JMM Insights April 2014

Posted on April 18th, 2014 by

Above the Sea

Each year the Jewish Museum of Maryland offer a major presentation on immigration made possible through the generous support of Frank and Helen Risch.  Frank’s parents, Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch, sought refuge in Baltimore in 1937, fleeing the storm of Nazi persecution.

In the first seven years of this program, we have focused on the experience of emigration and exile in America, offering performances, stories and lectures on immigrant populations from the great wave of Eastern European Jews of the late 1890s to the most recent arrivals from around the globe.  This year we are offering insights into another way station of refuge, thousands of miles from our shores.  Shanghai, whose name literally means “above the sea” was high ground for thousands of Jews escaping from the same forces that brought the Risch family to Baltimore.

Mark Your Calendar!

Mark Your Calendar!

Helping us explore this topic is an exceptional expert, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. Rabbi Tokayer previously served as United States Air Force Chaplain in Japan. Upon his discharge he returned to Tokyo to serve for eight years as rabbi for the Jewish community of Japan. In addition to numerous Japanese-language books and contributions to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Rabbi Tokayer is the author of The Fugu Plan, and co-author of the newly published Pepper, Silk and Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East.

Additions for the "to be read" pile!

Additions for the “to be read” pile!

Rabbi Tokayer has entitled his talk:  “From Poverty to Culture: The Refugee Community in Shanghai During World War ll.” This will be a powerful evocation of how the 20,000 Jews of Shanghai struggled against impossible odds to not only survive, but thrive in this unexpected refuge. The program will be held Sunday, May 18th at 2:00pm and will take place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, located 7401 Park Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21208.  The program is free to the public – so be sure to invite all your friends!

To coincide with the Risch Memorial Program we are putting together a small lobby display using materials from our collections, which will be on view during the month of May.   It turns out that Baltimore and the Jewish Museum of Maryland both have some strong connections to the Jews of Shanghai. You may have noticed the photograph used in this year’s Risch Memorial Program publicity, which pictures a couple sitting in a rickshaw. We would like to introduce you to that couple: Wilheim Kurz and Selma (Hirschfeld) Kurz. Wilheim and Selma were both Holocaust survivors. They met as refugees and theirs was the first Jewish wedding in the Shanghai Jewish colony!  They moved to Baltimore in 1947 and Wilheim was kind enough to bequeath his Jewish materials (including photographs and archival documents) to the Museum. We are hard at work transcribing an oral history done with Wilheim in 1979 and look forward to sharing more of Wilheim and Selma’s story with you as it is revealed.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

Wilheim and Selma Kurz, 2004.43.4.

We know there are more legacies of the Jewish Colony in Shanghai out there! We’ve identified at least two other individuals associated with the city who now reside in the metro area.  We encourage you to contact us with your stories and your materials. And if you know anyone who lived in Shanghai, we would love to invite them to the program – please send us their contact information. If you have any information to share, contact Trillion Attwood at /410-732-6400 x215.

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

Shanghai Ghetto in 1943

If you’re interested in learning more about the Jewish Colony of Shanghai, there is actually a pretty good start at Wikipedia, but we know our JMM explorers will want to go further. If you are seeking a list of the numerous books and memoirs about the experience, including Rabbi Tokayer’s The Fugu Plan, you can find a great collected list here at the The Shanghai Jewish Tours website. If you happen to be traveling, you might want to stop by China’s Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum – last year they sent their “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)” exhibit on a three city tour of the US.  There’s even a Chinese animated family film (and graphic novel) called A Jewish Girl in Shanghai – and you can rent a streaming copy here. 

Check the JMM website for an upcoming blog post on Jewish-Chinese connections and if you are looking for the lighter side of that connection – find a foursome and visit (or revisit) Project Mah Jongg.




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JMM Insights: Dear Abby

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

I’m very excited to hear that the JMM will be opening a new exhibit all about my favorite game: Mah Jongg! I’m actually from Boston, but I have a sister-in-law in Baltimore, so I’ve heard about your museum, and I’ve been curious about it for awhile. This spring seems like the perfect time to finally make a visit, and I’d like to bring some of my girlfriends with me.

My girlfriends and I are in an unusual kind of “mahj” group: we do destination Mah Jongg! This means that we like to play in special locations. For example, last Mother’s Day we ditched the hubbies and played Mah Jongg for 48 straight hours in Las Vegas. It was such a thrill! If you can imagine it, it was kind of like one of those big poker tournaments that they have on TV, but with kosher food and better gossip.

Anyway, I hear from my sister-in-law that, in addition to seeing the exhibit, you can also reserve a few tables to play Mah Jongg at the museum itself. That would be perfect for our next destination! What do I have to do make a reservation? Does it cost anything?

I look forward to hearing from you, and to fleecing my friends of all their quarters in a rousing game at the JMM!


“Mahj” from Boston

Dear “Mahj”,

Wow, that’s quite a group you’ve got! Yes, it is true that we will have about six card tables set up in our Orientation Space that groups can reserve for 2 hour time slots. You should talk to me either by phone or email about bringing your group in to see the exhibit and playing a game or two of Mahj. There is no extra fee for reserving a table to play, so you will only have to pay $5 per person if you are bringing a group of 10 or more during our public hours.

