Re-thinking the Museum for the 21st Century: My Interview with the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s Executive Director, Zev Moses

Posted on July 17th, 2017 by

Blog post by Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

I lived in the Washington DC area all my life. I remember taking field trips to the many impressive Smithsonian Museums on the Mall in DC when I was in elementary school. Those initial visits shaped my idea of what a museum is: A large impressive sandstone building with exhibits of objects behind glass. That was how museums were to me. It wasn’t until I went to the new “Newseum” (a museum about media) in DC that I got a taste of how museums are evolving and adapting to the 21st century. Multiple interfaces lined the halls, exhibits were interactive, and you could even go up to a chunk of the Berlin Wall and touch it! Few objects are behind glass there! My visit showed me what a museum can be as it transitions to new medians to keep people interested and entertained during their visits. This was the future of museums.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

When I started my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) in June 2017, I began working in a much more traditional brick and mortar museum doing extensive research on a new exhibit. The JMM is getting more modern and interactive, but it still has a long way to go. In late June, I took time off to head up to Montreal, Quebec, initially to go apartment hunting, but then an idea struck me: Why not connect the JMM with the Museum of Jewish Montreal? I had studied abroad at McGill in the Fall 2016 Semester, writing numerous papers on Jewish Montreal while there, and even visiting the city’s Jewish Library. Yet, I never visited the Museum of Jewish Montreal. I knew small details about it, that it was fairly new, and that it did walking tours. Networking between the two museums seemed like a good idea to me, so I asked Rachel and she gave me the go ahead. I arranged to take a walking tour, which you can read about here, and I also scheduled to sit down with the Zev Moses, the Executive Director of the Museum who started it back in 2010.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

When I walked into the Museum on the afternoon of 23 June, I was greeted with a long turquoise colored room with large windows and exposed pipes. It certainly was very modern. I chatted a bit with the walking tour guide who had just given me a very pleasant tour. I ordered some coffee and a slice of coffee cake and was soon greeted by Zev. We sat down at a table and began our conversation.

I asked Zev questions ranging from how he got started with the Museum to how he has gotten to this point. Zev’s story is truly remarkable, he began his the museum with an initial thought to try something new after leaving a former job in 2009. He noticed that many people were getting laid off and that businesses were not hiring. Zev was right, as anyone who lived through it remembers; 2008-2010 was truly a terrible time for the world economy. Also during this time, Zev became curious of his surroundings. Having studied City Planning in Philadelphia, his trained eye noticed that there were many buildings in the Plateau neighborhood of Montreal that looked more or less like synagogues, or had some clues/ traces of their Jewish past. He eventually looked into one building in particular that he lived across the street from and found out it was one of the largest synagogues in the city! It had a massive 40-50 year history that no one knew about. Zev began to collect information about other buildings and places online and created an interactive map. His project eventually would grow into the Museum of Jewish Montreal that exists now, with a permanent space on St. Laurent boulevard in Montreal’s historic Plateau Neighborhood.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

What is so interesting about Zev and his approach to this Museum is that its development and approach to museums is different. This Museum is not like the JMM with artifacts behind glass with placards. This Museum is mostly online and the current presence they have is geared more towards a community aspect. The Museum regularly hosts many events, and Zev told me that the Museum and its staff regularly try to think about what works and what doesn’t. What do people want to see in a 21st century museum? Zev’s answer to that is treating people differently. That has materialized in creating a museum that is much more interactive with walking tours, community events, and use of technology to enhance visitor’s experience. For those looking for extensive histories and exhibits, those still exist, just online. The physical space is much more community-centered with a gift shop, a small photograph exhibition, and a café with Jewish-themed food. Walking tours meet here just before heading out as well. When I think about what my perception of museums are, and what this new museum is, I find that this new approach makes sense. Most people only spend 1-2 hours at museums simply walking around, looking at objects, and then leave and forget about what they saw. Not at the Jewish Museum of Montreal. While there is no permanent exhibition that many people would expect to see at a museum, you still walk away with much more than what you would in a traditional brick and mortar museum. The walking tour I took was much more exciting and memorable than a walkthrough of an exhibition. I did not attend any community events there because of limited time, but I’m sure those are memorable as well. As for the website, I checked out their online exhibits after my visit and they’re impressive. The large range of topics and history available are perfect for anyone who has a smartphone or who simply is curious. And to be honest, we millennials spend much of our time online than actually going to museums to learn, so this online presence is genius!

