Top Twelve Countdown

Posted on December 18th, 2013 by

An assignment this week to create a list of the most memorable  JMM activities of 2013 (see JMM Insights, December 19, 2013 – coming on Friday!) inspired quite a bit of discussion among our staff, and turned out to be a fun exercise. The pace here at the JMM is often so fast and it is rare that we have time to reflect on events that have taken place and to savor our successes as there is always something new that demands our immediate attention. Winnowing the list down to include twelve memorable events (we just couldn’t stop at 10) proved challenging, an indication of the many wonderful things that took place this past year across all departments.

As I reviewed the list that made the final cut, one activity really stood out from the pack, and that was the debut of our newest living history character based on the life of beloved Baltimore icon and caterer extraordinaire, Bessie Bluefeld.

Actor Terry Nicholetti performing as Bessie Bluefeld

Actor Terry Nicholetti performing as Bessie Bluefeld

When I first arrived at the JMM thirteen years ago, one of my first assignments was to begin work on an educational activity that would serve as a resource for Jewish day and congregational schools on the topic of immigration history. That kit became the Immigrant’s Trunk which explored the lives of two Jewish immigrants who settled in Baltimore in the early 20th century, Ida Rehr and Saul Bernstein, through reproductions of JMM collections items such as photos, immigration documents, and Jewish ritual items.

A photograph of immigrant Ida Rehr with her siblings before she left her home in Ukraine to settle in Baltimore

A photograph of immigrant Ida Rehr with her siblings before she left her home in Ukraine to settle in Baltimore

The concept of the trunk grew to encompass a living history component complete with professional actors who portrayed the lives of the immigrants whose experiences are explored through the trunk contents.

Actor Katherine Lyons who portrays Ida Rehr with the trunk

Actor Katherine Lyons who portrays Ida Rehr with the trunk

These performances proved popular, not just with Jewish students but also non-Jewish students attending public and Catholic school and adults too. Over the years it has been amazing to watch as this program that started with such humble ambitions has evolved in the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk, one of the JMM signature programs for audiences of all backgrounds, including versions of the trunk designed for preschool audiences as well as for individuals with visual impairments.

Actor Tim King portraying Saul Bernstein at a performance for Cross Country Elementary students

Actor Tim King portraying Saul Bernstein at a performance for Cross Country Elementary students

And now we have added a brand new character, Bessie Bluefeld, who has already proved enormously popular with audiences. Bessie’s story encapsulates so many rich themes as the performance begins with her arriving fresh off the boat in Baltimore’s Locust Point where she marvels at just how different her new home is from what she has left behind and goes on to dramatize the extraordinary effort she places in creating a home for her husband and children and her determination to save the family from financial ruin after a bad business deal.

Bessie arriving in Locust Point

Bessie arriving in Locust Point

One of the joys of this particular living history character is that so many Baltimoreans have fond memories of Bluefeld Catering and loved sharing the stories of their special events during the Q&A session following performances.

Bessie answering questions following a performance

Bessie answering questions following a performance

We have also been privileged to talk to members of the Bluefeld family including Bessie’s son Louis and grandchildren who have shared treasured family stories and photographs. At the performance debut this past spring, we were delighted to welcome so many members of the Bluefeld family.

Members of the Bluefeld family at the spring performance debut

Members of the Bluefeld family at the spring performance debut

Bessie greeting a member of the Bluefeld family following her performance

Bessie greeting a member of the Bluefeld family following her performance

It was evident that the performance resonated with the members of the family in attendance and there was hardly a dry eye in sight when one of her grandsons stood up to thank the JMM. In his words, “You gave me back my grandmother.” This simple expression of gratitude sums up exactly what it is that the JMM strives to do. As I reflect back on a year of so many successes, this is my number one moment!

We are grateful to everyone whose hard work and dedication brought Bessie to life with a special thank you to script writer Jonathon Scott Fuqua, director and producer Harriet Lynn of Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium, and actor Terry Nicholetti. We are also most appreciative of the Leo V. Berger Fund for their continued support of our Immigrant’s Trunk program.

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here.

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Saul Bernstein Returns

Posted on March 29th, 2012 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

On March 15, the JMM re-launched our Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk program with a special program to honor our program benefactors, Harry and John Kassap and the Leo V. Berger Fund; to pay tribute to actor Tim King, who originated the role of Saul Bernstein in 2002 and who, sadly, passed away last spring; and to introduce actor D. Grant Cloyd, our new Saul. From the photos below, you can see that the program was a smashing success!

