Semitic Cinematics: An Intern’s Discoveries at the JMM

Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by

Hello! Ben Israel here. This winter, I am the Collections intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, but I have another responsibility as well… I am conducting research on a new exhibit coming to the museum this summer called “Cinema Judaica.”

Caption: The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

“Cinema Judaica” is a traveling exhibit that sheds light on how public perceptions of Jewish issues, from American isolationism in World War II to the State of Israel, were impacted by Hollywood movies. So, you might ask, why are you conducting research if the exhibit is already put together? Good question. My job is to connect the films detailed in this exhibit with Jewish life in Maryland.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak's Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

One of the primary sources I have been using is the Baltimore Jewish Times. Luckily for me, the JMM has bound copies of nearly every issue of the newspaper from the 1920s to the present day. I’ve been flipping through these old papers looking for anything I can find that relates to the exhibit. The research is slow going. By the time you read this I will likely have gotten up to the end of WWII. It’s a lot tougher than you might think too. My main problem is that I have three levels of constraint in what I am looking for:

1. Articles and advertisements should relate to Hollywood films.

2. Articles and advertisements should relate to Baltimore, or the greater Maryland area.

3. Articles and advertisements should focus on Jewish reaction to films or highlight Jewish issues.

Even in a Maryland-based Jewish newspaper, this is a very limiting scope when searching for information. Thankfully, I have learned some things about Jewish Maryland, and its reactions to Hollywood. One of the most prominent was the existence of the Schanze (later, the Cinema) theater at 2426 Pennsylvania Ave.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

From what I have come to understand, this theater was a bastion of Yiddish cinema at a time when Jewish films were a relative rarity because of the emphasis on isolationism.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

The theater is also notable for another reason. Soviet film buffs (like myself) will be pleased to learn that the Baltimore premieres of both Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Grigori Aleksandrov’s Volga-Volga, sometimes said to be Stalin’s favorite film. occurred at the Schanze/Cinema theater.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Volga-Volga is of particular note as it was incredibly unusual for a Stalinist musical comedy to reach American soil, let alone at a time before the two countries were officially allied against the Axis. One must wonder why the owners of the Schanze/Cinema chose to present these particular films, but that is work for another research project…

I adore film history, and this opportunity to look into local Maryland film history has been very enlightening. At this point in time, I have no idea how my research will be incorporated into the final exhibit. I can only hope that when you come to see “Cinema Judaica” this summer, you will find the subject matter as engaging as I have.

Ben IsraelThis is Ben Israel, signing off.

You can read more posts from JMM interns HERE.

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Arielle’s Top Three Things About Working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

Posted on August 6th, 2014 by

When recalling this past summer and reflecting on all of my experiences interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I cannot believe where all the time has gone – it has certainly gone by quick.  As I begin my last few weeks as an Education and Programming intern at the JMM, I certainly have a lot to reflect on.

If I could make a numbered list of the top three things about working at the JMM it would probably go like this:

Arielle’s Top Three Things About Working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

Number 3:  Getting to know Jewish Baltimore

For me, one of the best parts of working at the JMM has been learning about Baltimore’s Jewish history.  Before I began this internship, I literally knew nothing about Baltimore Jewish history, except that the city had one.  I tell my co-interns all the time how it’s funny that although I’ve lived in Baltimore for two years studying at Johns Hopkins, there was so much I didn’t know about the city that I lived in or the Jewish people that called it home.  From the immigration story beginning at Locust point, to the once booming Corned Beef Row on Lombard Street, to the amazing stories of the museum’s two historic synagogues, there’s certainly a lot to learn about Baltimore and its fascinating Jewish history. I’ve had the pleasure to learn a lot!  Getting to know Baltimore has certainly been a highlight of this summer for me and I can’t wait to keep learning more.

It was awesome getting to know one of Baltimore’s most amazing Jewish residents, the AH-Mazing Mendes Cohen! What an interesting Baltimorean with an amazing story.  Be sure to check out the JMM’s new exhibit about him this fall.

It was awesome getting to know one of Baltimore’s most amazing Jewish residents, the AH-Mazing Mendes Cohen! What an interesting Baltimorean with an amazing story. Be sure to check out the JMM’s new exhibit about him this fall.

Number 2: Getting to know the Staff, Volunteers, and Interns

In my past seven weeks at the JMM, I have loved getting to know all of the members of the hard working staff, volunteers, and interns.  The staff at this museum is truly incredible.  When you look at all the work they do, and the cheerful attitude they maintain while doing it, you are reminded that you are in an atmosphere of not only professionals, but people passionate about telling the Baltimore Jewish story.  I absolutely loved working in the Education Department’s “West Wing” and I know that I am walking away not just with fond memories, but also with important skills and many lessons learned. The staff at the JMM has been so welcoming and kind and I have learned a great deal just by working with them all.

Although sadly we didn’t have Abby to join us in this picture, I am especially thankful to Ilene and Trillion and the rest of the Education Department for welcoming us to the JMM and giving Emma and me such a great summer.

Although sadly we didn’t have Abby to join us in this picture, I am especially thankful to Ilene and Trillion and the rest of the Education Department for welcoming us to the JMM and giving Emma and me such a great summer.