If you wanted to bring your group here after our public hours, then the charge will be $40 per hour that we have to stay open past our usual hours. This fee simply covers our costs associated with staying open.

During the exhibit’s time here (March 30 to June 29), there will be some occasions when we will not take any reservations. Some of these are on days when we have all-day public programs that will need to use the Orientation Space (for example, a Mah Jongg Marathon—keep your eyes peeled for more news on that soon!). Other times will include the hours when we have a scheduled speaker. If you’re thinking of coming in to play on a Sunday, just know that the best times for which to sign up are at 11am or 3pm, since our speakers are usually on Sundays at 1pm.

While the tables in the Orientation Space are not for impromptu games of Mah Jongg, there will be one table inside the exhibit itself that will be set up for impromptu playing or “playing” for anyone who wants to just move the tiles around. For these tables, we ask that you write your name on the sign-up form inside the exhibit and limit your playing to about 30 minutes if people are waiting for a chance to play.

I hope that answered all of your questions. Can’t wait to see your group at the JMM!

Best Wishes,


You won't want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

You won’t want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

Dear Abby,

I am writing a novel that is a semiautobiographical-mystery-thriller family saga stretching from the turn of the 20th century to the 1980’s, set in Baltimore. I would like to do some research both about what life was like in those decades, as well as some research into my own family history. In starting the research for this book, I’ve come across a few family skeletons, including the mystery of the location of the body of my Great-Aunt Fannie, who was shunned by her family for not serving crab at her son’s bar mitzvah! Can you imagine—not a crab cake or even a coddy in sight? Since the whole family refused to attend her funeral, there’s no one left who can remember where she was buried. I know that the JMM has a lot of this kind of information in their archives, so can I stop by sometime to do my research? Is there a research fee? I think I’m a member of the museum, but honestly, I can’t remember.

Thank you for your help!


The Future Laura Lippman


Dear Future Laura Lippman,

Not to be a grouch, but I’m afraid we need to insist that on-site research can only be done here by appointment, and we need a few weeks of lead time to arrange it. We have a very small staff, with all of us wearing several hats, which means that we need a little extra time to complete research requests.

Let me first suggest that if you’re looking for something specific in our collections or trying to find where your Great-Aunt Fannie is buried, the first place to stop is our online collections database! If you go to our website ( and go to the “Collections & Research” section, you’ll find many resources, including a link to search through our collections and archives. In the Family History section, we even have downloadable spreadsheets for all of the Jewish cemeteries in Baltimore, so you can find where your ancestors were buried.

If you want more help, you will want to call our designated research phone extension at (410) 732-6400 x213 or email, if it’s a genealogy question you have, you can call this extension, (410) 732 6400 x224, or email–to submit your contact information and research question. A staff member will get in touch with you to make an appointment.  Depending on demand, this may take a few weeks.

If you are a member, then you can do research here for free! For non-members, it’s $8 per visit, and for non-member students it’s $8 per project (so you can visit multiple times and pay only once). This fee also includes admission to the museum, for when you feel like taking a break and wandering through the galleries.

I can’t wait to read your book when it’s finished!




Dear Abby,

I’ve been a member of the JMM for many, many years, but lately, I’ve become a real katzisher kop, and I’m afraid that I will forget to bring my membership card with me the next time I come to visit the museum. If I do forget, will I still be able to get free admission? More importantly, will I still get my 10% discount at your fabulous gift shop? Next week, my cousin is visiting, and I plan on bringing him down to see your latest exhibit, and the fear of forgetting all of these important things is keeping me up at night! Speaking of which, should I use one of my guest passes for my cousin, or is he included in my family membership?



I. Forget


Dear “Forget”,

I’m sorry to hear that your forgetfulness is keeping you from getting your beauty sleep! Well, you can rest easy now, because there’s no reason that forgetting to bring your card should keep you from enjoying your membership benefits. When you arrive at the museum, simply tell the person at the front desk your first and last name, and they will confirm your membership status for you by looking at our list of current members. You can also do this if you can’t remember whether or not you’ve renewed your membership for the coming year.

Family memberships cover up to six members within a single household, so unless your cousin lives with you (and it sounds like he does not), then he is not included in the family membership. That being said, this is the perfect time to use one of your guest passes!  But please do remember to bring the guest pass with you when you bring your guest (perhaps put it in your bag or pants pocket the night before). Your cousin will have to fill out the back of the guest pass with his information before handing it to the front-desk person.

We’ll see you soon!



Dear Abby,

I’m planning a program for my sisterhood, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding a good speaker for the group! They’re an intellectually curious bunch, so I want to provide a speaker who will really pique their interest. Someone told me a long time ago that you offer a Speakers Bureau, but I think I’ve also heard that you no longer offer that Speakers Bureau. Which is true? Can you help me find a speaker?

Thank you for your help!


