A Whirlwind Tour: Seven Exhibits at Four Museums in Six and a Half Hours

Posted on March 22nd, 2018 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Oh, the trials of museum work, when you HAVE to go see an exhibit! When someone on staff needed to head to New York City to check out a few exhibitions, I nobly sacrificed myself – and, in this case, my mom as well – for the cause.  Dutifully, last Thursday we took the train up to NYC to see as many of the exhibits on my list as possible before taking an evening train home.

Every museum field trip day should begin with a Leonard Nimoy inspirational quote. This one is featured in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

First up: “Jews in Space:  Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” at the Center for Jewish History. Melanie Meyers, one of the curators, gave us a one-on-one tour of this exhibit, which may come to the JMM sometime in the future.  It covers a fascinating variety of themes under the banner “space,” looking at Jewish contributions to everything from astronomy and space travel to science fiction and popular culture. Objects and books came from private collectors, such as astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman (who did the first Torah reading in space) and the collections of the CJH’s partner institutions, including the Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO.

An 18th century printing of a 14th century astronomy text by Isaac ben Joseph Israeli, LBI collections, on display in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

Altogether this is a delightful look at a topic about which I knew very little, my dad’s Isaac Asimov collection notwithstanding. I particularly enjoyed the ritual objects loaned by Hoffman, which he adapted for space travel: a velcroed mezuzah for his bunk, a traveling menorah (no candles, of course). The first attempt at a dreidel game in space was captured by NASA, complete with an earth-bound voice on the radio asking Hoffman to explain Chanukah for “all of America.”

“Starlight: Hanging Grid II” by Cooper Joseph Studio in the Rotunda of the Museum of the City of New York.

After a quick lunch, it was off to the Museum of the City of New York, where I wanted to check out “Mod New York” and “New York at its Core” as comparative research when planning our own upcoming fashion and core exhibits. We also took in quick trips through the galleries of “New York Silver” and “Beyond Suffrage,” though to be honest we didn’t really do justice to any of these exhibits; time was passing, and the final museum was calling us.

Our last stop for the day was the Jewish Museum. “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem” was, along with “Jews in Space,” my main reason for the day trip; several of our volunteers had praised it, and as a textile show it was even more relevant, in many ways, to our upcoming “Fashion Statement” exhibition than “Mod New York.” It was also just about to close – sorry, if you haven’t seen it already, the last day was March 18th! – so there was no time to waste.

My volunteers were right; it was a wonderful exhibit. So wonderful that I didn’t take any photos (though I doubt they were allowed, to be honest) because I was too busy looking. If I give in and buy the hefty catalog, you’ll have to make an appointment to visit the JMM Library to take a look.

I find myself always looking for the lions. Left: detail of a menorah, for which I neglected to get the info, but which I couldn’t resist including; right, birds and lions and sunflowers adorning an ark from Sioux City, Iowa, hand-carved in 1899 by Abraham Shulkin. (Note the bonus, and accidental, call-back to Leonard Nimoy.) Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Finally, we took in the new “Scenes from the Collection,” which was equally wonderful, and almost made up for the fact that I misread the café’s closing time so we ended up bagel-less. Noshing aside, the exhibit is a showcase of the broad scope of the museum’s collecting interests, from a variety of eras, places, and artforms. Judaica, stereograph photos, and textiles rub shoulders with modern art and “Orange is the New Black” clips. As I walked through the portrait section, I found old friends like Cindy Sherman and Kehinde Wiley, and new friends like this fine fellow:

Self-portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1814-1816. Would that we could all paint ourselves this confidently in our mid-teens! Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Ending our day on this high note, my mom and I made our way back to Penn Station for a noisy dinner in an Irish pub, and then a quiet train ride home. Our exhibit to-do list: Fully checked off, and then some. Sadly, it may be someone else’s turn next time such a monumental busman’s-holiday sacrifice is required, but I’m sure my time will come around again soon.


SPACE! My attempt at a space-y pose failed miserably.

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Two Lives in Labor: Jacob Edelman Part 2

Posted on January 4th, 2017 by

Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

The account of Jacob Edelman’s early years in the labor movement comes from an oral history conducted by Bertha Libauer on November 2, 1975.

Part II: A New Era

Miss part 1: The Voice of Labor?

I left Baltimore and went to New York because in order to get a job in another plant whether it would be Schloss Bros. or Henry Sonneborn & Co. they knew that we were involved in a strike, and they knew we were very much involved and couldn’t get a job. The only thing I could do was to go to New York. New York was already a lot different. New York was the so-called cradle of  “Industrial Civilization.” New York was the reservoir of unionism. I went to the union office there, identified myself, and why I had to leave Baltimore, and I was given a job. New York opened all sorts of avenues for me that I would never have had in Baltimore.

