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.

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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




Troubled History

Posted on February 15th, 2016 by

It’s President’s Day again.  You may recall that last year I wrote a post on James Madison and American Jews.  This year I am going to share a few thoughts about Woodrow Wilson.  It seems like a timely choice:  1) This year marks Wilson’s 160th birthday;  2) In a presidential contest marked by questions of “who is a genuine progressive?” and “who is the ‘outsider’ candidate?”, Wilson is arguably a poster child for both; but perhaps most importantly 3) Wilson has become the focal point of a debate about how we treat the ugly pieces of our history and how we balance honor and ignominy in a pluralistic society.  In fact the Wilson Legacy Review Committee will be holding an open forum this Friday afternoon as part of its historical assessment of our only president to have worked as a professional historian.

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United State

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United State

There seems to be a broad consensus that Wilson was among the most philo-Semitic leaders in American history.  The list of tributes recorded by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on his passing in 1924 gives some flavor of the contemporary Jewish community’s esteem (view here).  Wilson is lauded his nominations of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court and Bernard Baruch to chair the War Industries Board., for his support of the Balfour Declaration and his three vetoes of bills that would have restricted immigration from Eastern Europe.  It is no exaggeration to say that there are some American Jewish families who owe their very existence to Wilson’s actions – considering what was likely to have happened to those unable to immigrate.

So how do we square this courageous Woodrow Wilson with the Woodrow Wilson who appointed overtly racist cronies to key government offices, presiding over the re-segregation of the federal workplace.; the president who dramatically reduced the number of  African American appointees to positions of government authority and who waited to the sixth year of his presidency to finally speak out against the growing wave of lynchings across the South that coincided with his term in office.

Wilson himself asserted that his policies were for “the benefit” of black people.  His argument for the segregation of peoples was clothed in the language of “administrative science” as a method of reducing friction in the workplace.  One suspects that his underlying attitudes are more easily understood as a product of his upbringing in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas and his deep-seated belief that Reconstruction was an evil perpetuated on the South.  Wilson was certainly not the only academic of his age to put a scientific veneer on his cultural prejudices (more about that in the eugenics section of our upcoming exhibit  Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America).  Wilson was however the only academic to also be president of the United States – so his veneer proved much more harmful.

Wilson was not beyond making disparaging remarks about Jews and other immigrants and had no problem encouraging Henry Ford to pursue a career in politics, but he was not burdened with a similar core ideology about the suitability of the Jewish community (at least the assimilated Jewish community) for full participation in American life.  And it seems that some of his Jewish advisors may have actually shared his views on Reconstruction and the “Lost Cause” of Southern independence.  Bernard Baruch, son of a Confederate doctor, endowed the United Daughters of the Confederacy and supported their publications.

Some students at Princeton have made a case that Wilson’s failings generate uncomfortable feelings for those who study in the “Wilson School” or live in a “Wilson Dorm” and have argued for the removal of Wilson’s name  from the campus.  I would encourage readers of this blog post to look at the comments of scholars and biographers on this topic.

I wonder if erasing names is really the best solution to our troubled history.  It leaves us in the awkward position of having only heroes and villains, rather than real human history – as messy as it is.  I do not advocate giving Wilson a “pass”, but simply think it would be more effective to remember the name – but to acknowledge both good and bad associations.

It is a principle I can live with even when the shoe is on the other foot.  Two years ago I visited the Henry Ford Museum – an institution I much admire for the quality of its exhibits, although I admit a fair amount of personal distress walking into an institution named for the most notorious anti-Semite in American history.  At the Museum you can visit the Ford Home and the Ford Factory, but I didn’t see a single panel on “The Dearborn Independent.”

Article The International Jew: The World's Problem in Henry Ford's newspaper The Dearborn Independent, May 22, 1920.

The International Jew: The World’s Problem in Henry Ford’s newspaper The Dearborn Independent, May 22, 1920.

Yet if I could make a change, it would not be to remove Ford’s name from the front door, it would rather be that somewhere in the 12 acre site there might be room to remember the damage inflicted by his baseless accusations rather than simply praise for his contributions to our industrial economy. If we erase the names of all the flawed human beings, all of our institutions will need to become “anonymous”.

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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