JMM Insights: December Bride (and Groom) Edition

Posted on December 16th, 2016 by

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Opening June 18, 2017

In last June’s JMM Insights I let you know that we were working on a project to draw objects, photos and documents from our rich collection to create the exhibit Just Married! Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland (link: to the JMM insights article).  Six months later we are well on our way to our goal.  Joanna has combed our vaults for the most interesting invitations, ketubim, party favors and of course, beautiful wedding gowns.  We have engaged an innovative design team led by Jeremy Hoffman of Ashton Design, a Baltimore firm.  We are working on organizing all of the material into themes, looking at provocative questions about the meaning of the wedding and its symbols, the obstacles couples face and the way we remember wedding days.  We even have a section on the business of weddings.  Our education team is developing interactive experiences that we will incorporate into the exhibit – can you match the menu item or wedding tune with the right decade?

Rose Shapira of Pittsburgh married Sol Meyer Freedman of Baltimore on November 8, 1921.  Gift of Shirley Freedman, JMM 1989.211.9, 6.26

Rose Shapira of Pittsburgh married Sol Meyer Freedman of Baltimore on November 8, 1921. Gift of Shirley Freedman, JMM 1989.211.9, 6.26

Our collection is particularly strong in items from Baltimore from the late 19th century to the 1950s.  Our goal, however is to represent the broadest cross-section of the Jewish wedding experience in Maryland – small towns as well as the big city, early history as well as recent history, and inclusive of all kinds of marriages, from every denomination (and non-denomination).  This is where you, dear reader, are called on to help.  We’ve now made it easy for you to share images with us through our special new url:

Marrying Maryland

(link: http://jewishmuseummd.org/exhibits/marrying-maryland)

Here you can upload wedding photos and invitations (you can’t upload your gown, but a photo is much easier to store).  While not every photo may be displayed in the exhibit, all of them will become part of our on-line catalog…and who doesn’t want the chance to say that their wedding or their parents’ or grandparents’ wedding is preserved in a museum.

Deborah Kaplan, daughter of Dr. Louis Kaplan, married Efrem M. Potts on November 24, 1949 at Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore. Gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192..11, 239

Deborah Kaplan, daughter of Dr. Louis Kaplan, married Efrem M. Potts on November 24, 1949 at Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore. Gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192..11, 239

Besides preserving your own family history, you will be helping us build a documentary database of the wedding experiences of Jewish Maryland over time and this database will be of value to future generations.  Our highest priority is to get a photo, an invite and basic factual information on as many weddings as you can.  It doesn’t have to be your own wedding – but make sure that you have permission to send us the image; we don’t want to hear from Aunt Sadie that she never intended that bridesmaid’s dress to go public.

Florence Hendler married Howard Caplan on January 21, 1932, at the Southern Hotel, Baltimore. Invitation: gift of Naomi Biron Cohen, JMM 2009.58.9; photo: Anonymous gift, JMM 1998.47.4.59

Florence Hendler married Howard Caplan on January 21, 1932, at the Southern Hotel, Baltimore. Invitation: gift of Naomi Biron Cohen, JMM 2009.58.9; photo: Anonymous gift, JMM 1998.47.4.59

There are no restrictions on the date or type of ceremony… we welcome the quiet elopement as well as the grand ball; the couple could have had fifty years of wedded bliss or ended in a quick divorce (though my “Aunt Sadie” advice applies here too).  The only constraint is that there is some Maryland connection and some Jewish connection.  This photo for example is ineligible because the bride is from Pittsburgh and the groom from Chicago:

...but I like it anyway.

…but I like it anyway.

So help us demonstrate the incredible diversity of loving relationships in our community and in our state.  Add your image to the collection this December and we’ll thank you for it on Valentine’s Day!

~Marvin Pinkert

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L’shana Tova

Posted on September 29th, 2016 by

At our Board meeting last week, we had our quarterly approval of new accessions to the JMM collection.  Just about every item we collect has a fascinating story behind it – but there was one set of items neatly tucked in a folder that really grabbed my attention.  It was a collection of “chromolithographs” donated by Myrna Siegel.  Joanna explained that these decorative die cut prints were fairly common in the late 19th and early 20th century… but it was the first set she had seen that was exclusively Jewish themed.  The collection included die cut “scraps” – typically used for early scrap books and home decorations and three rather elaborate Rosh Hashanah cards.

A beautiful Rosh Hashanah card.

A beautiful chromolithograph Rosh Hashanah card.

This got me thinking how traditional are Rosh Hashanah cards.  Regular readers of this blog post may remember my shock at learning that Dreidels are derived from a 16th century German Christmas toy.  Well it turns out that greeting cards/letters for Rosh Hashanah are also of German Jewish origin but have much deeper roots.  According to the Jewish Encyclopedia card giving for the High Holidays is documented in the Book of Customs of Rabbi Jacob in the 14th century.  That’s at least 500 years before the first secular New Year’s card is mailed. Though, truth be told, New Year’s rituals were explicitly discouraged by Christian churches until the late 1500s… so the secular New Year’s holiday itself is a relatively modern celebration.

The new cards are additions to some fascinating Rosh Hashanah greetings we already hold in our collection.