Moreover, to the volunteers, I am inspired by your commitment to the museum and time put in, and I have loved getting to know you all.  To Lois and Wendy, thanks for being amazing teachers when it came to giving tours and thank you for all of your kindness.  Also, to my co-interns, you girls all rock.  You guys are seriously the best group of interns a girl could ask to work with and I’ve loved getting to know each of you and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Intern Emma and I playing dress up one morning.  We dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln using costumes from last year’s exhibit on the civil war.  Even interns can be silly sometimes.

Intern Emma and I playing dress up one morning. We dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln using costumes from last year’s exhibit on the civil war. Even interns can be silly sometimes.

Lastly, Number 1:  Getting to know the JMM visitors

For me the best part of working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland has been working with museum visitors.  The experiences of the visitors are the reason that all of the staff and volunteers at the museum work as hard as they do.  They are the reason that museums exist!  Highlights for me have been getting to know the student camp groups that came in all throughout June and July. The students were lovely, curious, and always excited to learn.  I particularly loved showing them the Electrified Pickle exhibit – an exhibit that both I and my co-intern Emma helped put together.  Another highlight was helping coordinate the logistics and attending the JMM’s Summer Teachers Institute for Holocaust Educators.  I must thank Deborah for including me in this amazing program and I loved meeting so many educators of the Holocaust and learning about this history alongside them.  I hope that while spreading the important meaning of the Holocaust to their own students, these teachers will bring their students to the JMM where they can learn even further about the history of the Jewish people.

Folders given to all teachers attending the STI program

Folders given to all teachers attending the STI program

An example I made for students during an activity connected to the Electrified Pickle exhibit.  The students loved playing with the play dough and LED lights – plus they learned about conductive and insulating electricity!

An example I made for students during an activity connected to the Electrified Pickle exhibit. The students loved playing with the play dough and LED lights – plus they learned about conductive and insulating electricity!

Anyways, thanks so much for reading.  Thank you Jewish Museum of Maryland for giving me such a wonderful summer and I know that these last three weeks of my internship are going to speed by quick.

All the best,

Arielle

I took this photo on my first day on the job when I excitedly arrived at the JMM.  I can’t believe it’s already been nine weeks since that point – time flies when you’re having a good time.

I took this photo on my first day on the job when I excitedly arrived at the JMM. I can’t believe it’s already been nine weeks since that point – time flies when you’re having a good time.

Arielle KadenA blog post by Education Intern Arielle Kaden. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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Oral Histories: Gaining Insights and Learning Personal Stories

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by

During my Exhibitions Research Internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on the Sinai Hospital Nurses Training Program for the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition.  This research has included reading several oral history interviews from nurses who trained at Sinai Hospital (the program ended in 1975).  These interviews have not only given me new insights into the hospital and its program, but also have allowed me to learn some of each woman’s personality.

A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Oral histories collect and record personal memories and commentaries, and are one of the most important sources of information available to historians.  An oral history allows one to learn about the lives of people that are not ordinarily covered in history textbooks.  The information gathered in an oral history can be used for research, excerpted in publication, filmed for documentary, or displayed in museum exhibition.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories.  Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories. Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.

Information we have gathered through the nurses’ oral histories will better allow us to place exhibition objects into context and craft a narrative for their display.  As Curator Karen Falk wrote in her “JMM Insights, July 2014: Where Culture Meets Science” blog post, Bobbie Horwitz’s interview gave context for the elaborate silver tea gifted to JMM by the Sinai Nursing Alumnae Association.  Horwitz explained, “They wanted to make ladies of us.”  One of the ways they did so was through a civilized “tea” held every Friday.

Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Another interesting story I came across was from former Sinai nurse Senator Rosalie S. Abrams.  Abrams recounted how she learned Yiddish while working in the men’s ward.  “I was a head nurse for the men’s ward,” she said. “That’s where I learned my Yiddish—on the men’s ward.  We used to sing them Jewish songs.”  Such stories illustrate the intersection of Jewish culture and medicine in the space of the hospital.

Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.

Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.

After reading so many interesting stories I was excited to receive training, with my fellow interns, from Curator Karen Falk on how to conduct an oral history.  We went over how to use the museum’s recording equipment and preparing the proper documentation for the interview.  It is crucial to be prepared for the interview.  One of the most important things to consider is what you want to learn.  You should know your topic and what information you hope to gain.  Prepare a list of questions that get at the heart of what you want to know and familiarize yourself with them.  Your rapport will be easily interrupted if you keep pausing to look down at your questions.  Keep in mind that you should also be flexible with your questions.  Your interviewee may bring up interesting points you never considered, but would like to explore.

Prior to conducting your oral history make sure all your recording equipment works.  Familiarize yourself with it and practice.  You do not want to waste your interviewee’s time trying to set up equipment that you do not know how to use or that does not work.

image 5.recording equip

Some of JMM’s oral history recording equipment, including a digital recorder and microphone.

Upcoming research for the Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition will include conducting more oral history interviews with Jewish medical professionals.  I hope that some of the great accounts from the Sinai nurses’ oral histories will be incorporated into the exhibit.

Sarah MooreA blog post by Exhibitions Research Intern Sarah Moore. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

 

 

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