JMM Insights: Dear Abby – The Mendes Cohen Edition

Posted on September 12th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

My wife and I have an unfortunate tendency of putting things off—even past the last minute, sometimes! It’s quite a problem in our lives, as you might imagine. But what saddens us the most is when we just barely miss seeing an exhibit at the JMM.  And it’s always like that—we came to see the Civil War exhibit just a month after it closed, and we came to see The Electrified Pickle just one week after that closed.

We really don’t want to miss this next one—the Mendes Cohen exhibit—so, for once in my life, I’m going to (gulp!)…plan ahead! Unfortunately, my wife and I will be out of town this weekend, when the exhibit opens. I hope the exhibit will be here for more than just a few weeks! Please tell me, how long will the Mendes exhibit be on display?

And while I’m asking about it, could you clarify for me what the exhibit will be like? Nothing against mazes, but that sounds like the exhibit is geared more towards kids than adults. Is that true?

Thanks for your help!

Always A Little Late 

 

Dear Always Late,

I can certainly relate to procrastinating every once in awhile (OK, maybe it’s a little more than just “once in a while”!). Fortunately, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen is going to be with us for a long time. We will have the exhibit on display here for a whole nine months! It opens this Sunday, September 14, 2014 (just in time for the Star Spangled Spectacular celebrations), and it will close on Sunday, June 14, 2015. That should give you plenty of time to plan a visit here. Also, if you are on our email mailing list, you will receive several reminders each month of all the wonderful public programs we’ll be having.

We always strive to have something for everybody in our exhibits, and this is no exception. The Mendes exhibit includes both artifacts and thoughtful content about the life of Mendes Cohen in the context of what was happening in Baltimore, in the country, and in the world. While history is not always enough to capture the attention of some, we hope that the interactives scattered throughout the maze (and the very concept of the maze itself) will do the trick.

See you soon (I hope)!

Abby

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Editor’s note: The following letter to Dear Abby arrived in the form of a telegram. We have reproduced the message as authentically as possible. We previously had no idea telegrams were still possible.

TO: DEAR ABBY

FROM: MRS. JACOB B. FANCYPANTS, III.

MESSAGE: Have not yet received my pass to the members opening [STOP] Not a member, but should be OK [STOP] You know who I am, right? [STOP] Will be on 0500 train from NYC Fashion Wk. to Balt. Penn [STOP] Am looking forward to private tour of Mendes exhibit [STOP] Pls. confirm w/my P.A. at jane.smithATgmail.com [STOP] Thanks [STOP] Ta! [STOP]

END OF MESSAGE

 

Dear Ms. Smith,

I received the telegram from your boss, Mrs. Jacob B. Fancypants. Wow, who knew you could still send a telegram? It must be really interesting being her personal assistant. But I digress…

Please inform Mrs. Fancypants that, while the opening is only open to current members of the JMM, she is more than welcome to—in fact she is encouraged to—buy a membership when she arrives at the Museum. We will be happy to have her at our event!

While the exhibit, with its small spaces, does not lend itself easily to docent-led tours, groups may call in advance (to me) by at least a week to book a docent to take them through. However, I believe that the exhibit has so much detail and information that walk-in visitors who self-guide through the maze will come out with just as rich an experience. Additionally, we are developing a special tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in honor of the Mendes exhibit. Because Mendes Cohen and his family were always at the forefront of using the latest technologies available, the tour will shed light on technological firsts in Baltimore and at the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

This tour will take the place of the 3:00pm tour and will debut on November 9, 2014.

I hope the two of you will be able to come to our members’ opening this Sunday evening, and many other programs as well! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if either of you have any questions (though perhaps email or phone would be easier than telegram.)

Best Wishes,

Abby

Mendes Intro Panel_v4

Dear Abby,

All my life, I have been inexorably  drawn to the intricacies of the physics of the time-space continuum, and over the years, I’ve become a self-educated expert on the topic. Therefore, I was delighted to hear that your museum will be displaying an exhibit dedicated to the truly extraordinary life of Mendes I. Cohen.

You are probably wondering right now what does Mendes I. Cohen have to do with the time-space continuum. And well you might ask that! This unique individual has come to my attention through my studies because of his uncanny appearances all over time and space. Not only is he present at the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1814, but he also serves as president of the Maryland Historical Society in the early 1900s. Since he was born in 1796, that would make him at least 104 years old at the start of his tenure at the historical society—a feat that was virtually impossible in those days! It is my belief, then, that Mendes I. Cohen was—or rather, is—a time traveller.

