JMM Insights, June 2015: Farewell to Mendes

Posted on June 19th, 2015 by

As the nation celebrated Flag Day this past Sunday, the JMM made one last connection to the life of Jewish Baltimorean extraordinaire, Mendes Cohen, through activities and a talk with conservator Michelle Pagan that explored one of the most iconic objects on display in the exhibit, the flag that Mendes.  Mendes created the flag in 1832 as he sailed up the Nile River proudly displaying his love for his country. This event marked the culmination of our ten month celebration of the life and times of Mendes Cohen and his family. We were thrilled by the positive response we received from visitors, many of whom expressed their surprise at never having heard of Mendes before, as well as their delight in finally ”meeting” this amazing man.

The following is a summary of exhibit highlights:

Accolades – Coverage of the exhibit on WYPR and MPT, as well as in articles in the Jewish Times, the Forward and Humanities (the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities), helped spread the message encouraging people to come and discover the story of Mendes Cohen. It was hard to top the Forward’s review which encouraged readers to “Forget the National Aquarium: The Cohen exhibit – along with the museum’s permanent exhibit, “Voices of Lombard Street” makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland a must visit for tourists to Baltimore.” To cap things off, the JMM was a recipient of the 2015 Leadership in History Awards Winners for The A-mazing Mendes Cohen by the American Association of State and Local History.

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

PartnershipsThe A-mazing Mendes Cohen is an example of a model collaborative project and was brought to fruition through several important partnerships. We opened the exhibit during weekend festivities celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore which gave us the opportunity to partner with several local agencies and to be part of such anniversary events as the commemoration of the Battle of Bladensburg and the Defenders Day Celebration at North Point.

Mendes at Bladensburg

Mendes at Bladensburg

The Maryland Historical Society, as the repository of the bulk of the Cohen family papers, was vital to the exhibit’s success. We are so grateful to Burt Kummerow, president of MHS and his staff, for granting us access to their rich collections of material and to lending us such important documents such as the firman that Mendes received from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire allowing him entry into Palestine and his travel diary.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

As we began planning the exhibit, JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert had a brainstorm that proved transformational.  He reached out to Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes and the notion of capturing the twists and turns of Mendes’s life through a physical maze design was born. Kelly became an enthusiastic member of the Mendes Cohen Fan Club and contributed not only to the exhibit design but also to content and image research. Thanks to weekly meetings (by phone as Kelly is based in Seattle) we enjoyed a high degree of collaboration with our designer whose strong vision for the exhibit helped shape its final outcome.

New Findings – Each new exhibition involves extensive research in the JMM’s archives and collections as well as at other repositories. While we thought we knew a lot about Mendes Cohen and had previously created an educational resource kit exploring his connections to 19th century Palestine as well as published an article in Generations, our knowledge about Mendes and his family continued to expand as we uncovered new information through many different sources. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of researcher, Joseph Abel, Ph.D, who transcribed the bulk of the letters that Mendes wrote home from abroad, we were able to place Mendes at many seminal 19th century events including the student revolts in Paris, the coronation of a new king in England and the installation of a new Pope in Rome.

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

The most wonderful new piece of research was unveiled at our penultimate program, an exploration of the Cohen Family Tree. The exhibit claims that there are no known descendants of Israel and Judith Cohen. Genealogist Dick Goldman decided to challenge this assertion and was able to find new branches of the family descended from Alan Cohen III who changed his name to Clarke (hence, our difficulty in finding relatives) after he converted to Catholicism. Alan’s grandson Ronald Brown was one of our very last visitors to the exhibit on Sunday.

The Ghost of Mendes Cohen – The exhibit served as inspiration for the development of the JMM’s newest living history character, none other than Mendes himself, who comes back from the grave to revisit select moments from his incredible life. After debuting performances during many of the War of 1812 commemorative events that took place last summer, Grant Cloyd, the actor who portrays Mendes, has been busy visiting schools, synagogues and other venues. We look forward to continuing to offer performances even beyond the duration of the exhibit.

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Education – More than 300 teachers and 2100 students participated in field trips and living history performances in conjunction with The A-mazing Mendes Cohen. Students from local public, private, parochial along with Jewish day and congregational schools visited the JMM.  We also had student groups visit from the outlying counties, including Howard, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Anne Arundel County. Students visited from Forest Hills, New York and Philadelphia,  and also came from Ashkelon, Israel – Baltimore ‘s Sister City in Israel.

JMM educators created a rich array of educational resources including archival exploration activities (giving students the opportunity to explore primary sources related to his life), puzzle making games and scavenger hunts. Because Mendes’s life connected with so many important worldwide events, we were able to tie in school visits and resources with a wide array of curricular objectives.