One question I was particular keen on asking Zev was how he coordinated with the other Jewish organizations in the city, such as the Jewish Archives and the Jewish Public Library, who have supplied his Museum with historical materials he needs. I ask this because at the JMM I am so used to simply walking to the library or downstairs to the archives to fetch an item or photo that I need to look at for my research. How does the Montreal Museum do this? Zev explained to me that at the onset of the Museum’s development that he was able to acquire good deals and prices for rights to photos and other materials. This makes sense for a mostly online museum like this one; there is no need for the Museum to have its own archives either when the City of Montreal clearly has two very good institutions dedicated to that job.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

As I finished up my interview, I asked one more question, which was where did Zev see the Museum going in the future? Zev explained to me that after a good first year in the new permanent space that he first wants to consolidate what he has and expand on that, after all, starting any business, especially a nonprofit organization like a Museum is hard. However, future projects were still on his mind. He explained to me that he hopes that walking tours, which happen in the warm summer months, could possibly continue on in the winter. How that can happen though is unclear, however the current building where the Museum is housed, in and old garment factory with Jewish history could be a potential site.

I finished the interview there, chatted for a bit, finished my food, and then left. As I’m writing this up now a few weeks later, I realize that Zev’s project, while new and developing, is what a 21st century Museum should look like. Gone are the days of traditional brick and mortar museums, the world is becoming more digital and more refined. People want more than just a walk through, they want interaction and involvement. The Museum of Jewish Montreal’s walking tours and their community-centered events are what Museums need to focus on. History and exhibitions are still very much a part of Museums, but they should no longer be the main focus. What the Museum of Jewish Montreal is doing is what Museums need to start incorporating if they want to thrive as society changes around them.

If you find yourself in Montreal, go check out the Museum, take a walking tour. Or better yet, if you don’t have the means to visit, go to their website and check out their exhibits. I’ll definitely go back to the Museum once I move to Montreal permanently, I really want to go on the other walking tours available… and I really want another piece of coffee cake from the café.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Intern Weekly Response: Catalog Reviews!

Posted on July 13th, 2017 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to read a selected JMM exhibit catalog and write a short review!  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


 

Vacations and the Jewish American Dream: Contrasting Identities

By Collections Intern Amy Swartz

 Cover of the catalog.

Cover of the catalog.

The JMM’s catalog on Jewish Vacations, titled The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish American Dream, discusses where and how Jewish Americans vacation. Each article takes on a different place including Atlantic City, Miami Beach, or discusses a theme such as Heritage Tourism or Anti-Semitism. One theme that struck me was the conflicting identities Jews has in the context of these getaways.

Placard of the Warsaw Ghetto. These stone inserts cover the extent of the wall and are all that remain to tell people where the Ghetto once stood.

Placard of the Warsaw Ghetto. These stone inserts cover the extent of the wall and are all that remain to tell people where the Ghetto once stood.

A consistent conflict is between who is Jewish: German Jews/those who have been in the United States for longer vs. Eastern European Jews. German Jews had assimilated into American culture and were generally wealthier than their newer counterparts in society. These differences often manifested themselves during vacations. Another conflict discussed was the conflict between religion and vacation. Some Jews chose to be less religiously involved while on break which led to fierce criticism from fellow Jews.

The POLIN Museum in Warsaw, which tells the history of the Jews in Poland from medieval times until today.

The POLIN Museum in Warsaw, which tells the history of the Jews in Poland from medieval times until today.

 

The article titled “Heritage Tours” also touched on the idea of identity and who/what is Jewish. Jews who visited Warsaw realized that the Jewish history now remembered was explicitly about the Holocaust rather than the centuries of history prior. Many felt their history was no longer accessible there, specifically because most of the buildings and neighborhoods were destroyed during WWII. Having just visited Warsaw in March, and toured the Warsaw Ghetto, I understand the frustration as there is a less tangible history due to destruction. Identity plays a key role in most people’s lives, however, for Jews, vacations were an intersectional moment where conflicting identities emerged.


 

Chosen Food: How the Chosen People create a Food Culture

By Education Intern Erin Penn

What do you call a cat you can read? A catalogue! Here is the cover art for Chosen Food.

What do you call a cat you can read? A catalogue! Here is the cover art for Chosen Food.