Actor Tim King originated the role of Saul Berstein in 2002 and was instrumental in the program’s inception and development. Tim touched the lives of everyone who saw him perform and inspired them to connect Saul’s story to their own personal narrative.  This photo of Tim King performing as Saul Bernstein demonstrates his talent in connecting with audiences of all backgrounds.

Thanks to our wonderful exhibition and collections staff, we were able to exhibit samples of Saul’s artwork from our collections. Visitors loved having the opportunity to see his work and to discover what a talented artist he was.

The JMM’s Immigrant’s Trunk living history performances have been generously supported since 2004 by the Leo V. Berger Fund. We are most grateful to Harry and John Kassap for their continued generosity that has allowed us to grow and expand this program to reach new and diverse audiences year after year.

Actor Grant Cloyd delivered a wonderful performance as Saul.

Audience members enjoyed examining the photos that Grant passed around during the performance of Saul at various times in his life.

I love this photo of Saul Bernstein. He had it taken just as he made the decision to leave his position as a partner in a dry goods store inWest Virginiato enroll at the Maryland Institute of Art.

We were delighted to host members of Saul’s family, including grandson Peter and great-grandson Connor. Peter delighted us by sharing family stories.

To learn more about the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk or to schedule a performance, please contact Elena Rosemond-Hoerr at (410) 732-6400 x229 / erosemondhoerr@jewishmuseummd.org.

 

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The American Dream, then and now

Posted on January 11th, 2012 by

A blog post by intern Mia White.

Since beginning my internship at the museum a month ago, I’ve been involved in so many exciting things that I found it very difficult to sit down and pick one thing to write on. And so, being the double-majoring, multi-interested girl that I am – I’ve picked TWO of my projects to pull into one (perhaps slightly sinuously held together) blog post. My link between the two experiences: immigration to Baltimore.

North German Lloyd Steamship leaving Baltimore (an immigrant ship). 1988.117.3

My main project at the JMM is researching the newest member of the immigrant’s trunk series. She is a woman named Bessie Bluefeld, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1907. I’m betting right now that last name is familiar to many of our readers. Yes, that Bluefeld. She is the woman behind Bluefeld catering, a kosher family-owned company that worked around the east coast from 1937 for over four decades. The sources of my research consist entirely of secondhand recollection, yet it’s clear even from this she was a firecracker of a woman. She is one of so many that came to the United States with that timeless ideal of America as the land of opportunity. And for her and her husband Charles, it would be; they achieved success and wealth not just once during the 1920s but TWICE, when they had to rebuild from nothing when the Great Depression belatedly reached their family fortune. I’ll leave the rest of the story there – you’ll just have to wait for the new trunk character to emerge to find out the details!

My second experience takes us over one hundred years forward from Bessie’s 1907 arrival to 2012. This past Monday, I visited Patterson High School to observe a storytelling course that the JMM runs for refugee and immigrant students. Monday’s class was focused on heroes, or simply a person each of us felt had made a difference in the world. Honestly, I felt a bit at a loss when considering who I admire. Yet these students, some of whom are nearly a decade younger than I, were much surer of themselves. They told stories of a man in their home villages back in Nepal, or looked to TV programs they’d seen on the news about a woman in Miami who fought for animal welfare. Each story was unique and powerful, and yet it was when I came to speak to one girl in particular that I found my research about Bessie gaining new dimension.

Student Immigration Stories Workshop, 2011

She spoke not of a person, but of God. Her imaginings of him as a man, or perhaps even a boy her age, were incredibly vivid and her telling was highly emotional. She saw him not as a hero who had done much, but as a being that held the power to alter the future. What was he up against? I asked. “Racism,” she replied. She went on to say that the racism in this country and in Baltimore in particular was insurmountable, and that she saw no other force in the world that could change it.

And to me, this comes back to Bessie in a very simple way. Though the city shut its shores to immigrants at the outbreak of WWI and would never re-open them, Baltimore continues to be a destination for immigrants. The census recorded a Hispanic population increased from 1.7 to 4.6 percent between 2000 and 2010. Bessie came to this country in search of opportunity and to escape hardship, and each student in that class likely came for similar reasons. And yet, this girl, so confident and articulate about her thoughts, is unable to see America as the land of opportunity – and instead sees it as a place where she is up against something so solid and pervasive that she is unable to fathom where to begin to conquer it. I only hope that she, like Bessie, will find her calling and push through her personal adversity to find success and acceptance. And perhaps, through this she will defy the boundaries that racism has set before her and her life will teach and inspire future generations, as I know Bessie’s story soon will.

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