Happy New Year and Happy Birthday!

Posted on January 4th, 2013 by

A blog post by Director of Education Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Happy  New Year!  I believe that this is the first blog post for 2013….  Many families are returning from celebrating the holidays and are enjoying getting back to the routine of school and work.  I am secretly still celebrating even after the first of the year – because my birthday (SHHH… don’t tell anyone  J) follows a few days after New Year’s Day!

I love birthdays – I love celebrating with family and friends;  I love blowing out the candles on the cake; and I even love getting presents…  I wondered if there were examples of how birthdays might have been celebrated in the past.  I checked out Past Perfect  (a search engine  on the JMM’s website)- http:///jmm.pastperfect-online.com/00005cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks –  and I entered the search term “birthday” .  I was so amazed that I found 209 “hits” or items came up that were part of the JMM’s vast collection.   Here is just a smattering of some of the interesting things that I found.

1996.029.001

This is a porcelain vase showing Blanche Bamburger in the photograph, with signatures of her friends. The vase was presented to Blanche on her 18th birthday in 1893. I guess this type of gift predates the “autograph doll.”

Close up of signatures, 1996.029.001

 

1991.057.001

This is a silver Kiddush cup, with  goldwashed interior, made by the Baltimore Sterling Silver Company (Steiff Co.).  The cup includes  Hebrew text: “From the Board of Rabbis this cup has been prepared as a blessing. It is given on the occasion of the 70th birthday to its chief, our teacher, Rabbi Benjamin Szold, 1899, the 18th day in Heshvan.”  I thought this was very cool- I have my mom’s Stieff silver and everyday coming home from work, I  see the neon sign that says STIEFF as you travel north on the Jones Falls Expressway!

1989.079.035

This picture is from the collection of Rabbi Benjamin Szold’s papers – and shows Henrietta Szold planting the 83rd tree in the Henrietta Szold Forest at Maaleh HaChamishah on the occasion of her 82nd birthday, December 21, 1942. ” She’s Baltimore’s own Hometown Girl!

1996.033.007

This is a black and white photograph of the window display at Enoch Pratt Free Library for Israel’s 10th Birthday, from April 15 through May 5, 1958. Photography by Sussman-Ochs.  This picture is from the Lester Levy Family Papers.  I don’t think that the staff at the library did an accurate fact check…. Israel became an independent state on May 14/15 1948.

1995.013.037

This is black and white photograph of Rose Kornblatt with  some of her students receiving birthday spankings at Public School #20, Baltimore, MD; caption on reverse:  ” Happy Birthday” - I am certain that today that this Mrs. Kornblatt would be terminated from teaching if she gave out “birthday spankings” with a switch to her students.

1985.104.002.057

This is a black and white photograph of Louis E. Shecter holding a Japanese drawing wishing Pablo Picasso a happy birthday. The drawing was created in Osaka, Japan and mailed to Picasso by Shecter in October 1966. How COOL is that!

1995.192.270

A birthday celebration for Dr. Louis Kaplan on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Take a look at who is standing on the podium with Dr. Kaplan- Elie Wiesel spoke that evening at the celebration honoring Dr. Kaplan, who was a leading Jewish educator here in Baltimore.

1994.039.003

This color photograph is of Jenya Berdichevsky, Sophia Richen, at Fania’s apartment for celebration of Fania’s son Tamenie’s first birthday, June 1993. I love how busy this photograph is….. with so much food and libation!

2009.009.001

This is a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game made of paper. It belonged to Naomi B. Cohen (my friend Maxine’s mother) it was used at birthday parties for both Maxine and her brothers, Dr. Howard B. Cohen and Jack S. Cohen. I played this game at birthday parties when I was a youngster many years ago!

Here’s to another birthday for me but more importantly –best wishes to all for a Happy & Healthy New Year 2013!l

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Meet Bessie Bluefeld!

Posted on November 30th, 2012 by

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 in jewish museum of maryland




A Family Adventure to Queens

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by

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.

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