internet has really allowed us to have such an easy access to information and I decided to “google” my last name (maiden name)-and I discovered that there were many people with names are quite similar to mine, and I started to contact each one…..
Ilene Dackman and Barbara Dachman.
Last weekend-I had the opportunity to meet one of the descendants of Mordechai Dachmann-my great-great grandfather’s brother. I met Barbara Mae Dachman (a similar name to my mother) who grew up in Queens, New York and has lived in Puerto Rico over the past 25 years. Barbara was here in the US visiting her mom and sister Ileen (so weird that there are two Ilene Dackman/Dachman walking around on this planet).
Ilene and Barbara on the boardwalk – Far Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY.
I travelled to NYC and hopped on the A train to Far Rockaway Beach in Queens. We had such a delightful visit-one of those moments that you take with you and just smile….. I found Barbara to be a lovely person-her mom Lorraine was able to give us both an insight to Barbara’s father, Seymour and life living with Barbara’s paternal grandfather – Samuel Dachman, who was the only son of Mordechai Dachmann-and the nephew to my great-great grandfather, Simon Dachmann. Our visit only lasted for two hours- but I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to meet a new relative- but I also think that I have also made a life-long friend.
Ilene, Lorraine Dachman (Barbara’s mom) and Barbara.
I encourage you to visit the Robert L. Weinberg Family Research Center-it is so fascinating to touch documents from the past that bear the names of relatives that have lived before us… All of us have an immigration story-past and present. The JMM is a great place to start on your own family adventure.
Posted on July 27th, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education
During the month of June, I was out of the office the entire month. On June 3rd, the JMM held its Annual Meeting and we welcomed the new Executive Director, Marvin Pinkert. Two days later, I left with my family and we travelled to Amsterdam for three days and then travelled to Tel Aviv, to stay with my husband’s family for two more weeks. My family always teases me whenever we go anywhere, I always seem to find some connection to the Museum… so I thought I would share some of the connections…….
When we travel, I love to just walk the cities to really get a feel as to how the locals live. I enjoy shopping at the flea markets and seeing all of the yummy local foods available. In Amsterdam, we wandered through many of the neighborhoods throughout the city. On our first day, we walked over to the Jordaan neighborhood where the Anne Frank Museum is located. It was raining too hard and the line was too long so we went to a flea market near the Waterlooplein and we saw local vendors selling yummy cheese and fresh fish, Holland’s Chosen Food.
Across the street from the flea market, I noticed a sign Joods Historich Museum and we ran over to the Jewish Historical Museum. We arrived five minutes too late-after Museum hours so we opted for pictures from the outside. Across the street, we saw a sign that said Portugese Synagogue. We ran to the entrance of the building- once again, the building was closed to the public - we were too late! We did notice that the building was open to a private tour – once again we opted to take pictures from the outside.
Another JMM connection – In 1665, the Portuguese Jewish Community commissioned the Portugees-Israëlietische Synagoge, an elegant brick structure within an existing courtyard. Construction took place from 1671 to 1675 under Elias Bouwman and Danield Stalpaert. When completed, the Portuguese Synagogue was the largest synagogue in the world. The synagogue was restored in the 1850s and 1950s, but has been well-preserved in its original form. Miraculously, the synagogue survived the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam in 1940 unscathed. This building dates back to 1675. I thought, WOW, this building has the JMM beat by 170 years!
From Amsterdam, we travelled east to Tel Aviv to visit with my husband’s family for the rest of our vacation. It’s hard finding time to do “touristy” things when we visit, as we have so many family obligations and commitments. However, we did manage to get to the beach a few times – a short 10 minute ride by bus – and we went to the famous Shuk HaCarmel. I love seeing the fresh produce, the amazing colors of the fruits and veggies- everything always looks so vibrant. We stopped by the Druze woman who was making fresh pita and then filled it with labane (sour cheese) and zaatar (spices). We ate our fresh pita with hummus and tabuleh…. Israel’s Chosen Food…….
One day we travelled to Jerusalem-one of the world’s oldest cities. I love walking through the streets of the Old City. I love the smells and the exotic feeling going through the shuk. I love to haggle with shop vendors.
We stopped at the Kotel (Western Wall) and stood before this impressive remnant of the outside wall surrounding the Temple Mount that was destroyed in 70 CE. by the Romans. This is one of Judaism’s most holy places and millions of people come each year to place notes and offer prayers at this historic site. JMM Connection – Another place that is older than the Lloyd Street Synagogue… This time by a whopping 1775 years!
We arrived back to the United States, I recovered quickly from jet lag and the next thing I knew I was on a train to New York City to spend a week at Columbia University as an Alfred Lerner Fellow. I attended a week-long conference on Holocaust education sponsored by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. I spent five days in intensive sessions learning about the many facets of history and pedagogy by leading scholars in their field of expertise. Many days I was wiped out by the emotionally charged sessions.
One evening, we ventured downtown and toured the National 9-11 Memorial. We were all moved by the impressive site and peacefulness of the sound of running water in the pools…. It’s still a work in progress – Something everyone should see…..
I returned to Baltimore for one night and then our home was one of the lucky tens of thousands throughout the State of Maryland that lost power. The week was exceptionally challenging with no power and record high temperatures. Last Friday evening, my husband and I went to Fells Point for dinner- to get away from the heat in the house and feel some cooler breezes from the water. After dinner, we were walking along Thames Street and I noticed a building with a bicycle dangling in the air with lots of colored glass. My friend, Loring Cornish opened three floors of gallery space with his very creative art and mosaics and I was once again reminded of the JMM- we exhibited Loring’s work in 2011, In Each Others Shoes. Friday night, Fells Point, after hours… I am reminded of work… at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.