Some have classic themes:

1983.19.16d

1983.19.16d

But others stand out for their novelty, take for example this Jazz Age New Year’s greeting:

1991.141.2

1991.141.2

Among the most extraordinary items is this elaborate holiday greeting from 1917:

1991.9.5

1991.9.5

It is filled with symbols of the immigrant experience and filled with blessings in Hebrew and Yiddish, among these are:  May you live to be 120 years old”, ”May you be blessed on your coming, and on your going out”, ”May we have a life of life and peace and joy and happiness and pleasantness”, ”May you have peace, substantial earned income, good business success, enjoyment, happiness, salvation, pleasantness and everything good.”, ”Happy New Year, may your be inscribed in the book of life”, ”May you be delivered from all your enemies and plagues on your path… and may blessing issue from all your doings.”

99 Rosh Hashanah’s later – I wish you and your family all of the above.

~Marvin

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

 

 

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Jewish Olympians

Posted on August 8th, 2016 by

This weekend I read an article in the Washington Post entitled “Sorry, Rio, but London and Beijing have ruined Opening Ceremonies for everyone” making an invidious comparison between past Olympic spectacles and the relatively more modest evening in Rio de Janeiro.  It got me thinking about how this event went from an international amateur competition to a major made-for-tv extravaganza.

One turning point was David Wolper’s production of the 1984 LA Games complete with John Williams’ theme music and a visit from a flying saucer.  An earlier, and much darker turning point, were Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Games and the beginnings of the games as an expression of national “virtues.”  If you go back further, the games were a much more modest affair.

I turned to Paul Yogi Mayer’s book, Jews and the Olympic Games, for some insight into Jewish participation in the early modern Olympics.  Put the words “Jewish” and “Olympics” in the same sentence and the likely rejoinder is champion swimmer Mark Spitz.  Some may have memories of the tragic loss of Israeli team members at Munich and movie goers may still recall Harold Abrahams, the British runner whose story became Chariots of Fire.  But in fact, according to Mayer there have been Jewish medalists in every Olympics since the revival of the modern games in Athens in 1896 and in every summer Olympics at least one Jewish gold medal winner.  Historically, swimming is only the second highest sport for Jewish medalists.  What’s number one?  Fencing, go figure.  He calculates 47 medals in total in fencing – from Austrian bronze-medalist Siegfried Flesch in 1900 to Russian gold-medalist Sergei Sharikov in 2000 (the late Mr. Sharikov won one more bronze medal in 2004 after Mayer’s book was written – American fencer, Sada Jacobson has won three medals since 2004 – moving the current Jewish fencing total to 51 – that’s a lot of swordplay).

American Sada Jacobson won three of the 51 fencing medals going to Jewish athletes from across the globe.

American Sada Jacobson won three of the 51 fencing medals going to Jewish athletes from across the globe.

But of the earliest Jewish Olympians, three stories stood out to me.  The first was Alfred Flatow, a German athlete who captured the first ever gold medal parallel bars and along with his cousin Gustav-Felix Flatow won two of the first team medals for gymnastics in Athens in 1896. In 1903, Alfred helped found of the Judische Turnerschaft, a Jewish fraternity that promoted Jewish participation in sports. He was prominently active in German gymnastics until he “voluntarily” gave up his gymnastics club membership in 1933.  In 1938 the Flatow’s escaped to the Netherlands. Following Nazi occupation of Holland, the Flatows (over the protest of German gymnastics officials) were sent to Theresienstadt.  There Alfred died in 1942; his cousin Felix in 1945.

Myer Prinstein

Myer Prinstein

The first Jewish American to win a gold medal was Myer Prinstein in Paris in 1900.  Myer’s specialties were the triple jump and the long jump.  The Polish born Prinstein was five years old when he came to America.  He was captain of the Syracuse University track team.  In deference to his Methodist school he honored his commitment not to compete in the Olympic final on a Sunday.  His Christian teammate Alvin Kraenzlein did not feel so constrained.  So Kraenzlein took the gold in the long jump and Prinstein had to settle for  a silver (based on his performance in the preliminaries).  Four years later in St. Louis he played for the Irish American Athletic Club (which apparently had no sabbath constraint), took the gold in both the triple jump and the long jump, setting a new Olympic record of 7.34 meters (by comparison, the 2012 long jump winner went 8.31 meters – still Prinstein’s jump would be among the top 35 qualifiers even a century after he made it)

Sam Berger

Sam Berger

The last of the early athletes that attracted my attention was Sam Berger – Olympic gold medalist in Heavyweight Boxing in 1904.  Berger was born in Chicago but raised in San Francisco.  Berger was 6’2″ and 200 lb.  and had won most of his bouts as an amateur in California.  It is not surprising that America won the first boxing gold medal – America was the only country that entered the competition!  Berger was not able to turn his Olympic success into a comparable professional career.  A disastrous fight in 1906 ended his quest for a pro championship.  He would later serve as sparring partner for Jim Jeffries as he prepared for his challenge to Jack Johnson. He evidently did much better as a businessman than as a boxer, parlaying his interest in his brothers’ clothing store into $1 million by the time he died in 1925.

So when you are watching this year’s competitors in Rio, like gymnast Aly Raisman and fencer Eli Dershwitz, know that they are a part of a very long tradition.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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