I got to read and review Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture and American Jewish Identity for this week. The catalogue contains numerous essays about Jewish eating traditions, recipes, and the importance of food for a community.  In the midst of the essays, there are shorter pieces called “Contemporary Voices.” The entire catalogue was fascinating—it excited my interests and my taste buds.

The “Contemporary Voices” pieces were originally published in the Jew and the Carrot Website.

The “Contemporary Voices” pieces were originally published in the Jew and the Carrot Website.

I really enjoyed reading Ted Merwin’s essay about how the Jewish community and Jewish practices changed as the immigrated to America. He focused on the popularity of kosher restaurants and delicatessens as a central meeting place.  Merwin writes, “The corner kosher deli competed with the synagogue as the cornerstone of the Jewish neighborhood” (29). The essay was interesting because it did not focus on one specific city or type of cuisine and instead showed the widespread custom of eating out. I am curious if there are similar comparisons between other cultures and their eating customs and traditions. Don’t all immigrant communities hold onto and adapt their traditions, especially their food, in new American towns?


 

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jewish and Medicine in America

By Collections Intern Joelle Paull

Excerpt and photo from “Chicken Soup: Women and the Making of the Modern Jewish Home and Nation.

Excerpt and photo from “Chicken Soup: Women and the Making of the Modern Jewish Home and Nation.

In his introduction to the exhibition catalogue for Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America, JMM Director Marvin Pinkert, wrote sought “to illuminate how scientific and cultural concerns have intertwined to shape not only the American Jewish experience, but an important field of human endeavor.” (Pinkert, 5). The essays in the catalogue do exactly that. From the role of the immigrant’s body in assimilation to representation of Jewish physicians in pop culture, the catalogue and essays within it show the process of assimilation and cultural exchange culminating with American Jewish doctor’s complex image in our culture.” (Merwin, 90).

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races, 1937. Courtesy of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy, Inc. CP20.2016.2

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races, 1937. Courtesy of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy, Inc. CP20.2016.2

The collection of essays as a whole are most successful in illustrating the many ways the Jewish immigrants were successful in making a place for themselves in the United States and the struggle of fighting stereotypes, prejudices, and in turn images of self-worth. It illustrates the role of health in many Jewish cultures and details various traditions surrounding health, medicine, and the body.


 

Small But Significant

By Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado

Catalogue cover

Catalogue cover

When I first arrived at the JMM back in June to begin this internship, I found a large blue booklet in the back pocket of my intern binder. This blue booklet, Enterprising Emporium: The Jewish Department Stores of Downtown Baltimore, is the catalogue for the corresponding exhibit of the same name that was on display at the JMM from 2001-2003. I was tasked with reviewing this catalogue for today’s blog post – but how does a person review a catalogue for an exhibit that they have not seen? That is the primary concern I had in terms of reading this catalogue. The layout of the catalogue helped me try to understand what I could not see with an intro and three scholarly essays. I’m guessing the essays correspond with the sections of the exhibit.

The Judaica collection of Florence Roger. This was on display at Hutzler’s Department Store next to other pieces of artwork. The displays were part of the store’s 90th anniversary commemoration.

The Judaica collection of Florence Roger. This was on display at Hutzler’s Department Store next to other pieces of artwork. The displays were part of the store’s 90th anniversary commemoration.

The introduction by former Museum Director Avi Decter set the stage for what I was about to read and what images I was going to see. I must admit that when I think of Jewish Baltimore, I don’t think of department stores, but the JMM is a Jewish heritage museum that tells the story of Baltimore Jews, and the fact that many historic department stores were owned by Jews is significant and it makes sense that an entire exhibit was devoted to the tropic. I think the intro well established me and gave me the necessary facts and figures one would need to know about the topic. After all, publications by the JMM should help educate non-Jews, and this catalogue does a good job at that. The one essay that I was immediately drawn to was one entitled: “Expressions of Jewish Identity in Baltimore’s Downtown Department Stores.” I immediately turned to that essay and began reading.

Hutzler’s 1960 Calendar which featured religious architecture. The Lloyd St Synagogue is featured for the month of March. This was one of many ways the store owners expressed Jewish identity, with little things such as this. 

Hutzler’s 1960 Calendar which featured religious architecture. The Lloyd St Synagogue is featured for the month of March. This was one of many ways the store owners expressed Jewish identity, with little things such as this.

