Museum Insights, July 19, 2013

Posted on July 19th, 2013 by

Those of you who follow our blog posts may have noticed the accent this summer on Civil War stories (June 28, July 2, July 3).  This reflects not only the 150th anniversary commemorations but our own work in preparing for next fall’s exhibit.  I have asked curator, Karen Falk, to tell you a bit about her take on what makes this exhibit important.

Insights from the Civil War

It may come as a surprise to some, but all American Jews can find a connection to the Civil War, whether or not they have ancestors then in the country and in the conflict.

At least, that’s our observation, based on our work with the upcoming exhibition, Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, which will open at the JMM on October 13. (Thank you to the organizers of the exhibition, the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum.) Here are some ways that I’ve connected with the story.

The Jewish debate over slavery. Daughter of the sixties that I am, I was brought up to believe that social justice was a central tenet of Judaism. I’ve learned, however, that such thinking was not as common among the Jewish immigrants of the mid-19th century as it became for later generations. Jews were divided on the question of slavery: they tended to gravitate towards the opinions of their neighbors, North and South. As new immigrants (of 150,000 Jews in America on the eve of the Civil War, 100,000 had been in this country for a decade or less) struggling to make a living and unsure of their place in American society, most Jews preferred neutrality.

Lloyd Street Synagogue, home of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1864. Photo by D.R. Stiltz & Co. photographers. Used with permission from Ross Kelbaugh. JMM 1997.71.1

Lloyd Street Synagogue, home of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1864. Photo by D.R. Stiltz & Co. photographers. Used with permission from Ross Kelbaugh. JMM 1997.71.1

There were those, however, who expressed strong opinions, among them, the rabbis of Baltimore. Rabbi Bernard Illoway, who served Baltimore Hebrew Congregation from 1859 to 1861, defended slavery from the pulpit saying, “Why did [Moses] not, when he made a law that no Israelite can become a slave, also prohibit the buying and selling of slaves from and to other nations? Was there ever a greater philanthropist than Abraham, and why did he not set free the slaves which the king of Egypt made him a present of?”

Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai Congregation (1855-1861) was incensed by this biblical justification of slavery by Rabbi Illoway and other rabbis.  A staunch defender of human rights, he also used the Torah to support his position: “The ten commandments, the first of which is: “I am the Lord, thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt,—out of the house of bondage” can by no means want to place slavery of any human-being under divine sanction….”

Rabbi David Einhorn, c. 1860, artist unknown. JMM, L1987.018.001.

Rabbi David Einhorn, c. 1860, artist unknown. JMM, L1987.018.001.

Rabbi Einhorn’s views enraged the secessionist-leaning population of Baltimore and he fled the city, taking a pulpit in Philadelphia. Rabbi Illoway also left Baltimore soon after his speech, for a pulpit in New Orleans.

The attempt to expel the Jews.  The Civil War era was not without anti-Semitism. There were commonly-repeated canards about the Jews: they didn’t fight in the military; they were profiteers; they were cunning cheats. At its worst during the war years, these doubts about the Jews translated into General Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous Orders No. 11, whereby “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [including Kentucky and parts of Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.”

Grant issued his order on December 17, 1862. Fighting in his area delayed dissemination of the order throughout the whole of the territory he governed, but enforcement began immediately in Paducah, Kentucky. (Kentucky was a border state: slave-holding but part of the Union.) Jews throughout the country raised an outcry. One man ousted from his home, Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington, DC, seeking an audience with President Lincoln. He was seen and supported by the president, who directed Grant to revoke his order.

Telegram announcing the revocation of Grant’s General Orders No. 11, January 6, 1863. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Telegram announcing the revocation of Grant’s General Orders No. 11, January 6, 1863. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.

All of this happened quickly; the order was officially rescinded by Grant on January 17, 1863. American Jews had learned something very important about their home. As historian Eli Evans observes, “the Northern Jewish community had stood beside the Jews in the South, demonstrating a sense of community that transcended sectional bitterness.  Jews [in the Union] had publicly petitioned their government to revoke an order by its most popular general in the midst of a war, and the head of the nation had agreed.” Jews had come together to protest an injustice, had been heard, and been protected.

It’s personal. Civil War stories often illuminate difficult personal decisions. One such story is told by one of the most remarkable documents in the exhibition, a draft of a will for Benjamin Owens Cohen. Cohen, his Jewish father, Barnet Cohen, and non-Jewish mother Catharine Owens, a “free woman of color,” lived in South Carolina. As a free person of mixed race, Benjamin Cohen would have had limited potential marriage partners, so he purchased his wife and owned their children. By 1841, when he was thinking about a pathway to freedom for his family, South Carolina was passing laws that made it nearly impossible to simply emancipate one’s slaves. His will thus bequeaths his wife and children to his white half-brother. On advice from his lawyer, Cohen stated in his will that while “it may be thought that this devise is intended to avoid and defeat the laws of this commonwealth, which affords me protection….I therefore declare…that I intend no such unlawful act. I know that by the law, [my family] are slaves and must remain so….”

Draft of a will for Benjamin Owens Cohen, 1851. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Draft of a will for Benjamin Owens Cohen, 1851. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.

