It’s Moses in a Landslide

Posted on April 25th, 2016 by

There are those occasions when the secular and Jewish calendars converge in an unusual harmony.  We all remember “Thanksgivukkah” and this year features the equally rare “Hanuyearsikkah”.  But this month my thoughts go to an exceptional April convergence.  Let me start with a question:

Q: When was the first time you could cast a vote for a Jewish candidate in a US presidential primary?

A: 40 years ago, in 1976, and the candidate was Gov. Milton Shapp

Milton Shapp

Milton Shapp

Well, of course, that’s if you lived in Massachusetts, Illinois or Shapp’s home state of Pennsylvania.  By the time the primary calendar turned to Maryland in late May, Shapp had dropped out, after taking less than 5% of the vote in his home state.  Another early favorite in the election season with strong ties to the Jewish community, Scoop Jackson, had also pulled out after the Pennsylvania primary.  In fact, out of the 16 candidates who had entered the Democratic race only a handful remained by the time voting took place here.  The winner, by a wide margin, was Jerry Brown.  But Brown and the ABC (“anyone but Carter”) campaign started too late to stop Carter’s momentum.  We may not have voted for the eventual Democratic nominee and president, but Maryland holds the distinction of being one of three states to vote for the only 1976 candidate who is still in public office forty years later.

So what makes this Maryland primary night different than all other Maryland presidential primary nights?  Well, by my count it is the first time that Passover and presidential primary elections have converged in this state.  From the 1960’s through 1984, Maryland Primary Day was in May, too late for Passover.  From 1988 through 2008 Primary Day moved around between mid-February and early March, too early for Passover… even in 2012 when it was pushed back to late March it was still too early to overlap that year.

But this year the match between the Jewish festival of freedom and the secular exercise of liberty is “just right.”

Now Moses did not need to run in a primary, this didn’t mean he was immune to politics.

One of the earliest references I could find to political selection was in the Parsha Yitro in the Book of Exodus.  In that section, Moses in the wilderness is overwhelmed by the burden of adjudicating every dispute in the community.  He gets advice from his father-in-law Jethro (the first political consultant?) that he should appoint a system of judges to handle lesser cases.  Jethro goes on to tell Moses “But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, G-d fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens.”

I make no claim to Biblical scholarship, but I find it interesting that the subject of the appointment of judges comes one chapter ahead of the delivery of laws on Mt. Sinai.  This sequence – officials first, laws second – suggests to me an awareness that even the most noble and principled law can be perverted by unjust or corrupted men.

Today each of us plays a bit of the role played by Moses in selecting leaders for our community.  The scale may be different, but as we go to the polls to choose a leader for the three hundred millions, I think Jethro’s advice about seeking people of substance, humility, honesty and financial integrity still applies.  Let’s follow the example of Moses and choose wisely.

MarvinA blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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JMM Joins City’s Celebration of American Design and Manufacture

Posted on April 6th, 2016 by

Last year, the organization MADE: In America designated the Carroll Mansion as its “All American House” for 2016.  From April 23 to July 7, 2016 the Carroll Mansion will be transformed into a showcase for some of the most innovative manufacturers and craftsmen in Baltimore and across the nation.  The city expanded the celebration by inviting partner organizations in what it’s calling the “Baltimore’s American Treasures” event.

The Carroll Mansion, 2016's "All-American House"

The Carroll Mansion, 2016’s “All-American House”

Located just a few blocks away from the Carroll Mansion in Baltimore’s oldest neighborhood, Historic Jonestown, is the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM).  To play our part in the celebration we’re hosting special events in recognition of the Lloyd Street Synagogue as a truly All American Synagogue.  Built in 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is the third oldest Jewish house of worship still standing in the United States.  The building was designed by Robert Cary Long, Jr., a prominent church architect of the era.  Nearly every component of the original building and its 1860 renovation were the result of American craft and manufacture from the stenciling to the wooden pews to the stained glass Star of David.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue

The Lloyd Street Synagogue

The museum has spent the winter researching the material history of the building – which switched hands multiple times, serving first as a traditional German synagogue, then as a reformed temple, later it became a Lithuanian Catholic Church and finally a Russian Orthodox shul.  Each iteration brought new design elements into the building, holy arks and altars, mezuzot and an organ.  We’ve sifted through the records to identify some of the most interesting stories of how this site was designed and built to serve the needs of successive waves of immigrants.

