Forgotten Anniversaries

Posted on December 28th, 2015 by

OK, lucky for me this topic is not about MY anniversary, but rather the anniversaries of historic events that link to the Jewish community.  As we approach the end of 2015, I made myself a list of anniversaries that we had not covered in a blog post or newsletter.

For example, May 7 was the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania.  I found a site that claimed that 30 Jewish passengers on the ship lost their lives in this attack – one of those who died in the sinking was an entertainer by the name of Dave Samuels (born in Romania as David Samoilescu).  Samuels worked in Yiddish theater and was successful not only in the US but in England and Australia as well!  He was on his way to a booking in London when he had the misfortune to sail on the Lusitania.

Dave Samuels

Dave Samuels

We also missed the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18.  The big picture story for the Jewish community is that the defeat of Napoleon ushered in a reactionary rollback of Jewish liberties throughout Central Europe that had been secured during the period of his reign.  On a smaller scale, I also found this story with the misspelled headline in the British Jewish News: http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/the-mild-agressor-the-unsung-jewish-hero-of-waterloo/.

It appears that a Jewish surgeon named Georg Gerson was awarded the Waterloo Medal for his service to the “King’s German Legion”, a British unit made up largely of expatriate Germans His graveside was in the Jewish cemetery the Grindelfriedhof. In the time of the Third Reich the cemetery was dissolved and the dead were reburied with their gravestones in the Jewish Cemetery Ohlsdorf. There his memorial can still be seen today. The inscription on one side reads:  Mitissimus Aggressor — Acerrimus Defensor (a mild aggressor — a sharp defender).

Georg Gerson

Georg Gerson

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But the really important date we missed was on September 26th – the 170th anniversary of the consecration of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1845.  Well we actually didn’t miss it completely.  Those who read our newsletters are aware that this fall we launched the “Sounds of Synagogue” specialty tour of the LSS.  In researching the script for this tour, Ilene found articles describing the sights and sounds of the synagogue on that opening day.  Through these sources I gained a new appreciation for the historic marvel that we serve as custodians.

Friday, September 26th, 1845 was the beginning of Shabbat Nitzavim, the parsha that precedes the Days of Awe.  Just before 4pm, as evening settled on Baltimore, an extraordinary gathering took place (as described by Isaac Leeser): “we found ourselves surrounded by many believing Israelites, to whom were joined many Christians, among whom were ministers of many denominations, come to testify by their presence their friendship and good-will to the remnant of Jacob’s sons…” He later adds “we record it to their credit that mixed as was the assembly of Jews and Christians, natives and foreigners, a general spirit of decorum marked them all…”

In addition to their Christian neighbors the congregation’s rabbi, Abraham Rice, and cantor, A. Ansell, were joined by two visiting rabbis who came to make remarks: Rabbi Samuel M. Isaacs of B’nai Jeshurun in New York and Rabbi Isaac Leeser of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.  Rabbi Isaacs had a reputation as the first American rabbi to offer his sermons in English, and Rabbi Leeser had just earned the distinction of being the first rabbi to offer sermons every week, fundamentally altering the role of rabbi.

Isaac Leeser

Isaac Leeser

That evening the first to enter the synagogue was not one of the distinguished rabbis, but rather the cantor carrying a new copy of the Torah to be placed in the ark. The procession followed.  The first sound in the synagogue was the shechiyanu prayer pronounced on the steps of the ark.  This was quickly followed by the shema – “and he was answered by the united voices of the congregation, in which were heard mingling voices of early youth and mature manhood, falling with overpowering harmony on the ear, testifying that all there, who came to worship, felt that they were indeed members of the ancient people of G-d, adherents to the holy covenant.”  And thus begins more than a century of sounds of worship for the Lloyd Street Synagogue and the first permanent home for Maryland’s Jews.

If you would like to hear more “sounds of the synagogue” join us for special tours on Sundays at 3pm.  And if there is a special 2016 anniversary you want me to remember, write to me at mpinkert@jewishmuseummd.org.

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

 

 

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Happy Bar Mitzvah (Anniversary) Marvin!

Posted on October 7th, 2015 by

Fifty years ago this week there were only two topics at Rodfei Zedek Hebrew School in Chicago (where I spent many hours of my childhood).

For half the kids the topic was Sandy Koufax who had just refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur.  In Koufax’s absence, Don Drysdale pitched a losing game and then the next day when Koufax came back to the mound he lost as well.  At 0-2 it did not seem that Koufax had induced a divine blessing on the Dodgers.

For the other half the topic was the new hit single by the Beatles, a song called “Yesterday”.     It reached the top of the charts this week and would stay there for the rest of October.

I didn’t find myself in either half:

  1. Because (aside from Ernie Banks) I had almost no interest in baseball, either watching it or playing it.
  2. Because I was so turned off by the crowds of screaming teens that followed the Beatles, that I decided that I must also dislike the Fab Four – even if there songs now ended with something other than “yeah, yeah, yeah”.
  3. But most importantly because I was rather preoccupied with an event coming up that Saturday – my Bar Mitzvah.
An announcement of the big day!