I am further supported in my belief by other “impossible” sightings: just last weekend, he was sighted at the anniversary celebrations of the Battle of North Point, and I have reason to believe, from careful scrutiny of contemporary photographs, that he was present at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy! There is clearly something very mysterious about Mendes I. Cohen. In fact, he will be the subject of my next scholarly book, Mendes I. Cohen: Secrets of the Universe and its Time Travelling Assassin, which will—fingers crossed!—be published sometime next year. You will probably hear from me then about having a book talk at the museum. (Please see attachment with 1000 page excerpt from the manuscript.)

In the mean time, I would be much obliged if I could request some assistance from you. Judging from the level of detail contained in your exhibit, it would seem that you have some special connection or knowledge of Mendes I. Cohen and his whereabouts. Again, I would be much obliged if you would arrange a tête à tête for the two of us. We have so much to discuss! When we do have this meeting, is it permissible to take photographs? It would be purely for purposes of scientific evidence, I assure you.

Sincerely,

Doc D. Lorean 

 

Dear Doc,

While your theory about Mendes Cohen is fascinating, I must point out at least one part of your argument that I know to be incorrect. The Mendes Cohen who was president of the Maryland Historical Society is not the same Mendes Cohen who fought in the Battle of Baltimore—the former was the nephew of the latter! It can be very confusing when close relatives have identical names, so the mistake is an understandable one.

Barring a sèance, I probably can’t arrange a meeting between you and the real Mendes Cohen. Probably. What I can do, however, is arrange a performance of our living history character version of Mendes Cohen, played by the very talented Grant Cloyd. Mendes Cohen has joined our lively lineup of living history characters based on real Baltimoreans, including Ida Rehr, Saul Bernstein, and Bessie Bluefeld. Each of them can be hired to perform a one act play based on their lives that lasts about 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for questions) for either adult or school age audiences.  They can also be hired to walk around in character at an event. If you want to book them, or just find out more information, please contact me and I will do my best to help you!

Photography at these performances is generally allowed—though please don’t use flash as that can disturb the actor. At the exhibit here at the Museum, it’s a similar guideline (photography without flash is allowed), with a few exceptions: the case of Egyptian antiquities, the travel documents, and the passport are all items that we have borrowed from other museums, and so we cannot give general permission to photograph them.

I hope this was helpful to you. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out!

Best Wishes,

Abby

_RWK3797

Greetings and Salutations Mmlle. Abigail,

I sincerely wish you do not think me too forward for sending you a letter without a formal introduction, but I am told that you are the one to approach on matters regarding visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland and its lovely souvenir and books shop. Although Baltimore is my homeland, these days I am but a weary traveler of many places and dimensions, and am no different than the majority of tourists who enjoy collecting mementos from the various stops on their journeys.

Word has reached my ears that your historical establishment is about to present an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of one Mendes Cohen (or have you done so already? Forgive me, I sometimes get confused about this sort of thing). I must confess, I am unusually familiar with this particular character, and I would care to have some memento of his new-found general notoriety.

If it would please you to catalog the items relating to Mr. Cohen that will be for sale in your shop for the duration of the exhibition, I would be most grateful. In addition to a desire to expand my own collection of sentimental trinkets, I believe that it never hurts to have a store of potential gifts for future occasions.

Ever your humble friend,

M.C.

 

Dear M.C.,

Of course I don’t think you’re too forward! I receive letters, emails, and phone calls from perfect strangers all the time. It’s just part of my job.

I would be happy to tell you all of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen themed items we will be selling in the giftshop. Esther, our gift shop manager, is very excited about our offerings! We’ll have early 19th century children’s toys and games as well as a more modern artistic take on Mendes Cohen in paper doll form. Going off of the maze aspect of the exhibit, we will be selling maze games for all ages—several of them are 3D mazes, and one even has lasers!

For those who think they’re too old for games and lasers (not sure who could possibly be too old for lasers, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere!), we’ll be offering the special opportunity to buy a vintage edition of our publication, Generations, which includes an article by Dr. Deborah Weiner on the life of Mendes Cohen.