This draft of Cohen’s will is part of an AJHS collection documenting Cohen’s situation. Scholars have been unable to find a legally-filed will for Benjamin O. Cohen, and we do not know how the family resolved the problem. Historian Bertram Korn suggests that “perhaps Benjamin Owens Cohen outlived the institution of slavery and was able to spend his last days with a family freed from involuntary servitude.” I hope so, too.

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The Bone Test!

Posted on June 19th, 2013 by

Erin PruhsA blog post by collections intern Erin Pruh. Erin is working with the Lloyd Street Synagogue archaeological collections this summer with Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink.

LSS_Erin 006

This is a weird artifact that appeared while taking pictures of the Lloyd Street Synagogue archaeological excavation materials. most of the objects have been parts of bricks, glass or rusted nails, but this appears to be a bead.

LSS_Erin 007

The bead looked like it was made of bone, but I wanted to be sure, so I tested it.

LSS_Erin 001

One way to test, which there is a pretend picture of, is putting the end of the bone to your tongue – if it sticks, it’s bone. (No objects were actually licked in the making of this photoset.)

Another way, which is the way that was done, is putting it in water.  If it floats, it's wood - if it sinks, it's bone.

Another way, which is the way that was done, is putting it in water. If it floats, it’s wood – if it sinks, it’s bone.

It is, in fact, bone!

It is, in fact, bone!

ETA:  In response to some comments over on our facebook page: “I did more research when i got home – I had very little time to actually look into it before it was posted. had a friend of mine who is a bioanth look at pics and she says it’s not bone. It’s really hard to tell. It doesn’t look like any kind of ceramic that i have seen. i specialize in late prehistoric ceramics (grit and shell tempers). I was debating about it being clay – but considered it. The records don’t give any information and previous interns considered it possibly bone. Another option, which I am really skeptical about, is it being made from horn. I appreciate the input and will definitely look more into it. A pipe stem would fit the context. There are some records where past interns noted objects that would be from prehistoric context, such as a stone tool, which is missing…but there are no records that indicate that there was any prehistoric activity in this area. thanks for letting me know what it is!” -Erin

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A Day in the Life of a JMM Docent

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by

By JMM Volunteer Harvey Karch

One of the best parts of being a docent at a museum, especially, I think, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, is that one never knows what is going to happen on a tour.  The unexpected is almost to be expected every tour.   It certainly was the case on Tuesday, January 15, during the one o’clock tour.

Harvey leads a tour outside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

No one was in the Museum for the eleven o’clock tour, and that was not a surprise given the cold and damp weather.  As one o’clock came and went, I wasn’t shocked that there was no one for the tour either.  However, at about 1:10 a woman entered the museum asking whether she was too later for the one o’clock tour.  Since no one else was there, I gladly stepped up to the counter and told her that I would be happy to show her the sights of the Museum.

Describing the matzoh oven in Lloyd Street Synagogue.

As is my habit, after introducing myself, I asked the where she was from and what had brought her to the Museum today.  She told me that her name is Deb, Deb Miller, and she has lived in Boston since arriving to attend graduate school there some forty years ago.  However, she added that she had grown up in New York City, but that her roots run deep in Baltimore.  Her grandparents had lived in Baltimore, and her mother had grown up here before going to live in New York after her marriage.  She also explained that her family members were among the founders of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.  As we walked toward Lloyd Street Synagogue, she went on to say that her grandfather had attended Shomrei Mishemeres, and I told her that mine had also.  I explained that one of my family’s stories is that my grandfather had come from Volnya and had come to Baltimore because there was a group from his home area living in the city.  Ms. Miller suggested that perhaps our grandfathers had known each other, and perhaps had even prayed together.  We both chuckled and went on with the tour.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1962, shortly after the Jewish Historical Society acquired it from the Shomrei Mishmeres Congregation. IA 1.0005

Once inside of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it was obvious from the look on her face that being in this synagogue was a particularly emotional experience for Ms. Miller.  She asked me a lot of questions about Shomrei Mishemeres and the building itself as she looked around, taking in everything about the place.  It was at the point where I started telling her about why there are no regularly held services anymore in the building that it suddenly occurred to me that this was no ordinary visitor, and I asked her if she was related to Tobias Miller, one of the last members of Shomrei Mishmeres and part of the group who sold the building to the Jewish Historical Society.   She told me that he was her grandfather, and I had the pleasure of telling her that the man I had always heard referred to as “Tuffsy” Miller was the reason that my grandfather had come to Baltimore from Volnya, since Miller was one of my grandfather’s best friends from the old country.  We both realized at that point that not only had our grandfathers prayed together, but had been very good friends as well as “landsmen”.  Ms. Miller later asked what my grandfather’s name was, and thought that it sounded familiar.  We both wondered what our grandfathers would have thought of two of their grandchildren meeting so many years after their deaths (1961 and 1970) at the Lloyd Street Synagogue?

We even have a picture of Tobias Miller signing the deed of the LSS over to the Jewish Historical Society. IA 1.0944

Ms. Miller and I parted ways, but this is one tour that I will remember for a long, long time.

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