A Trip to the Naval Academy with the JMM

Posted on August 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

This year’s Salon Series – a three part summer partnership between the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Myerberg Senior Center – ended with a bus trip to the Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  We were shown around by our docent, David Hoffberger, and the current Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Joshua Sherwin.

Exterior of the Uriah P. Levy Chapel

The Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy is called the Uriah P. Levy Chapel, named for America’s first Jewish Commodore.  Uriah P. Levy was born in Philadelphia in 1792 to a family with German and Portuguese origins.  At the age of ten he left home and went to sea, returning at age 12 to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.  He was later an apprentice to a sailor.  When the war of 1812 broke out, Levy volunteered, and due to his years of experience at sea, Levy was able to rise immediately to the position of commodore (note: the US Navy no longer has the position of commodore.  The equivalent today is an admiral).  Levy eventually attained the rank of captain.  He was known for his stance opposing corporal punishment and was outspoken about banning flogging from naval punishment.  After refusing to punish a young sailor using flogging, Levy was court-martialed and dismissed from service.  The decision was later overturned by President Tyler.  Levy was proud of his Jewish heritage and addressed issues of anti-Jewish sentiment that he saw taking place in the Navy at the time.

Volunteer Docent, David Hoffberger, speaks to our group in the Jewish Chapel

Levy had a lifelong respect for Thomas Jefferson, who he considered sympathetic to issues of religious tolerance.  Levy purchased Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, and he and his family maintained the site until the 1920s (though Levy himself died in 1762).  Levy also commissioned a statue of Jefferson which stands in the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol.

Midshipmen!

Although the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Chapel was built in 2005, Jewish students have attended the academy since its early days.  Until 1972 it was mandated that students attend a weekly worship service on Sundays.  Jewish students and other students whose religious affiliations did not align with the chapels available on campus, were still required to attend.  In 1937 Jewish students persuaded the academy to allow them to attend a Jewish service at Kneseth Israel Synagogue, the only congregation in Annapolis, if that congregation would agree to have a special service on Sundays.  The Naval Academy permitted them to begin attending these special services in 1938, and as one of our bus trip attendees and JMM volunteers, Bobbie Horwitz, recalled from her childhood in Annapolis, attending the special service on Sundays and preparing food for the Naval Academy students was a big deal for the small community.

In keeping with the traditions of the Naval Academy, the group of students called themselves the “Jewish Church Party,” although they were eventually renamed the Jewish Midshipmen’s Club.   Kneseth Israel eventually moved out of the Annapolis city center, making it too far for the students to walk on Sundays, and even though compulsory attendance of religious services came to an end, Jewish students continued to look for a way to have services and social events.  Over the next few decades the Jewish Midshipmen’s Club (JMC) made us of storage spaces and the All Faiths Chapel.

In 1994 the Friends of the Jewish Chapel was founded to give support to the JMC , and in 1999 they began to plan and raise funds for the Uriah P. Levy Chapel.  It was dedicated in September 2005 and has provided a space for services, programs, and small exhibits related.

The Chapel looks like a boat!

During our visit over fifty attendees from the JMM and the Myerberg Center visited the chapel, which is built to look like the inside of a ship.  The aisle leading up to the bima is an optical illusion to look as though one is ascending.

Rabbi Sherwin discusses his work as Naval Academy Chaplain

As a special treat at the end of our visit, Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Joshua Sherwin spoke to our group about his work at the Naval Academy.  Chaplains serve at a post for three years, and he recently became the 10th Jewish Chaplain to serve at the Naval Academy.  Only eight rabbis are active in the Naval Academy, Marines and Coast Guard.  Jewish and other minority groups are what is known as LDHD – Low Density, High Demand, which means that at any base in the world there is likely to be a at least one Jewish person on active duty.  So, the chaplains take turns visiting different parts of the world at holidays.  Rabbi Sherwin has been to Afghanistan several times for this reason.  In his work at the Naval Academy he, like all chaplains, serves all students, not just Jewish students.  The Jewish Chapel also serves all students, not just Jewish students.  The balcony of the chapel is always open so that students can come spend some quiet time there whenever they want.

Look for more bus trips with the JMM coming soon!

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Tennis Everyone!

Posted on June 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

Tennis, Everyone! was a joint program with the Myerberg Senior Center.  The program was based on a documentary and exhibit about African Americans who fought to integrate Druid Hill Park’s clay tennis courts in the 1950s and 60s.  The program was sponsored by Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks – Senior Citizens Division.

In addition to watching part of a short documentary, which interviewed African Americans who recalled playing tennis during the integration of the courts, Harriet Lynn moderated a discussion with three guest speakers.

Jean Powell never really played tennis, yet she was known as the mother of tennis in Baltimore.  She worked for the city for many years, helping to create mobile tennis programs that made use of the many public courts in parks and at schools around the city.  City children could learn the sport and take part in summer and afterschool programs.  It took a bit of pushing to convince the city to invest in tennis.  It is easier, she noted, to put a basketball court in a park or school playground, but, she was convinced that a tennis court could reach as many children with perhaps a more powerful impact.  Powell recalled collecting barely used tennis balls from country clubs around the area and getting generous donations of racquets from Goucher College.  Two of the children impacted by Powell’s tennis program went on to become local pros at clubs in the area.

Sharon Pusin and Chuck Abelson are Jewish Baltimoreans who grew up near Druid Hill Park playing tennis on the courts.  Sharon shared newspaper clippings, pictures and trophies from her competitions.  She remembered having African American doubles partners who were not allowed to compete at some tournaments with her and that she, as a Jewish player, was also discriminated against at some tournaments.

Chuck Abelson never planned to become a tennis player.  He was a child growing up near the park for whom summers meant relaxing and playing with friends around the lake and at the zoo.  One day while goofing around on the tennis courts, he met Maurice (Maury) Schwartz, a local tennis pro and teacher to many.  Maury offered young Chuck the chance to study tennis from him if he was willing to be dedicated and spend his hours practicing.

Tennis, all of the speakers at the event noted, is a sport that requires focus and teaches skills that are applicable in other aspects of one’s life.  Yet for many African Americans in Baltimore and around the country, it was difficult to even have the chance to compete.  The American Tennis Association, founded in 1916 in Washington, DC, is the oldest African American sports association in the country.  It was founded at a time when the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) excluded blacks.  The first ATA National Championship was held in 1917 at Druid Hill Park, which maintained white-only and black-only courts.  The USLTA (later renamed the USTA) was desegregated in the 1950s.  As for the exact date that the courts at Druid Hill Park were desegregated, none of the speakers seemed to have a specific date.  The famous clay courts were torn down sometime in the 1970s.  Today the ATA continues to promote tennis within the African American community.

This event was the first of a three part Salon Series.  Join us for a Hendler’s Centennial Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, July 11 from 1:30 – 3pm at the JMM and don’t forget to sign up for the bus trip to the Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy in Annapolis on Tuesday, August 7th.  Spaces are filling fast.

For more information about these programs and others contact Program Manager, Rachel Cylus

rcylus@jewishmuseummd.org or cal 410-732-6400 ext. 215

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