The Gunpowder Challenge

The Powder Magazine Challenge

All of the students loved the interactives in the exhibit- especially the powder magazine and the world map stringing activity.  Students loved racing against the clock to ensure that the magazine did not explode.  Students loved learning where Cohen travelled and learned names of countries and cities throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Students also loved hearing about Cohen’s journal entry of July 4, 1832, documenting his travels on the Nile River, hoisting the flag made by Cohen’s Egyptian crew. Students also thought that it was “very cool” to see the actual flag that was hoisted on Cohen’s ship as well as  some of the Egyptian antiquities that Cohen brought back to Baltimore.

Mendes' hand-made flag, 1832

Mendes’ hand-made flag, 1832

Programs – The JMM held a record number of public programs this year and many of them were inspired by the life experiences of Mendes. Through panel discussions, scholarly and author talks, performances and family workshops, we explored such topics and themes as the War of 1812, 19th century travel, Egyptology, the fight to pass the Jew Bill, textile conservation and genealogy.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

We were especially pleased with our Mitzvah Day program, inspired by Mendes’ attempts to piece together his identity, we made puzzles for children spending the holidays in The Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital. It was a wonderful day that saw families work together to create something really special. In total we made enough for all of the children visiting the hospital over the holiday period.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

This year our Annual Meeting was also inspired by Mendes, specifically his time spent in office. We were honored to welcome Senator Ben Cardin to the museum to be our keynote speaker. A surprising success was our Sephardic Lecture Series, inspired by Mendes’ own heritage. We had two great programs exploring Sephardic history and Ladino.

During the course of the exhibit we started to record some of our programs, if you missed one of the lectures above check our website, you may still have a chance to explore a little more of Mendes Cohen’s life.

The maze is packed and out the door, the flag and jacket are back in our vaults – Mendes, like Elvis, has left the building – but the legacy is still with us.  As a team, we had so much fun with this project.  Don’t be surprised if Mendes and his siblings join us again in a future project.

 

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JMM Insights: New Kids on the Block

Posted on May 15th, 2015 by

JMM has always prided itself on its small, dedicated team of outstanding professionals.  It’s amazing what a dozen people can do, when you have great talent supported by strong volunteers and lay leadership.

This month has brought two new members to the team to existing/future vacancies.  I thought that we’d use this issue of JMM Insights to introduce Tracie Guy-Decker, our new Associate Director for Projects, Planning and Finance, and Graham Humphrey who will replace Abby Krolik as Visitor Services Manager.  I am really excited to have Tracie and Graham on board and I know you will join me in welcoming them into our family.  I have asked them both to tell a bit of their own stories.

Marvin

From Tracie

My great great grandmother, Dora Bachrach Fink, was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation when it was in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Now that I am Associate Director at JMM, every day, I sit at a computer that is but yards from the place my ancestors worshipped more than a century ago. Working for JMM is also a homecoming for me professionally—a return to working with and for the Jewish community. (I served as the Marketing Director for the Jewish Federation and the JCC in Virginia Beach until my husband, a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy, received orders that moved us to Maryland.)

Tracie and Dave NAVY

Tracie and her husband Dave.

This is an exciting time for JMM, and I’m honored and humbled to be able to be a part of it. My colleagues are smart, funny, capable professionals, and under Marvin’s leadership the Museum is on a trajectory to become a center for Jewish and secular history and culture in Baltimore—not tomorrow, but soon. I’m excited to lend my skills, expertise, and experience to that trajectory (and to learn new skills along the way!). I’m also excited to be able to share this amazing resource with my daughter, Ruth (3 years old). The Museum family will watch Ruth and the Museum grow together over the next several years.

Ruth enjoying the rocket seats at Patterson Park

Ruth enjoying the rocket seats at Patterson Park

I’m also heartened by the welcome I’ve received from all of the friends of the Museum thus far—professionals, lay leaders, volunteers, members, and visitors have all been amazingly friendly and helpful as I learn my way around (literally and figuratively). I’d love the opportunity to reciprocate that welcome: if you’re in the Museum, please stop by. You can tell me your story of the Museum or the Lloyd Street Synagogue, we could play “Jewish Geography,” or just say ‘hi,’ I’m here Monday through Thursday, and will never turn down a cup of coffee.

From Graham

Hello! My name is Graham Humphrey and I was recently hired to be the new Visitor Services Coordinator to replace Abby Krolik after she leaves the Museum at the end of the month to continue her studies. I received my MA in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and my BA from Brandeis University in Art History. For the past seven years, I have been working at museums, aboard sailboats and at National Park sites in visitor services, education, development and collections management. I have gotten to lead experiential education programs while dressed up in period costume at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, teach basic seamanship to students aboard the schooner the Lady Maryland and work with goats at the Carl Sandburg Home in North Carolina. In my free time, I enjoy visiting other museums and historic sites, exploring the great outdoors, attending cultural events and staying involved within the Jewish community.

Graham

Graham

I am excited about continuing to make the Jewish Museum a welcoming environment and to ensure that visitors have a rewarding experience. I also hope to encourage public discourse about contemporary issues, explore how we can engage new audiences as well as serve as agents for social change in our community.

Marvin’s note:  We don’t plan I having Graham work with goats… but a “Jewish pirates sail”, well who knows what is possible.