I earned my living of twelve dollars a week in the cutting department, and at that time I worked forty-eight hours instead of fifty-six in Baltimore. And we had recognition of the union, and we had meetings in the union–open without secreting your identity, you had shop stewards in the shops, you had committees if you had a grievance, foremen treated you with much more dignity than what I was accustomed to here, and so it gave me opportunities to do things in addition to working in the plant and maintaining myself. I enrolled in the Cooper Union School of Social Science, and there I took economics.

I spent in New York from the end of 1913 to the beginning of 1916, keeping in touch with my sisters, slipping into Baltimore to see them, going back to New York. They were happy to see how I looked and that I was getting along. I was beginning to hear a lot of music in New York, going to the Metropolitan, symphonies, concerts, etc. New York had what was good for my soul as for the body.

Garment Workers' Strike, July 1915. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Garment Workers’ Strike, July 1915. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Then there came a new era in the labor movement. There was the upsurge in leadership upon the American scene. [Sidney] Hillman became the first president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. When that organization came upon the scene, it supplanted the United Garment Workers. It was like civil war within the labor movement as to which would predominate and which would survive. The masses of the people clung to the Amalgamated because that was the new liberal spirit that permeated and influenced the garment industry. It was almost like a sister organization to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which dealt with ladies’ wearing apparel. The leadership was of the same philosophical pattern. They were all people who had come from the other side. They witnessed industrial exploitation, political oppression and came to this country and assumed their position in this free country, that was dearest to their hearts and that was human freedom and human dignity and better working conditions and to establish a sort of Bill of Rights to the people in industry.

Sidney Hillman, c. 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sidney Hillman, c. 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That’s when I came back to Baltimore. I became involved in the Amalgamated, and before long I was on its staff. I became a leader of the cutters. They had crafts–they had coat makers locals, pants makers locals, finishers locals. The finishers were women buttonhole makers–all women, wonderful crafts-people, who were doing delicate kinds of work. They were segregated into various locals, known as the craft locals. I was, of course, in the cutters craft. There it was a democracy, you were not appointed nor were you anointed a leader. You had to be elected by the people and so democracy was in action on the industrial level, vis-a-vis the labor movement. I was elected a business agent and representative of the cutters craft under the Amalgamated leadership.

The labor movement was engaged in various struggles with the captains of industry. As unions were coming in conflict with industry, they wound up in the courts. Often lock-outs, strikes, injunctions, arrests, convictions–unions needed lawyers. They needed defenders and advocates. The leadership contained in their own right advocacy, but they need legal advocates and you needed legal defenders, people within the labor movement who became involved in litigation with industry.

At that time I found a position in the Amalgamated, I was free to be able to study, attended Hopkins to take classes, attended the YMCA Day School to prepare myself for admission to the University of Maryland, and after that, in 1921 until 1925 I received a law degree as Bachelor of Laws & Letters. I took my examination, passed the bar and became a lawyer, and that’s when I began to represent labor to the exclusion of any other economic interest until this day.

I was naturally identified as representing labor, which was not very fashionable, because most lawyers in the profession were fearful to represent labor’s interests because it was a disadvantage to a lawyer who was naturally a general practitioner and if he undertook to represent a labor union, he would lose [clients], because they were not pro-labor minded, they were business men, they were manufacturers, they were industrialists and they would not have any truck with a lawyer who attempts to represent labor. These upstarts were not satisfied with conditions with the status quo. They were rebelling against the establishment. So if you represented labor, you were a labor lawyer, and there were many lean years when labor did not have the wherewithal to compensate a lawyer. You had to be thoroughly dedicated to that cause, otherwise you couldn’t serve labor.