And, most excitingly, we will be selling beautiful mugs with the exhibit logo and an image of the flag that Mendes Cohen made to hoist on his boat as he floated down the Nile. This is not an item you can get off Amazon.com!

Hopefully, at least one of these items will tickle your fancy or strike you as a worthy gift for someone!

Happy Travels, my friend!

Yours Truly,

Abby

Mendes-Blue-Rim-Handle-Mug-v2

abby krolikDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

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JMM Insights August 2014: Packing Up Our Pickles

Posted on August 15th, 2014 by

This summer’s unique visitor experience, The Electrified Pickle, has now come to a close. This week’s newsletter looks back at the highlights of this five week experience.
The Electrified Pickle was a community tech fair, designed to appeal to budding scientists, DIY-ers and anyone curious to learn about how things work.  It combined artifacts, experiments, hands-on activities (including a community mosaic) and several outstanding speakers.

The exhibit included items rarely seen from the JMM’s rich collection were selected and brought upstairs and placed in the Feldman Gallery.  These examples of technology from the past such as old sewing machines, kitchen implements, and typewriters, were once vital to Jewish trades and home life. With the help from our partner, The National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD, the gallery was transformed into a participatory lab-style environment where visitors could discover the mystery behind scientific principles such as magnetism, electricity, solar power, and other fun and engaging interactive activities.  These items were displayed in a way that our visitors could make comparisons with newer technologies and gain insight into the process involved in scientific innovation.  In addition, our visitors watched a short film, Gefilte Fish, and found humor in watching three generations of women talk about their expertise in making gefilte fish!

In addition to the exhibit, we developed weekly programs to help build upon some of the ideas seen within the exhibit. For five Sundays we invited community members to come to the Museum and share their expertise and passion in specific areas of technology such as engineering, crafts, robotics, electronics, and science with our visitors.  Here is a quick wrap-up of the five weeks.

Our Kick-off Sunday, July 13th was Power This!   Our visitors were greeted to the JMM by the smell of pickle brine and vinegar- and they got to see first-hand how pickles serve as conductors and can actually be electrified.  Other experiments that took place throughout the day were testing the properties of conductive and insulating play-doh and watching LED lights illuminate while making pencil dimmer switches.    We ended the afternoon with an electrifying science performance by Extreme Jean-as she demonstrated the properties of dry ice through a variety of experiments.

July 20th- Print This! informed our visitors about the history of printing.  Many thanks to Direct Dimensions, Inc.  and Maryland Rubber Stamp Company who helped us with their expertise in stamp/block printing to 3D scanning and imaging.  Who knew that our Hebrew block letters stamps that were used to make Yiddish posters in the early 20th century could be scanned by a 3D scanner and printed out as 3D images and made into modern stamps?  One of the highlights of the day was watching our younger visitors using a “heavy hand” trying to press the keys on an old portable typewriter! We would also like to thank Baltimore Jewish Times, a media sponsor and a special thank you to JT editor-in-chief Josh Runyan who came to the Museum for an “Ask the Editor” session.

July 27th Fly This! –examined the properties of wind and the history of flight.  Matt Barinholtz and FutureMakers came to the JMM and helped our visitors understand the properties of wind and resistance.   Our visitors practiced their “folding skills” making different shapes and kinds of paper airplanes.  We welcomed Paul Glenshaw, who spoke to our audience about Al Welsh, an early Jewish pioneer of flight who worked closely with the Wright Brothers, but sadly died in a flying accident in College Park, MD.

August 3rd – Imagine This!  Robots descended on the JMM!  Our visitors had a blast interacting with robots of all shapes and sizes.  We would like to extend our thanks Fred and Robyn Needel for all of their help and vision in bringing high school robot teams to the JMM for the event.  Special thanks to Automation Intelligence Inc, for sending their AWESOME robot to the JMM.  Our visitors witnessed first-hand how this sophisticated robot played JENGA, filled crates and was able to move objects around on command via technology.  Also a big thank you to Neville Jacobs for bringing his team of robots. Jennifer George gave a dynamic presentation about The Art of Rube Goldberg, and spoke with affection about her famous grandfather.