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JMM Insights: Dear Abby

Posted on April 17th, 2015 by

Dear Abby,

I have a fixed lunch date on Sunday afternoons at 1pm with my machatonim (in-laws). As much as we—or at least I—would much rather come to the JMM for one of your many, fabulous lectures and programs at that time, skipping these lunches is just not a negotiable matter. Sadly, it seems that all of your programs are at 1pm on Sundays. It’s very frustrating! Can’t you ever have them at a different time or day?

Sincerely,

Filial Obligations

Dear Filial Obligations,

The good news is that we do, in fact, offer public programming at times other than 1pm on a Sunday afternoon. The bad news is that, yes, the majority of our programs do take place on Sunday afternoons because we’ve consistently gotten the best attendance at those programs. It’s probably because they are on a weekend afternoon when people are likely to want to do something fun downtown.

However, we do periodically host events at other times, including our quarterly Late Night on Lloyd Street events, which are typically on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, from 6pm-9pm. We even have a lecture coming up on May 7th that everyone should mark on their calendars! This is the Sadie B. Feldman lecture; we present this lecture annually, and this year it features professor of History and Jewish Studies, Pam Nadell, who will speak about the lives of early Jewish American women such as Judith Cohen (Mendes Cohen’s mother).

Also, this summer we will host several outdoor movie screenings in our back lot in conjunction with the upcoming exhibit, Cinema Judaica. More information about that will be arriving in the next few months—so stay tuned, folks!

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

 

Dear Abby,

Hypothetically speaking, if an extremely wealthy person were to be inspired by a few ghostly visions of the past and future—which demonstrated to said person the errors of his or her miserly and uncharitable ways—to donate a vast fortune to the JMM, how would that person go about it?

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Asking for a “Friend”

 

Dear Asking for a “Friend,”

Hypothetically speaking, if a person were to decide to donate any sum of money to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, that person should speak to Sue Foard, our administrative assistant who handles monetary donations (not to be confused with Joanna Church, our collections manager, who handles object donations). Sue will be happy to lead you through the process.

Thank you very much for your generosity! As a relatively small non-profit organization, we appreciate any gift, small or “vast”!

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

Dear Abby,

I read in one of your earlier columns that you answered the question of how to schedule an adult group tour (6/21/14 “The Fairest Housekeeper of Them All”); could you tell me how do I arrange a visit for my students?

I’m a very unconventional, hands-on kind of educator. I prefer for my students to really get inside the subject that we’re learning—whether it’s the digestive system or outer space, I make sure my students have a magical learning experience! I’ve heard from other teachers that the JMM has a similar approach to learning, and I’d love to learn more about what my students can do at your museum.

Is it true that you can offer transportation to and from the museum to school groups? If it is, then that’s a very generous offer, but thankfully, I have my own trusty school bus that we use for everything. How much is the admission for school groups? Is there a minimum or maximum for how many students I can bring?

Sincerely,

The Teacher with the Magic School Bus

Come down for a visit!

Come down for a visit!

Dear Magic School Bus,

We would love for you to bring your students to the JMM, and I’m sure we can find activities that will complement their studies in a very immersive way! It’s true that our Education Department prides itself on developing educational programming that builds multiple, core skills while also teaching content. For example, students from 2nd to 8th grade can put on their archaeologist’s hats while learning about the early history of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Many—if not most—of our exhibit activities involve practicing critical thinking skills that are easily adapted for different grades and abilities.

To schedule a group visit, you will need to contact our Visitor Services Coordinator, who is in charge of the museum’s calendar. She will tell you which dates and activities are available to you—it’s best to contact her at least three weeks in advance. It helps if you describe what it is your students are currently studying, so we can find the best match of activities that will deepen your students’ knowledge and their museum experience.

The maximum number of students that we can accommodate at one time is 55. If you have 100 students, this means that we could, potentially, serve 50 of them in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. We require that each group have at least one adult chaperone (a teacher, a parent, etc.) per ten students.

For private schools, we charge only $2 per student and $3 per non-teacher chaperone. Teachers accompanying school groups to the Museum are always free!

For all Maryland public K-12 schools, we are happy to waive the admission fee and to provide up to one free school bus (which typically holds 44 passengers). We know this makes a big difference for many public schools. For schools that are coming from farther away than Baltimore County, we ask that the teacher find a bus charter company that is local to their area, and we will still pay for it.

Once you have scheduled a visit with the Visitor Services Coordinator, she will send you a confirmation form to fill out and return as soon as possible. Then, two business days before the scheduled field trip, each teacher is required to contact the JMM—by phone or email—to confirm the number of students and chaperones coming. This may sound redundant, but it is really helpful for us to have a final head count ahead of the visit! The numbers almost always change between the time of booking and the visit itself, and we need to know how many educators and materials we need for the group. We also need to know that the school group is prepared with the right number of chaperones.

I look forward to speaking with you in more detail about bringing your class on a field trip here!

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

 

 

 

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