The oldest extant photo of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Courtesy of the Ross J. Kelbaugh Collection, JMM 1997.71.1

The oldest extant photo of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Courtesy of the Ross J. Kelbaugh Collection, JMM 1997.71.1

Not every story has been easy to trace.  Where did the synagogues first Torah scroll come from?  What was the origin of the church’s bells and where did they go when the church was sold?  How did church chandeliers end up hanging from the ceiling of an Orthodox synagogue?  Questions like these led to the idea of our “Book, Bell and Candle Mystery Experience” (offered each Sunday from May 1 through July 7 at 3pm).  Our expert history sleuth will transport you into the shoes of a researcher on the trail of holy artifacts.  Made in America? Or lovingly imported?  Only one thing is certain – “it belongs in a museum” – the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Chandalier inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

Chandelier inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

We’ve set three Sundays aside for activities related to design work for the whole family.  On May 1 our focus is on crafts related to the building itself.  It includes a closer look at the stained glass windows and the art behind them.  On May 29, our “Welcome to Jonestown” free family day will feature crafts related to music in the synagogue.  Finally, on June 26, we will offer demonstrations of specialized skills required to manufacture the artifacts of the synagogue – from a sofer  (scribe) illustrating Hebrew calligraphy to a blacksmith making fencework.

Leaded glass window. East wall. Over ark. Lloyd Street Synagogue- Baltimore. restored 1964. IA 1024.

Leaded glass window. East wall. Over ark. Lloyd Street Synagogue- Baltimore. restored 1964. IA 1024.

Come see how the Lloyd Street Synagogue and its congregations fit into the fabric of America’s material culture.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




A Youth with Courage

Posted on March 16th, 2016 by

This morning’s news immediately triggered a memory that stretches back more than 45 years.

The date was June 7, 1970.  The place was a football field converted for the day into a graduation venue for Niles West High School.  My classmates and I sat near the front of the field and our parents and families sat behind us.  The Chicago area is subject to an occasional early summer heat wave – this sunny day was one of those occasions.

A little background – Niles West was one of those huge suburban public schools (my high school graduation was larger than my graduation from Brandeis).  It drew students from surrounding communities with significant Jewish populations, especially Lincolnwood and Skokie.  Many of its students leaned liberal to far left.  I believe we were the first high school in the US to have a chapter of the radical group SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)… but to be clear we also had a chapter of Young Republicans.

Our Niles West Commencement program – chaos broke out shortly after the choral selection.

Our Niles West Commencement program – chaos broke out shortly after the choral selection.

In order to understand this story, you also need to recall that this was a time when America was deeply divided.  Just a month before graduation, we were all shocked by the shootings of students at Kent State.  In the aftermath it wasn’t just the school radicals who were upset.  A group of the honors students went to the principal’s office to demand that the school’s flag be flown at half-mast.  I think that Dr. Mannos was so surprised to see this normally quiet group of kids in his office that he was compelled to go along.  (This was my first political protest).

By the time of graduation Sunday tensions ran high.  There were two student speakers on the program:  Lee Eiden, the cartoonist for the school paper, who was elected to speak by the student body (undoubtedly expecting him to be funny) and Merrick Garland, the class of ’70 valedictorian.  Lee spoke first.  It turned out he had no intent of being humorous.  He denounced American policy in Vietnam and the institutions that supported that war.  Within a few minutes we could hear rumblings from the parents section of the field.  Then the rumblings became full cat calls – people stood up waving their fists and yellow “No Commies” and “Send Him Back to Russia”.  This was not how any of us pictured our graduation.  Then Dr. Mannos decided to pull the plug on the microphone, cutting off Lee.  Now the students were as angry as the parents.

Into this chaos our 18 year old valedictorian stepped onto the stage.  Even at that young age, Merrick carried himself in a way that commanded respect.  He stepped up to the podium and started by visibly pushing aside his prepared remarks.  As he began to speak the crowd grew quiet.  He launched a defense of freedom of expression and of a society that could accept dissent.  People who moments before had been enraged were left speechless by the maturity of this kid.  Dr. Mannos appeared to hang his head in shame that he had failed to show the leadership that this boy had demonstrated.

My main connection to Merrick Garland was through the 1969-70 Prep Bowl Quiz Team, he was the captain when we won the regional championship, I was a bench warmer!

My main connection to Merrick Garland was through the 1969-70 Prep Bowl Quiz Team, he was the captain when we won the regional championship, I was a bench warmer!

After graduation I turned to my parents and said “someday Merrick is going to be President of the United States.”  Well, Merrick Garland made it to the Rose Garden, maybe not as President, but still displaying the unrivaled courage that I witnessed in his youth.

 

MarvinA blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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