Connecting the Past to the Present: Immigration Stories and Community

Posted on June 16th, 2015 by

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

Creating the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland immigration trunk lessons.

One of my first projects at the Jewish Museum of Maryland was to adapt the Ida Rehr immigration trunk lessons for a new program for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. The education department is creating new partnerships with organizations like the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and local schools to help students learn about Jewish history, the history of the Jonestown neighborhood, and of the greater Baltimore area.

While working on the project I myself learned about Jewish immigrants’ experiences. I learned why they came to America between 1880-1924 and the Ida Rehr story. Looking through the immigration trunk and the lessons, I realized that there are some connections to immigration issues today. Ida Rehr, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine came to Baltimore to create a new life for herself. When she came to America she lived with her older sister and her uncle at 116 S. Bond Street, a Jewish enclave in Baltimore. She was a factory worker and attended night school to learn English and how to become an American citizen. She also married a Jewish immigrant, Daniel Rehr, at Anshe Sphard Synagogue.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Looking through Ida Rehr’s immigration trunk.

Ida Rehr’s immigration story is relevant today because Baltimore still has a large immigrant population. The Education Department is modifying the immigration trunk to discuss how immigrants are adapting to life in America and Baltimore today. Discovering Ida Rehr’s naturalization papers, passport, and the process she went through in order to become an American citizen made me think about what new immigrants have to go through today. Even though the immigrants that came over in the late 1800’s were from Southern and Eastern Europe, and the new immigrants are coming from other parts of the world, they share some of the same experiences. The immigrants who are coming to America today are from many different countries. “In 2012, 11.6 million foreign-born residents—28 percent of the foreign-born population—came from Mexico; 2.3 million immigrants came from China; 2 million came from India; 1.9 million came from the Philippines; 1.3 million came from both Vietnam and El Salvador; and 1.1 million came from both Cuba and Korea.” [“The Facts on Immigration Today.” 23 October 2014.] The new immigrants that are coming to U.S. are coming for some of the same reasons that Ida Rehr immigrated to this country in the late 1800’s.

The new immigrants are coming for economic and educational opportunities, as well as political and religious freedoms. The older immigrants had to struggle with similar issues that new immigrants are facing today which include applying for citizenship, finding housing and employment, maintaining their cultural heritage, and trying to adjust to life in America.

I also learned about immigration service organizations in the city that are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become American citizens. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee, CASA of Maryland (Multicultural Center Office), Baltimore Field Office for US Immigration and Citizenship services, and Justice for Our Neighbors Baltimore Office, are trying to help new immigrants and refugees become US citizens and adjust to living in Baltimore.

I developed a lesson plan that gives the Girl Scouts an opportunity to create their own immigration trunk. Through a guided questions activity that I designed the Girl Scouts could learn more about the immigration experience in Baltimore. I enjoyed working on this project because as an intern here from New York, it helped me learn about how Baltimore is still an immigrant city today.  This program also demonstrates that the Jewish Museum of Maryland is making an effort to encourage younger generations to learn about immigrants’ experiences and issues today. The museum is taking an initiative to connect immigration stories of the past to the experiences of immigrants that are living in Baltimore now. I feel honored to be involved in getting conversations going about these issues and helping the museum show their support for people in our community.

Falicia EddyA blog post by Education and Programs Intern Falicia Eddy. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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The Immigrant’s Trunk Goes to Preschool

Posted on February 11th, 2015 by

Exploring the Immigrant's Trunk.

Exploring the Immigrant’s Trunk.

A few months ago, Bet Yeladim, a preschool in Howard County inquired about the Museum’s preschool educational offerings.  We quickly scheduled an outreach program  for late January –and the education staff got busy making sure that the Immigrant’s Trunk for Preschool was in tip-top shape and ready for 50 preschoolers.

The JMM received funding from the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Education Fund to create a preschool program in connection with our very popular Immigrant’s Trunk program.  The Immigrant’s Trunk program was created for elementary and middle school students to help them make concrete connections to historical immigration.  An interactive trunk filled with photo reproductions, artifacts and a curriculum give teachers the tools to teach about immigration in the classroom.

Piecing together a photo puzzle.

Piecing together a photo puzzle.

In order for the Immigrant’s Trunk to be developmentally appropriate for 3-5 year olds or preschoolers,  we created a trunk filled with interactives that included sewing cards, memory games, threading spools, and reproductions of  period clothing.  These hands-on materials  are intended to help younger ones understand the story of brave  Ida (a Ukrainian immigrant who arrived in Baltimore in 1913) and her journey across the ocean, so that she could meet her older sister Minnie who lived in Baltimore (The Golden Land).

Playing a matching game using objects from the trunk.

Playing a matching game using objects from the trunk.

As soon as we entered the classrooms the preschoolers were immediately curious about the trunk and its contents.  We explained that we worked at a history museum and immediately the children thought we worked at a museum that told stories about dinosaurs. We explained that we were going to tell a story about a brave young girl who travelled on a boat and that the trunk was filled with items that the young girl took with her on the trip.  We asked the children to brainstorm some things that they would bring with them on a long trip.  These children would be well –prepared.  Their answers included medicine, towels, food, and toys.