I assume that museum catalogues offer supplementary information and history than the actual exhibit itself did. After all, you can’t possibly fit large essays onto exhibit placards. What I found in this essay was extremely interesting to me, and it taught me more of how Baltimore’s Jews sought to carve a space out for themselves. In this arena, they’re in Department Stores. How does a Jew express their Jewish identity in a Department Store? A store that remains open on the Sabbath! According to the essay, the sheer fact that the stores were owned by Jews meant that a relaxed atmosphere about working on the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays existed. Jewish employees could get off early or stay home. But expressing Jewish identity is more than just getting Saturday off.

The “Israel 67” Fashion show occurred at the Hochshild Department Store as a way to commemorate the new Jewish State in its early years and its fledgling culture.

The “Israel 67” Fashion show occurred at the Hochshild Department Store as a way to commemorate the new Jewish State in its early years and its fledgling culture.

I learned that to express Jewish identity, little things were done, sometimes things that weren’t noticeable to the trained eye. For example, one Department store celebrated its 90th anniversary by displaying a Judaica collection alongside other art pieces. Advertising of Jewish organizations in windows was also quite common. In company newsletters, news of Jewish employees and their families was also commonplace. One department store even printed a calendar that featured Baltimore religious architecture, in which the Lloyd St Synagogue was featured, which was truly significant since Baltimore was/ is predominately Christian. Finally, in a very department store-esque fashion, a store paid tribute to Israel 67 by featuring Israel art and products at their store, even dressing up mannequins in Israel fashion and having a fashion show. All these are small but significant. They showcase a community that had the power to assert their Jewish identity from a powerful soapbox that reached all Baltimoreans: through shopping. Their attempts at expressing their Jewishness is what stayed with me after reading the catalog.


 

Filling In the Blanks: The Voices of Lombard Street Exhibit Catalogue

By Education Intern Sara Philippe

The Voices of Lombard Street exhibit catalogue is an important, maybe necessary piece of work because of the added depth it provides an exhibit that seeks to cover a century’s worth of time. It provides detailed information wherever the exhibit lacks the space, including articles about the pre- 20th and late 19th century state of Jonestown, close-by Little Italy, and the area after the departure of most of its Jews towards the second half of the 20th century, among other topics.

An image from “A Different Kind of Neighorhood”

An image from “A Different Kind of Neighorhood”

I was really interested in the article A Different Kind of Neighborhood: Central European Jews and the Origins of Jewish East Baltimore because it touches on a part of the history of the neighborhood that is largely left out in the exhibit itself. While in the exhibit and on the synagogue tours, the shifts between Central and Eastern European immigration over time is discussed, there is little mention of what Jewish Baltimore looked like before the influx of Eastern Europeans towards the end of the 19th century. I appreciate how this article explains the reasons for the dispersal and lack of a principal residential area for Jews before mass industrialization took place causing ethnic enclaves like the Lombard Street neighborhood to form.

An Image from “Public Notions, Private Lives”

An Image from “Public Notions, Private Lives”

Public Notions, Private Lives: The Meanings of Place in an Inner City Neighborhood charts the history of the neighborhood as the Jewish population began to diminish significantly in the 1930s and the rise of the Flag House Courts housing developments in the 1950s. I love how the article focuses on the residents of the Flag House Courts in a way that Voices cannot given the extensive timeline it covers, while also detailing the ever-present racism that made Jonestown look as it did over time. It does a good job of detailing the role of racial segregation in the neighborhood and the factors that always allowed for white upward mobility. The article makes clear the factors that led to the transformation of the Flag House Courts as a racially mixed development to one that was 97% black. However, I believe the article falls short in analyzing the white flight that led East Baltimore’s Jews to move to other areas of the city and to the suburbs in the first place, while also depicting what that “exodus” looked like. Both the exhibit and the catalogue make me want to no more about this period and the phenomenon of white flight specifically as it affected Baltimore and the communities that were its victims rather than its benefactors.


 

Catalogue Review: Lives Lost, Lives Found

By Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi

Catalogue Cover!

Catalogue Cover!

I read the exhibition booklet for Lives Lost, Lives Found; Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1945. I never personally attended the exhibition that this book expands upon, so I cannot comment on how it ties to the physical presentation. However, this means that I can better interrogate the book as a lone production. I believe the publication works well as a standalone. The five essay sections are easy to follow and full of human detail that brings the facts of this period to life. The essays build a comprehensive picture of the reality of these immigrant’s lives. I most enjoyed the essay, “Knocking at the Door: The German Jewish Refugees and the U.S. Immigration Policy,” which focuses on the immigration of Bernard Mansbach and his subsequent fight to bring his family to the US.

