Immigrants Get the Job Done

Posted on March 21st, 2016 by

Recently, some friends and I finished our submission* for the Washington Post’s annual Peeps diorama contest.  My friends are huge “Hamilton” fans, so the popular new musical became our theme.  In keeping with the spirit of the original, we chose a diverse cast of orange, green, blue, and purple bunnies. And as we built the set and dressed marshmallows in vests and gowns, we listened to the “Hamilton” soundtrack.  This was my first exposure to the lyrics and I wasn’t paying super close attention (gluing a tissue cravat to a Peep takes a lot of concentration), but this fantastic line caught my ear: “Immigrants: we get the job done.”

The opening act of “Hamilpeep.”  Photo by Kate Ramsayer; diorama by Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and me.

The opening act of “Hamilpeep.” Photo by Kate Ramsayer; diorama by Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and me.

So much of what we do here at the JMM centers on the experience of immigrants and their contributions to Maryland life and culture. Our new exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, is a perfect example of the way our exhibits, programs, and collections often speak to the stories of preparation, departure and arrival, and establishing a new life in a new country.

Announcement, in Yiddish, of a celebration in honor of the arrival of Rabbi M. Taragin's family from Europe, 1929. Gift of Saul Taragin, JMM 1983.001.001a

Announcement, in Yiddish, of a celebration in honor of the arrival of Rabbi M. Taragin’s family from Europe, 1929. Gift of Saul Taragin, JMM 1983.001.001a

True, the internet has improved access to national immigration records, making the search for arrival dates and locations much easier than our microfilm rolls ever could.  Nor are we the only museum** in the state that focuses on the lives of those who came to this country, willingly or not, over the past several hundred years.  Nonetheless, we do have some unique resources, such as the HIAS records for Baltimore; organizational archives for various local Landsmannschaften; and oral and written histories describing Marylanders’ immigration experiences, from the 19th century through modern day.  And, really, practically everything in our collections can serve as evidence that immigrants – Portuguese, German, Russian, Lithuanian, and many others – do indeed get the job done, whether that job is butcher or seamstress, lawyer or scrap dealer, midwife or doctor.

Ella Rudick and her children in Dublin, en route to the United States, 1912.  Anonymous gift, JMM 1988.209.53

Ella Rudick and her children in Dublin, en route to the United States, 1912. Anonymous gift, JMM 1988.209.53

In my own family history, immigration to the U.S. is no longer at the forefront of our personal experience, with most branches having arrived here in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the stories related to the most recent arrivals – my father’s mother’s parents, who arrived (separately) from Ireland in the 1920s – are still recounted, even though no one now alive can tell them first-hand. Every immigration story is different, but there are common threads that tie them together: Deliberate or accidental name changes; leaving family behind, and trying to bring relatives over later; struggling to make ends meet in a new neighborhood, new language, new society; how much, if anything, to tell your children and grandchildren of the circumstances you left behind in your old country.  These elements make up my great-grandparents’ stories, and when I come across them in our collections they strike a familiar chord, helping to make each story both unique and universal. After all, almost everyone in this country is an immigrant, if you look back far enough.

* Alas, we did not make it into the finals of the Washington Post’s contest, but we were featured on the Huffington Post instead, if you’d like to see more Colonial Peeps: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hamilton-peeps-diorama_us_56d4672be4b03260bf777589

**In addition to the larger, better-known places like the Lewis Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the Maryland Historical Society, here are some smaller ones to check out: the Baltimore Immigration Memorial, the Latvian Museum in Rockville, the Sandy Spring Slave Museum, the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Visit Maryland compiled a list of other African American history sites in Maryland. And the Maryland State Archives is a great resource for researching immigration and arrivals on both the individual and the broader levels.  What did we miss? Let us know!

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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Voices from My Childhood

Posted on July 1st, 2015 by

SuperKids, a summer camp program, is organized by a nonprofit called Parks and People Foundation. The organization is “dedicated to supporting a wide range of recreational and educational opportunities; creating and sustaining beautiful and lively parks; and promoting a healthy natural environment for Baltimore.” So it’s only fitting that SuperKids takes a group of young, inquisitive learners around different places in Baltimore, expanding their environmental sights and experiences as well as their vocabulary list. The Jewish Museum of Maryland has been privileged to be one of these sites for the last few years during their Jonestown neighborhood tour.

On a wet and muggy Tuesday morning, a yellow school bus reminiscent of my own elementary school days brought 25 eager students to the museum’s red brick road. They were extremely well behaved for kids who would essentially be on a different field trip every day for the summer. It was me who couldn’t contain the excitement of seeing my fellow peers (I may look like a 20-something year old, but I’m a child at heart). Since the group was too large to take all at once, Lois, one of our super volunteers, took half of the kids on a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue while Falicia and I took the other half to do two activities- a scavenger hunt in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit and an archaeology puzzle activity.

I’ve never been one to simply observe, so here I am “making” a traditional Sabbath dinner with some of the kids while reading them the newspaper.

I’ve never been one to simply observe, so here I am “making” a traditional Sabbath dinner with some of the kids while reading them the newspaper.

While Falicia helped with the archaeology “dig,” I assisted with the Voices of Lombard Street portion where the talk of immigration brought back my own memories of my parent’s journey to this country from South Korea for the “American Dream.” Unlike the Jewish immigrants who came to Baltimore on a ship, my parents took a plane, and they weren’t fleeing religious persecution. But I remember rolling my eyes at my parents every time they lectured me on how hard they worked to build a nice home for the family, and how they too worked menial yet necessary jobs beyond their intelligence and skills. I remember threatening my parents to call child services for making me work at their dry cleaners on my free Saturday, only to be bribed by McDonald’s. Like Paul Wartzman whose mom used to make gefilte fish every Friday, my grandmother used to make dduk-mandu-guk (rice cake and dumpling soup) every Sunday. And how my mom used to drive out of her way to go to a Korean market not just for authentic Korean food from the Motherland, but for human interaction with people who also spoke her native language.