“Desperate in Columbia’


Dear “Desperate in Columbia’,

It is true that we used to have a Speakers Bureau, in which we charged organizations a fee to have a talk delivered by a member of our research or curatorial team.  We no longer do that. We have so many exciting projects ahead that we need our creative team to keep its focus on programs and exhibitions.

On the other hand, we are happy to talk to groups about our exhibits! If you have a sizable group (25 or more people), consider inviting our director, Marvin Pinkert to come speak.  Schedule permitting, Marvin is happy to talk about the latest topics in our featured exhibit at JMM. For example, in honor of our quickly approaching new exhibit, Project Mah Jongg, Marvin has developed a fascinating talk on the history of Jews and games—as both players and creators—that stretches back to the days of the Bible! Unlike our Speakers Bureau, these talks are free of charge.

If such a talk sounds like a good fit for your event, you can talk to me ( about scheduling him to come talk to your group.

Best Wishes,




Dear Abby,

My parents are finally downsizing from the home they’ve lived in for 40-odd years to a condo, and my siblings and I have been helping them sort through what we think they should keep and what they should give away or throw out. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff there is in their attic! The condo is pretty small, so they can’t keep much, but a lot of it is in pretty good condition, so we feel bad throwing it away. Could I bring down all this stuff to donate it to the museum?


Child of Hoarders


Dear “Child of Hoarders,”

It depends on what kind of “stuff” you’re talking about. If it’s a sewing machine, then probably not —we’ve got six already! It also depends on where this attic is located. Is this attic in Maryland, or does it belong to someone who lives or lived for a significant period of time in Maryland? We only collect objects that pertain to Jewish life in Maryland, so if your parents lived all their lives in Virginia, then I’m afraid we won’t be interested in their belongings. However, if these objects are directly related to people who live or lived in Maryland, then we might possibly be interested in adding them to our collections.

But please don’t just drop it on our doorstep!

First, you should call our Collections Manager, Jobi Zink, and ask her if she thinks we’ll want it for our collection, and she will tell you what to do next. If she thinks that we might be interested in your parents’ things, then she will present the objects to our Collections Committee, which decides which new objects the museum will accession.

Best Wishes,



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


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JMM Insights: February 2014

Posted on February 21st, 2014 by

When life leaves you in a pickle…  make a battery???

Pickle_logo4Last fall, Marvin asked the staff to think about different scenarios for the Feldman Gallery once Project Mah Jongg leaves the JMM at the end of June 2014.  The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen would not be finished until September and it did not seem like a good idea to leave an empty gallery for nearly three months.   We’ve been enjoying a steady increase in the Museum’s attendance and we did not want to lose momentum.  What could the JMM do in that space that would be fun, inexpensive and engage visitors during the summer months? During our brainstorming session, we discussed the increasing emphasis on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and we came up with the idea of hosting a Technology Fair.  Our staff liked the idea that innovation and creativity would once again be highlighted in historic Jonestown, where many immigrants got their start as innovators on Lombard Street and the surrounding neighborhood.

I have to be honest.  Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the idea. I am not a “science person” and I remember struggling through my physical and natural science classes at university.  I am not a MAVEN about anything technological and Marvin asked me to spearhead this project!   I am pleased to say that what has happened over the past few months has been magical, informative and lots of fun.  We have been meeting people from throughout our community who are passionate about technology and science, and are excited about involving many people in project planning.

What has evolved from our initial brainstorming sessions has become a unique visitor experience. The Electrified Pickle is designed to appeal to budding scientists, DIY-ers and anyone curious to learn about how things work and Jewish innovations in the fields of arts and science.  With the help from our partner, The National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD, our Feldman Gallery will be transformed into a participatory lab-style environment. Visitors can discover the mystery behind scientific principles such as magnetism, electricity, solar power, and other fun and engaging interactive activities. The gallery will serve as a community gathering space where people can come to experiment, create, and learn from one another.

For five Sundays (beginning July 13), we will invite community members to come to the Museum and share their expertise and passion for specific fields such as engineering, crafts, robotics, electronics, and architecture with our visitors. Each Sunday will have a specific theme. Our kick-off  on Sunday, July 13th is Power This! with a wide range of activities and demonstrations related to batteries and electricity. Other Sunday themes are: Fly This!, Imagine This! Decode This! and Print This!  We will offer exciting hands-on demonstrations and workshops for people to try their hand at activities like robot building, 3D print imagery, barcoding with POS (point of sale) software and, of course, electrifying pickles (visitors can test which kinds of pickles – sour,  dill, sweet work best!)

The Feldman Gallery will  also include objects from our own  JMM collections, examples of technologies from the past that were vital to Jewish trades and home life but are no longer in use such as old sewing machines, kitchen implements, typewriters, and phonographs.  These items will be displayed in a way that visitors can make comparisons with newer technologies and gain insight into the process involved in scientific innovation.  The gallery experience will also include a community art project, in collaboration with a local artist that will evolve throughout the summer with the help of visitor engagement.

Be on the look- out for the cutest, little green gherkin complete with electrical adaptors letting you know that The Electrified Pickle is coming soon!

ileneThis month’s JMM Insights was written by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.


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