Taken by Leo C. Hess on April 3, 1994 in Druid Hill Park. Bernard Mansbach is furthest right. To his left is his wife, Hertha Mansbach. (JMM 1994.142.062.001)

Taken by Leo C. Hess on April 3, 1994 in Druid Hill Park. Bernard Mansbach is furthest right. To his left is his wife, Hertha Mansbach. (JMM 1994.142.062.001)

The content of this exhibition was particularly suited to book form. I’m sure there are some objects that appeared in the physical exhibition that could not be represented well in the book, but a lot of materials associated with immigration, family photos, visa papers, newspaper reporting, and government documents, all lend themselves to inclusion in the print form. Although, my favorite part primary source inclusion is the quote collection which makes up the last section. They are fantastic to read. The one thing that I wish the section included was some manner of getting additional information on the experiences each quote references. This could have either been captions that give slightly more context to each quote or perhaps a page number from within the essays where the topic the quote references is discussed. This would also encourage readers to return back to the essay sections they may have skimmed on their first pass through the catalogue.


 

All of these exhibit catalogs are available for purchase at Esther’s Place, the JMM Shop!

Stop in or contact Devan Southerland, Shop Assistant at 443-873-5171 / dsoutherland@jewishmuseummd.org.

 

 

 

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Transcribing: The Challenge of Typing What You Hear

Posted on July 10th, 2017 by

Blog post by Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

 

I’ve been doing a lot of transcribing, which is in in theory very monotonous, but in practice has been a remarkably complex project. The main area of exploration is figuring out how you transcribe. The question seems a little ridiculous. Obviously you listen to a recording and you copy down what is said, not a lot of room for confusion. However, there are a lot of choices to be made about how exactly you write the words down. People say a lot of things that aren’t words; do I write fillers down or do I leave them out? Somebody using the transcription to find quotes for a wall poster probably does not want to read through ums and uhs, but someone using the transcript to find quotes for an audio creation would be bothered to discover that the perfect quote they read in the transcription is riddled with pauses and fillers when they listen to the recording.

UM vs. UH: In Maryland we say both which is backed up in my transcribing. A person will use one or the other, but I’ve transcribed both uh people and um people. (Map from Quartz Media)

UM vs. UH: In Maryland we say both which is backed up in my transcribing. A person will use one or the other, but I’ve transcribed both uh people and um people. (Map from Quartz Media)

In transcribing there is a trade-off between readability and staying true to source material. People on the side of verisimilitude would argue you should transcribe exactly what you hear, and I do chose to transcribe uhs and ums. However, I add punctuation to improve readability. I was looking through one of the transcriptions in the JMM collection that had no punctuation, and reading it felt like stumbling through an awful jumble of incomprehensibility. I err on the side of punctuating to make the transcription readable and do not feel compelled by the possibility of mangling the speaker’s intent through misinterpreting stress and adding a comma where they didn’t intend one.

I am about to be on the other side of this equation conducting the interviews. Transcribing has made me very aware of all of the extra things that interviewers say. It is very hard to directly ask someone a question. I hear, “tell me a little bit about…” constantly. I do not think I have heard the more direct, “tell me…” even once. I have a set of questions written for the interview collection I will be working on. Each one starts with a question word or the directive to “tell me”, but I have no illusions that I will manage not to add half a sentence of conversational lead-in every time I try to ask anything.

O Transcribe, the software I’ve been using, is available on the google app store.

O Transcribe, the software I’ve been using, is available on the google app store.

I transcribed one interview in middle school. I was working on a tape machine with a foot pedal. Now I have been using an application for the google chrome web browser, where the escape key is pause play and the program automatically restarts the recording two seconds back each time you hit play. It is a world better and much less fussy to work with. Through an odd sense of fate the transcription that I am adding to currently is an interview with the same person that I transcribed in middle school, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). In middle school I interviewed her about the outsider art movement and currently I am listening to her speak about her life story, Jewish beliefs, and reasons for founding AVAM. I love that oral history allows for the feeling of being in the room with the informant. I think that is why this connection has such import for me. Transcribing helps the archivists and curators who build exhibitions to access the content of an oral history. Nobody has the time to listen to an hour of tape to find a quote. If there is a transcription key words can be searched and the content can be skimmed quickly for relevance. Each complete transcription makes the content more accessible and more likely to reach the ears of a public audience!

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