This is me, age eight, standing in front of my new house being built. Although we only lived here for a year, this was a milestone for my family because it was the first home that truly belonged to us. No more living in relative’s homes and no more renting.

This is me, age eight, standing in front of my new house being built. Although we only lived here for a year, this was a milestone for my family because it was the first home that truly belonged to us. No more living in relative’s homes and no more renting.

And for me to now teach elementary school kids about that same topic brings this whole experience to a full circle. To set the record straight, I’m a natural born U.S. citizen and I’ve learned to not take that for granted.

I’m not Jewish. My family is Christian, and in fact, I’m part of a very loving and active church community. I came to work at this museum, excited to learn about another religion and perhaps learn more about my own. I didn’t expect to have much in common with those who lived on Lombard Street, but as I talked about each part of the exhibit to the students, I saw my own childhood in the quotes hanging on the walls.

It’s funny how June was Immigrant Heritage Month and on the very last day, it took a group of kids to make me realize how important that month should have been to me. If SuperKids were real superheroes, their superpower would be sparking a child-like spirit, curiosity, and wonder in adults. I certainly feel rescued. I may not have a degree in teaching, but I’m still so honored to be a small part of that process, and I look forward to a summer filled with SuperKids!

IMG_0993A blog post by Education Intern Eden Cho. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

 

 

 

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A Home Away from Home

Posted on June 29th, 2015 by

“So I check my inbox, open the new email, and there it is– Tina Louise’s manager, telling me that Tina would like us to stop pursuing the matter, that she knows her family history and that we are not included in it. But what does she know?” Zayde laughs as he shares his hope that our loud, yet humble Ashkenazi Jewish family might just be directly related to a real live celebrity, and his audience around the dining room table laughs and claps in time with the fall of the climax of Zayde’s favorite, and most famous story. I roll my eyes, but I laugh and clap anyway, just to feed his ego, and secure my post as his favorite grandchild.

The adrenaline rush that was Lombard Street.

The adrenaline rush that was Lombard Street.

Zayde’s most enduring legacy was his storytelling ability, and he could make any mundane pseudo-truth sound like Nicolas Cage’s announcement of his plans to steal the Declaration of Independence. His stories are synonymous with memories of a 5-year-old me sitting in his seat at the head of the dining room table, with enough trays of kugel, platters of lox, and pots of matzah ball soup decorating on the smooth green tablecloth to block my view of the family member sitting at the opposite end of the table. His stories are reminiscent of his family’s pre-World War II exodus from Hungary and from Poland, explained in English but understood in Yiddish, and given the momentum to time-travel through the family tree by hours of hora dancing. And his stories echo our walks around Baltimore City, breathing life into his American Jewish anecdotes and scouring the streets for hidden, buried memories Zayde might have forgotten about to make room for the Tina Louise debacle. Grateful for the air conditioning of my most recent walk down memory lane, I felt at home during my tour of the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit three weeks ago, during my first week as a JMM intern.

The Jewish influence on Baltimore City.

The Jewish influence on Baltimore City.

Stepping into the exhibit for the first time, I was immediately hyper-aware of my bias in the Baltimore Jewish persona: I’m Jewish, and my family emigrated from the Old Country to Baltimore. But the entrance of the exhibit, and the first few italicized blurbs positioned next to the black-and-white almost life-size cutouts of 19th and 20th century Lombard Street citizens welcomed me with open arms, and didn’t care if I didn’t have firsthand experience with how to properly schecht a chicken. The exhibit made it very clear to me that what I didn’t know, I could be taught, and my skills, whatever they might be, would be put to use in a different way in the community. I walked through fruit and vegetable stalls, shoe shining booths, the infamous and Corned Beef Row, stopping to chat with shopkeepers, babushkas, and watching the potpourri of Jewish, African American, and Italian kids chasing each other in the street. I nursed a bowl of soup at old-fashioned Attman’s Deli, ducked and flinched near the chicken coops and shops to avoid making enemies with loose chickens and the people who were trying to subdue them, sat intimidated in front of a sewing machine that is basically half my size, surrounded by the faded, multicolored confetti of 20th century linen scraps, and introduced myself politely to the Saye clan, a family of 6 who were new in town and looked a bit apprehensive, but were making a life for themselves in the New World. The places I was seeing in the photos began to build themselves brick by brick, the people I was meeting steadied their breathing and offered their hands for me to shake. I was beginning to see that life as an American Jew, or as a Jewish American, meant a life as shapeshifters, constantly and consistently adapting to our surroundings to find our place in society, without having to blend in with the background like a chameleon.

Up close and personal with one of Briney’s chickens.

Up close and personal with one of Briney’s chickens.

I’m not sure what I was expecting before I walked through the exhibit, but I know it wasn’t this. I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, and was fed secondhand stories. They tasted great, but I never looked at the nutrition facts on the back of the box; I knew that they were important, but I wasn’t sure exactly which details of which stories gave them that extra sweetness or spicy kick, so I didn’t think I would be able to share in the collective memory of Jewish Baltimore and genuinely understand the significance because I didn’t live through them myself. But the best part about the exhibit is that the story can be meaningful whether or not you have ties to the characters; the messages are universal, the details are what give it their flair. So really, we could all be related to Tina Louise.

Two of Saye family children, immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Two of Saye family children, immigrants from Eastern Europe.

IMG_1605A blog post by Museum Intern Rachel Sweren. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

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