Founders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, c.1915. M. Serkin (top row, 2md from left), Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca (4th from left), Sarah Baron (6th from left), David Schnapper (9th from left), Morris Michelson (2nd row, 1st from left), Henry Tuerk (2nd from left), Hyman Blumberg (3rd from left), Paul Lesky (7th from left), Jacob Edelman (8th from left), and Samuel Skolnik (bottom, left).  JMM 1990.91.1

Founders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, c.1915. M. Serkin (top row, 2md from left), Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca (4th from left), Sarah Baron (6th from left), David Schnapper (9th from left), Morris Michelson (2nd row, 1st from left), Henry Tuerk (2nd from left), Hyman Blumberg (3rd from left), Paul Lesky (7th from left), Jacob Edelman (8th from left), and Samuel Skolnik (bottom, left). JMM 1990.91.1

And then labor came into its own. Then came the terrible depression, the Roosevelt Administration. The tremendous upsurge of the CIO. In this city I was the pioneer, the sole and only lawyer at the bar who represented labor’s interests, who understood labor’s problems and at the same time attained an attitude of an even balance because I was taught by Sidney Hillman, and that I will never forget, a man who was a great scholar, a man who was destined to be a rabbi but came over to the side of the rebels to lead masses to effect their economic social and political well being. He taught those of us that were close to him– “In your dealings with employers you must remember and not forget that if you drag the employer down you drive yourself under and under is lower than down, so make sure that in your dealings with employers you must always have a healthy economic employer who will be able to give you what is reasonable for you to receive.” This is the school of labor relations in my time. By these standards I maintained my professional approach in representing labor’s interests.

As much as can be said that labor [today] can be found unreasonable in its demands, the leadership of American industry has in its history, failed to recognize the rights of labor in their days, so that you have a constant clash and conflict between labor and industry, and also labor and capital. If labor had waited, without establishing itself through its own strength, and through its own might and main to demand and secure certain rights, they would have never been given to labor, and that goes for legislation as well. If you turn the clock back about sixty years ago, there was no such thing as workmen’s compensation. If a person lost his life in the line of duty, the widow and children were helpless. If he lost a limb or an eye or what-not, there was no such thing. What would have been the history of this country without the labor movement?

Continue to Part III: We Will Begin the Campaign (Sarah Barron)


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Exploring New York’s Jewish Heritage

Posted on December 28th, 2016 by

Last week, I took a few days off work to visit several exhibits and to take a walking tour in New York City. I first visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I explored the exhibit “Jerusalem: 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven.” The exhibit highlighted how Jerusalem was a melting pot of different cultures and religions from Ethiopian Christians and Indian Sufis to Spanish rabbis. I saw objects such as a gold Jewish wedding ring in the form of the Lost Temple of Jerusalem and a page from a 14th century Spanish Haggadah, with Hebrew words “Next year in Jerusalem.”

gold ring shaped like a fancy building

Jewish wedding ring, courtsey of the MET Museum.

I then walked over to the New York Historical Society where I toured the exhibit “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World.” This show chronicled how Jewish settlers came to inhabit and then change the New World all while struggling to hold onto their identity. While it focused on the early Jewish population in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, it did mention Baltimore as well as Rabbi David Einhorn, who was a leader in Reform Judaism and spoke out passionately against slavery during the Civil War. There were several outstanding artifacts such as the 16th century memoir and prayer book of Luis de Carvajal the Younger who was persecuted during the Inquisition as well as a Torah scroll from Shearith Israel which was rescued from a fire set by British soldiers in 1776.

Photo of the entrance to an exhibit, with a text panel on the left and an illuminated world map on the right

First Jewish Americans exhibit, courtsey of NYHS

While I was in New York, I also went on a walking tour of the Lower East Side offered by the Tenement Museum. As our Education team is currently developing a walking tour of Jewish sites in Jonestown, I was curious to see how other Jewish museums deliver their tours. On our hour and a half tour, our guide discussed how immigrants lived in over-crowded tenements and worked long hours in sweatshops struggling to make a living. She mentioned many of the same themes we talk about at the JMM, such as the tension between assimilation and holding onto your traditions. We admired the beautifully restored Eldridge Street Synagogue and strolled up Hester Street which was once full of open air markets and push carts in the early 1900s. We also walked past the sites of Ridley’s Department Store and Loew’s Canal Street Theatre as well as PS 42, where generations of immigrants learned how to be “American.”

A female tour guide holds a black and white image of a street scene. She is standing in the same place the photo is an image of.

Then and Now on Hester Street, courtsey of Tenament Museum

I ended my day attending Shabbat services at Central Synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style and was designed by Henry Fernbach, often cited as the first Jewish architect in America. Central Synagogue lays claim to being the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the city. I was awe struck by the glorious sanctuary with its tall central nave and gilded Star of David, which brought to mind architectural elements present in both of our historic synagogues, Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel.

Color photo of the interior of the Central Synagogue building. The room is lit with golden light.

Interior of the Central Synagogue

Throughout my time in New York City, I was able to better appreciate the city’s Jewish heritage and draw connections to my own work at the JMM.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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