An announcement for the big day!

Yes, this week marks the 50th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah (October 9, 1965).  In honor of the occasion I pulled out my Bar Mitzvah book to try to aid my somewhat foggy memory of that day.

Not pictured: the lyrics to "Mazeltov, Mazeltov," a clever rewrite of "Matchmaker - Matchmaker."

Not pictured: the lyrics to “Mazeltov, Mazeltov,” a clever rewrite of “Matchmaker – Matchmaker.”

Like many, my memories of preparing for the day are stronger than the day itself. My haftorah reading for Ha’azinu seemed particularly long and difficult, but I suspect that had more to do with the pupil than with the parsha.  I can still smell the decomposing reel-to-reel magnetic tape as it passed up and back through the recorder – month after month delivering a trope that I truly could not sing.  I think that I might have mentioned in a previous blog post that singing was not my strong point to start with – Cantor Goldberg asked me to leave the choir… at about the same time he made my cousin the star.  In this program from our 1965 Hebrew School commencement, you’ll see that I was assigned a speaking part (in English) while cousin Mandy followed in a Hebrew duet.  He was headed for Broadway… I was on the road to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Check out that line-up!

Check out that line-up!

My Bar Mitzvah speech was the first time I ever addressed a public audience and the first and ONLY time I asked my father for speech-writing advice.  Don’t get me wrong, dad was a great manager and engineer, but not much of a public speaker.  My speech included the line “today my cup runneth over” – which when delivered by a 13 year old boy becomes a gag line for the rest of your life.

The Bar Mitzvah “party” was very subdued by today’s standards, just a lunch in the synagogue auditorium.  The party was my mother’s domain, she had the reputation within the family for making clever lyrical adaptations for special occasions.  My luncheon songs were sung to melodies from the new musical Fiddler on the Roof (e.g. Matchmaker, Matchmaker became “Mazel tov, mazel tov, Pinkerts and Drays, Marvin’s Haftorah merits our praise” – trust me, you don’t want to know the rest).

The Bar Mitzvah Book also contains lists of gifts received.  Most of these possessions have long ago been abandoned as we moved from Chicago to DC to Korea to Hawaii to Boston to Chicago to Maryland over the past five decades.  I think the three “dicky”s I received did not even make it to my junior year of high school.  The exceptions to the rule are the Lucien Piccard watch from my grandparents (almost never worn, but a treasured keepsake) and the five historical atlases that have travelled thousands of miles with me.  At age 13 I think I already had a reputation as a historic geek and I especially appreciated the aunts and cousins who recognized my passion.

A list that includes atlases and dickeys, oh my!

A list that includes atlases and dickeys, oh my!

So my Bar Mitzvah week came to a happy conclusion.  I had come out of my shell (just a little bit).  Sandy Koufax went on to win his next two games – leading the Dodgers to victory in the World Series.  The Beatles kept innovating, though it would be a decade before I would finally admit I liked the Beatles.  But in that October, I was actually attracted to a new song on the radio– not a song for screaming teens – but a song that sounded like it belonged to quiet kids like me – it was called the “Sound of Silence”.  Little did I know…

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

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Louisville: Bourbon Barrels, Baseball Bats and Big Ideas

Posted on September 24th, 2015 by

Sandwiched between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I attended the 75th annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History, held this year in Louisville, KY.  It was a great opportunity to tour museum sites, confer with colleagues, discuss industry trends and return with ideas to improve JMM.  Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Serving the Visually Impaired – Ilene attended a workshop at the American Printing House for the Blind. Founded in 1858, APH is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. From 1858 until the Civil War began, APH organized its operation and raised funds to create embossed books. After the war, APH produced its first tactile books. By the early 1870s, APH was operating on a national scale. APH is the official supplier of educational materials to all students in the U.S. who meet the definition of blindness and are working at less than college level.  We saw the actual printing of pages with Braille letters as well as the binding of the books.

 

An APH educator

An APH educator

It was fascinating to hear from museum educators (who happened to be visually impaired as well) about how they experience museums and the importance of making museums accessible to all types of learners using a variety of interactives and engaging materials for all of the  senses.  I loved seeing all of the different tactile materials that are produced at APH in so many subjects (music, math, science, English arts, social studies).  They even showed us the Braille version of the program from President Obama’s Second Inauguration.

A display on music at APH

A display on music at APH

I was pleased to see that that many of the steps that the JMM has taken to serve the visually impaired under the leadership of Robyn Hughes are in line with best practices at APH. As we move forward in creating new exhibits at the JMM, I hope we can implement some of the ideas such as wheel-chair level chair rails, Braille texts and panels to create a richer museum experience.

