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.”

2010020027

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.

20010260626

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. 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights: Dear Abby June 2014

Posted on June 13th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

When I was a young whippersnapper, I traveled extensively to lands near and far, and I acquired a precious ring on one of these journeys. Several years ago, I donated this ring to the JMM for safekeeping, because it was causing an inordinate amount of strife within my family. I would like to check up on the ring on my next visit the museum, will I be able to see it? I understand that you have topnotch security—which is why I chose your establishment in the first place.

Sincerely,

Your Friend from Middle Earth

 

Dear Middle Earth,

If you want to make sure that you will see your precious ring when you visit us, I would recommend that you make an appointment with our Collections Manager several weeks ahead of time. Many museums, including the JMM, have more things in our collections than we could possibly put on display at any one time. If your donated item is going to be used in an exhibit, we will be sure to let you know. Otherwise, it is probably safely tucked away in an acid-free box in our basement.

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

Dear Abby,

I recently retired from my high-energy job, and I am already bored, bored, bored! I just can’t get used to having all that free time and quiet in the house. There are only so many times you can get coffee or lunch with your friends until you’ve run out of things to gossip about. And you know you’ve got it really bad when you’ve rearranged the furniture so many times that you’ve worn out the carpet you only bought 6 months ago. I have lots of energy and I need some way of using it! Do you take volunteers at the JMM? How do I sign up? I don’t have any museum work experience, so do you provide training?

Yours Truly,

Bored Out of My Mind

 

Dear Bored Out of My Mind,

We have many, many wonderful volunteers here at the JMM! And we honestly, we don’t know what we would do without them. If you are interested in volunteering with us, the first step is to call or email our amazing Volunteer Coordinator, Ilene Cohen, at (410) 732-6400 x217 or icohen@jewishmuseummd.org.

Ilene will tell you about the various volunteer opportunities that we have. These include giving tours (being a docent), helping in the shop, and manning our front desk. All of these are very important positions. Being a relatively small staff with big ambitions for serving our community, we often find ourselves stretched too thin. That’s where our incredible volunteers come in. We depend on you to help us fill in the spaces where we can’t be.

Ilene will also work with you to find what your expertise and interests are, to see how we can best utilize your talents. She will also take the time to tell you everything you need to know for your position and give you the time and space to practice.

Generally, we ask that our volunteers commit to coming in at least twice a month. Typical daily volunteer shifts are from 11am to 4pm, though it can be changed a little to suit the individual volunteer’s schedule. The only exception to this is for the docents, who only come in for 2-3 hours at a time for very specific times of the day.

As a volunteer, you enjoy some perks here at the JMM. In addition to getting a 20% discount at the giftshop, there are a few opportunities during the year when we have special programs and field trips for our volunteers. And of course, you get the inside scoop on everything that’s happening at the Museum!

If you want to hear more about what our volunteers do, you can read our Volunteer Spotlight blogposts here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/?s=Volunteer+Spotlight

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

Dear Abby,

I clean house for a family of seven bachelors. They are hard working fellows, but they track in a ridiculous amount of mud around the house—I can barely keep up with them with the mop! I would like to have a full day with them out of the house, so that I can give the house a nice, deep clean. Maybe I’ll even bake them an apple pie for when they return home…

Anyway, I saw an ad for your museum in the newspaper, and I thought this could be the perfect place to send those little men for a day of much needed culture! Do I need to make a booking for them to visit the Museum? How do I do that, and what is the admission fee? If I book a tour for them, what will that tour cover?

Thank you for all your help!

Sincerely,

The Fairest Housekeeper of Them All

 

Dear Fairest Housekeeper,

You’ve already completed the first step to booking a tour at the Museum—talking to me! I arrange all group visits to the museum—including school groups, synagogue groups, social groups, you name it! That being said, our definition of a “group” that is eligible for the group rate discount is ten people, so if your seven bachelors have three friends they’d like to bring with them, and they (or you) schedule their visit in advance with me, then they can pay only $5 per person. If not, then they will have to pay the normal individual admission rate, which you can find here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/admissions-fees/.

Since group visits are scheduled in advance, we can arrange for tours of almost anything you want—within reason, of course! Most likely, we won’t be able to give you a tour of the collections unless you call our Collections Manager well in advance of your visit and talk it through with her. We always give tours of the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues five times a day (for the full schedule, read here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/#MuseumHours) For scheduled group visits, however, we offer the additional possibility of having a docent lead your group through our special exhibitions.

I hope this answers all of your questions, and if it doesn’t, please call or email me—I would be happy to talk it over with you.

Best Wishes,

Abby Krolik

 

Dear Abby,

My family is planning our vacation to Baltimore for late July this year (I know, it seems like the worst time to come to Baltimore, but don’t you worry, we’re from Texas, so Baltimore will feel positively cool to us!). It’s common knowledge that no visit to Baltimore is complete without stopping by the JMM, so you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be there! I see that the Project Mah Jongg exhibit will be closed by then, and that The A-Maze-ing Mendes Cohen won’t open until September, so what will we be able to see in July? Will there be something family-friendly for all ages? We’ve got a wide range of ages in my family—both actual and mental!

Thank you for your help!

Sincerely,

Your Fans from the Lone Star State

 

Dear Lone Star State,

Never fear, there is always something exciting happening at the JMM! Not only can visitors always see our two historic synagogues and our permanent exhibits, Voices of Lombard Street and The Synagogue Speaks, but we’ve also got something brand new coming this July. Last year, we noticed that we were going to have several “dark” weeks between the close of Mah Jongg and the opening of Mendes, so we’ve decided to try something we’ve never done before, and we’re calling it The Electrified Pickle!

Pickle_logo4For five weeks, starting on July 13th, the Feldman Gallery (where our temporary exhibitions usually are) is turning into a Makers’ space, where people of all ages can explore innovation through the ages with a mix of displays of old fashioned technology and hands-on workshops. Each Sunday during this time will have a different theme. The first one will be “Power This!,” with a focus on electricity and girl power. The following Sundays will be “Print This!”; “Fly This!”; “Imagine This!” and “Code This!.” There will also be a community art project component to which all of our visitors will be able to contribute.

As we get closer to the date, be sure to check for more information about our programming for The Electrified Pickle on our website, www.jewishmuseummd.org!

We can’t wait to see where this new project will take us, and we definitely want you and your family to be  part of the experience!

Best Wishes, Abby

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




« Previous PageNext Page »