Our last Sunday, August 10th, we presented   Code This!  Our thanks go to the National Cryptology Museum and Bar Coding, Inc. who helped our visitors understand the science behind coding and decoding.  Dr. David Hatch gave a wonderful lecture about the Enigma Machine and the early Jewish code breakers during WWI. Finally, we need to thank Mosaic Makers for their expertise in creating two panels for a beautiful mosaic that depicts a market scene back in the day when Lombard Street was a thriving, bustling center for market and commerce.

From all accounts, we heard from our visitors that the Electrified Pickle was fun, interactive and engaging.  We had regular visitors who came to all five weeks of programming. We hosted some local summer camp groups, and all of the campers loved learning about science and technology.  Our older audiences enjoyed going down “memory lane” and seeing some of the technology of their youth and marvel at just how far we have come…..

If you still haven’t seen the exhibit, not to worry, you have one final chance this Sunday, August 17th as the exhibit will be open regular museum hours.

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JMM Insights, July 2014: Where Culture Meets Science

Posted on July 18th, 2014 by

This week I have invited curator Karen Falk to share her recent research for the exhibit Jews, Health and Healing.  The exhibit is scheduled to open at JMM in the fall of 2015.  I think you will agree that Karen has uncovered some compelling insights.

~Marvin

karenOur upcoming exhibition about Jews and medicine has required a revolution in my consciousness, one that has brought me new awareness of the medical professions, the history of medicine, and the impact of medicine on Jewish identity.  So a request to share some insights gained while working on this exciting project was a welcome assignment.

Perhaps the most enduring lesson I learned—to my surprise, I admit— was just how absorbing it is to study the history of medicine! Other surprises, from each section of the exhibition, include:

 

Caliphs, princesses, popes and saints.

Many people have noted with a sense of irony that even while Jews were persecuted in medieval and renaissance Europe, rulers seeking medical advice often turned to Jewish physicians. Turns out there’s a lot of fact underpinning this conventional wisdom. Baltimore ophthalmologist Harry Friedenwald thoroughly documented this history in his collection of books and manuscripts produced by Jewish physicians from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Among them: a 14th century manuscript of works by Isaac Israeli (c. 850-950; yes, he is said to have lived 100 years!), who was court physician to the Fatimite Caliph Obaid Allah; several works by Maimonides, philosopher and physician to Saladin, first sultan of Egypt; a full set of the  700 case histories written up by  the 16th century physician Amatus Lusitanus, who treated Pope Julius III but spent his life outrunning the Inquisition; a letter from the physician Felipe Rodriguez (Elijah) de Luna Montalto to his patient, Queen Marie (de Medicis) of France (wife of King Louis XIII);  even a 1487 woodcut depicting a 4th century scene in which the Jewish physician Ephraim attends the ailing St. Basil. Friedenwald’s collection became the first-ever exhibition about Jews and medicine, shown at Johns Hopkins University in 1943.

The Jewish physician is shown in 15th century German clothing, including distinctive headwear.

The Jewish physician is shown in 15th century German clothing, including distinctive headwear.

“Never admit more than five Jews…”

The number of Jewish doctors in Europe in the early twentieth century was astounding. Almost half the physicians in Berlin were Jewish; in Vienna, it was about 60%, and in Warsaw it was 70%. As the children of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe began to enter colleges in the first decades of the twentieth century, similarly high percentages were aiming for medical school. All across the country, university and medical school deans were alarmed, and began to put into place measures that limited Jewish enrollment. The University of Michigan, for example, used interviews to determine a candidate’s “personal acceptability and magnetism” (many Jews failed this test). Many schools determined Jewish heritage based on last names, and when that failed because of the growing practice of Americanizing one’s name, they asked for the applicant’s mother’s maiden name.  What is perhaps most surprising about this situation is the response of some Jews. Milton Charles Winternitz, the Jewish dean of Yale Medical School, was complicit. “Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all,” Winternitz told his admissions officers. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Morris Lazaron did a national study of medical school admissions practices in 1934, and concluded that Jews were admitted at a rate of about 20% of the student bodies. He felt he had documented discrimination, but advised accommodating the quotas. He never published his report, afraid it would make things worse. Leon Sachs, longtime head of the Baltimore Jewish Council, negotiated with both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland medical schools in the 1940s and 50s over the numbers of Jewish students admitted each year. Documents in the JMM collection show that Hopkins claimed that 75% of its applications came from Jewish students. The university began with a 10% quota on Jewish admissions, and thanks to Sachs, raised it first to 14% and then to 17% in subsequent years. [Credit goes to Antero Pietila for making these documents public in his book Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City (2010, Ivan Dee, Inc.)]