 

Trilobite touch wall at Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Trilobite touch wall at Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Marvin took a tour of neighboring historic sites and also had a chance to see some interesting work being installed at the Falls of the Ohio State Park (just across the river from Louisville) where a firm had integrated tactile exploration into every part of its core exhibit.

2. We also enjoyed hearing the keynote speaker, Sam Wineburg, author  of  Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.  Wineburg is an educator at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.  He recently developed the Reading Like a Historian Curriculum which has been downloaded  over 2  million times.  The curriculum engages students in historical inquiry, one of the basic pedagogic skills that is a thrust of the Maryland Career and College Ready Standards and Common Core curriculum.  Each lesson revolves around a central historical question and features sets of primary documents designed for groups of students with diverse reading skills and abilities.

Wineburg  used the term “digital natives” to describe the generation that has grown up in the digital age.  The Internet provide us with so many different websites .  One of the questions that he raised,  Who is an Informed Citizen in the Digital Age?  How much of the information on the web should be believed?  Wineburg spoke about  “The Digital Tookbox”  and questions that one must ask to realize if the information and website really come from a reliable source.  He spoke about a case study that took place in Los Angeles, where teachers gave the students three websites and had them write about the reasons for the Holocaust.  All three website had not been vetted, and many students took the information on the website as absolute facts.  They went on to write essays with claims that the Holocaust never took place.

3. The history relevance campaign – a group within AASLH (among the leaders, Baltimore’s own John Durel) is trying to create energy on a national campaign to promote the value of history.  The effort was a response to the marginalization of history as a subject matter, both in schools and in the public conversation about cultural institutions.  The organizers  are stressing a common vocabulary that organizations like ours can use in making the case for greater civic and foundation support:  http://www.historyrelevance.com/#!value-statement/ca2m.  In the coming months I will be urging Historic Jonestown Inc., the Greater Baltimore History Alliance and the JMM Board to add our voices to this national movement.

4. A different way of looking at historic sites.  The archeologist giving the tour at the Farnsley-Moremen House began his talk by saying “no one famous or important ever lived here, it was not the site of a battle or any other monumental event.”  He went on to demonstrate, however, that it was a great site to talk about historical thinking and to engage the public in the process of uncovering history.  It caused me to think deeply about the balance we need to achieve between fixing our gaze on the important historic events that took place in our synagogues and on our block – and the illustrations we can offer through these spaces about “how we know” the lives of average Jewish Marylanders.

At the Falls, Jay was just a stiff, at Farnsley-Moremen House he was our very lively guide.

At the Falls, Jay was just a stiff, at Farnsley-Moremen House he was our very lively guide.

5. “Unfolding Events” – in many ways this was the most thought-provoking session I attended.  It was an open forum discussion about how museums could/should respond to “unexpected events” that have strong impacts on the cultural community – examples included Ferguson and Baltimore, the legislative struggle over gay rights that especially impacted Indiana, and the debate over Confederate flags, statues and emblems that is raging within and without Civil War sites.  One of the most interesting side-bars was the question of the obligation of museums to collect materials on political and social controversies that impact their respective communities.  This is a topic we raised at this week’s JMM Collections Committee.

6. One more honor for Mendes Cohen.  Ilene and I have to admit that one of the highlights was taking home the Leadership in History Award for the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen project.  What a great tribute to the whole team that put together this incredible project.  On the morning of the awards ceremony, Ilene and I staffed a booth explaining the background of the exhibit and living history character.  The most bittersweet moment was that nearly everyone who came by the booth said “when can I come and see it” and we had to explain the unhappy fact that the project had expired.  It certainly was an inspiration to bring back some of this experience within our new core exhibit.

Our poster presentation

Our poster presentation

postersession

Poster Accessories

7. Finally – full confession – we also had fun.  Marvin attended a workshop on “gamification” of museum content.  For someone whose two top passions are board games and museums this was as good as it gets.  On Thursday night we took a stroll down “Whiskey Row” – now home to several museums including the Frazier Museum (with a great homemade exhibit and theater program on Lewis and Clark) and the Louisville Slugger Factory Tour.  Here you see me holding Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat (but that’s only because Hank Greenberg’s wasn’t available).

A true Louisville Slugger

A true Louisville Slugger

But by far my most unusual Louisville experience was attending a small reception at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.  This is the home of a business that proclaims itself Kentucky’s first commercial distiller.  It is indeed still a family owned business – except that family is not the Williams’ it’s the Shapira’s that have owned the parent company, Heaven Hill, for seven generations (for those of you who attended the Schnapps with Pops program in June, this comes as no surprise).  The tour of the faux factory was entertaining and it ends with a bourbon tasting.  I’m afraid the 23 year old bourbon was wasted on my uneducated palette.

Video screens informed you how to properly "taste" the bourbon.

Video screens informed you how to properly “taste” the bourbon.

Next year this conference moves to Detroit.  I’ll let you know if they let us test drive a Corvette.

A blog post from Executive Director Marvin Pinkert and Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Marvin click HERETo read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

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