The children listened intently to the tale of young Ida travelling all by herself to meet her big sister.  They learned how Ida dragged her trunk with her up the plank of the ship and how she had to sleep in bunks in the “belly” of the ship, and the only thing she had to eat was watery soup and boiled potatoes.

Getting the wiggles out!

Getting the wiggles out!

The children demonstrated empathy when they learned that Ida’s tummy felt sick on the boat during the storms crossing the ocean.  They children were excited as they heard how Ida sailed on the ship up the Patapsco River and saw the American flag waving at Fort McHenry, and they were excited that she would be reunited with her older sister, Minnie.   The students learned how Ida made a life for herself in Baltimore- she went to school, worked as a seamstress and eventually married Daniel Rehr.  The trunk filled with inter-actives, photo reproductions and artifacts, along with storytelling and songs, helped to reinforce the children’s understanding of Ida’s heroic journey across the ocean to Baltimore and her new life she made for herself in Baltimore.

It's a hands-on learning experience!

It’s a hands-on learning experience!

To learn more about the JMM’s Immigrant’s Trunk for Preschool, and other education materials and resources on immigration, and field trip opportunities for students in grades (PreK through 12), please contact the JMM’s Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon at 410.732.6400×214; or idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org

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

 

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Meeting Mendes

Posted on August 27th, 2014 by

Our "real life" Mendes Cohen!

Our “real life” Mendes Cohen!

Thursday was the dress rehearsal.  I thought I would be immune to the effects of the performance.  After all, I already knew the Mendes Cohen story.  And I also knew that underneath Maggie Mason’s handsome costumes there was a fine actor, Grant Cloyd.  Yet from the moment Mendes came into the room brandishing his cane I was transfixed.  In the next thirty minutes “our” Mendes captured the spirit of the extraordinary soldier, businessman and adventurer who lies at the heart of our new maze exhibit.

Grant-as-Mendes leads the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!

Grant-as-Mendes leads the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!

There is an old joke in a Herb Gardner play about someone “getting the voices just right” for Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  It is truly impossible to capture the true sound of even the most famous speakers who lived in the era before sound recording.  For someone like Mendes Cohen, who was not a public speaker, there is no record of any kind of his style, accent or intonation.  But our script writer, Scott Fuqua, drawing on Mendes’ letters and journals, produced a 19th century patter that truly mirrors our character’s own vocabulary and diction.  The fact that Mendes comes across as so plausible is a credit to the talents of Scott, Grant and Baltimore’s premier living history director, Harriet Lynn.

Flat Mendes poses with actor Grant Cloyd, director Harriet Lynn, and writer Scott Fuqua after Thursday's performance.

Flat Mendes poses with actor Grant Cloyd, director Harriet Lynn, and writer Scott Fuqua after Thursday’s performance.

Thursday was just the warm up.  This last weekend I accompanied Mendes on a trip to Bladensburg.  They marked (I think “celebrate” would be the wrong word) the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, the ignominious defeat and rout that led to the burning of Washington.  In 1814, Mendes had seriously considered joining a unit that came to the defense of Bladensburg, but wisely decided that his talents would be better used at Fort McHenry.  So our journey to the re-enactment was actually Mendes’ first trip to this Prince Georges County town.  We were warmly received despite the rainy weather.

Mendes meets Facebook friend Ranger Abbi Wicklein-Bayne at the Battle of Bladensburg Commemoration.

Mendes meets Facebook friend Ranger Abbi Wicklein-Bayne at the Battle of Bladensburg Commemoration.

This is, of course, just the beginning of travels for our newly revived “ghost” of Mendes – for our younger readers I think I need to point out that ghosts were what people believed in before zombies (a lot cleaner).  Next Sunday, Mendes travels to North Point for the bicentennial ceremonies there.  This will also be the first full performance of Scott and Harriet’s play.  On the 14th we have Mendes hopping – opening the morning with a stop at The Associated’s Super Sunday (after all Mendes was a leading Baltimore Jewish philanthropist in his time) followed by walk-arounds at bicentennial events at Patterson Park and the Inner Harbor.  He will finish his day with a mini-performance at our exclusive members’ opening event on Sunday night.  If you are in the top three categories of membership (the Living History Circle, the Lloyd Street League and the 1845 Society) you will be invited back for the full play at its JMM premiere on October 5th – so wouldn’t this be a great time to upgrade your membership.

Mendes sports a caftan and shares his journey down the Nile.

Mendes sports a caftan and shares his journey down the Nile.

Finally, I want to offer special thanks to those who are enabling this success.  These include the Maryland Heritage Authority and Maryland Humanities Council for their specific grants for the Mendes Cohen character.  And the exceptional work of education director, Ilene Dackman-Alon in shepherding the living history project from the beginning.

The Mendes road tour will continue throughout the year.  To schedule a Mendes Cohen performance for your school or organization please contact Abby Krolik, akrolik@jewishmuseummd.org or 410-732-6400 x234.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts related to Mendes Cohen click HERE. To read more posts by Marvin click HERE.

 

The Mendes Cohen Living History project was made possible in part by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Maryland Humanities Council. This project has been financed in part with State Funds from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, an instrumentality of the State of Maryland. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

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