2006.013.1224  Leon Sachs was executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council from 1941-1975.

2006.013.1224 Leon Sachs was executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council from 1941-1975.

“Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.”

Jewish hospitals surprise people today, possibly because the maintenance of a hospital seems like a daunting project for a tiny minority community. They were founded by necessity. As places of danger and death throughout most of the nineteenth century, hospitals were the stamping grounds of missionaries hoping to save the souls of the sick and dying and Jewish patients were their prime targets. Baltimore’s Hebrew Hospital and Asylum (now Sinai Hospital and part of Lifebridge Health, a sponsor of our exhibition) was built in 1868, one of many founded in cities across the country to alleviate this pervasive problem. The practice of proselytizing in hospitals was global and persistent. Henrietta Szold and the women of Hadassah founded Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem in 1902 as a specific response to this issue.

1991203003

1991.203.003. An early view of the Hebrew Hospital and Asylum.

“They wanted to make ladies of us.”

The alumni of Sinai Hospital’s training program for nurses, which closed in 1975, have been valued supporters of the JMM, sharing memories and donating uniforms, caps, tools, photos, and documents from their years as students and on the job. We were completely agog, however, when they brought in an elaborate silver tea set, with matching candelabra.  How was this unexpected set of objects part of a nursing curriculum? “Tea” was held every Friday afternoon. “They wanted to make ladies of us,” Bobbie Horwitz told us. It appears that Jews—along with most Americans—had very different ideas about the ways in which men and women could be involved in medicine. Parents were sometimes hesitant to allow their daughters to go to nursing school. “My older sister broke them down. She was the first to become a nurse,” Myra Framm told us. Young women might face harassment in the workplace. Toby Mower recalled, “The doctors used to kid around with the new nurses that were rotating through the operating room: ‘Oh would you run to central supply and get me a fallopian tube?’ and we would run off to the central supply to get these fallopian tubes. They would have a laugh and we would wind up being embarrassed.”

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2010.020.027 Nurses enjoy Friday afternoon tea at Sinai hospital.

 

Garcia da Orta: Converso, physician, plant hunter.

Born in Portugal just a few years after the Jews were expelled from Spain, Garcia da Orta was a Converso physician in Lisbon and professor of medicine at the Lisbon University. As the Inquisition in Portugal became more repressive, he signed on as a ship’s doctor with the Portuguese navy and soon found himself in India, where he began a thriving medical practice, and learned about the curative properties of the sub-continent’s botanicals. His book, Conversations on the simples, drugs and medicinal substances of India (1563) introduced many new remedies to the European material medica. The Inquisition finally caught up with him and his family. Da Orta died in 1568, but his sister was burned as a heretic in 1569, and da Orta’s remains were exhumed and burned in 1580. Still, he is remembered as “the most illustrious representative of the Portuguese spirit in the natural sciences.”

 

Doctor, scientist, entrepreneur.

Dr. Morris Abramovitz came to Baltimore from Lithuania in 1901, had completed his medical studies at University of Maryland by 1906, and was a special student taking classes at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1907. He opened a practice in East Baltimore, tending to a diverse immigrant neighborhood as well as sailors on leave in Baltimore’s harbor. Although a practitioner with a humble neighborhood practice, Abramovitz represented the scientific sprit of his time. Observing that many sailors among his patients suffered from syphilis, he was intrigued with the opportunities and problems of a new chemical treatment from Germany, known as Salvarsan. Unstable and difficult to prepare as a solution for injection, a more stable compound called Neo-salvarsan came out in 1912. Neo-salvarsan was less effective against the disease, however. Abramovitz developed and marketed an apparatus to administer both drugs at once, minimizing the problems of preparing Salvarsan while boosting the effectiveness of its replacement with some of the original. Side effects were unpleasant, and the treatment was replaced by penicillin in the 1940s.

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2001.026.062.006 Marketing postcard from Dr. Morris Abramovitz, showing the “Combined Method Apparatus,” c. 1915.

 To catch up on previous JMM Insights, click HERE. 

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