WHAT IS THE USE OF JEWISH HISTORY?

Posted on December 4th, 2013 by

People sometimes ask me, “What is the use of Jewish history?” And “why do you study and write about that so much?” Author and historian, Lucy Davidowitz, wrote a book on this subject.

2007.054.027  Book cover, The Hoffburger Journey in America: 1882-2005, compiled primarily by Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt.

2007.054.027 Book cover, The Hoffburger Journey in America: 1882-2005, compiled primarily by Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt.

Others take their concern and doubt to an annoying level, saying, “History is not important.” Perhaps not, for them, compared with the latest Hollywood gossip, the score of Sunday’s  football game or newest technological toy. Their view is short sighted, to say the least.

For me, researching and writing about Jewish history is akin to raising a memorial to departed relatives, ancestors and – yes – to strangers.  Some may be famous community or congregational leaders while others served their families quietly with love and dedication.

Only two of my relatives served the community in public ways – one was a Hershfield who served as secretary of a synagogue in New Jersey. The shul is now defunct, and I have no documentation about this except for Oral History tapes of my mother.

Another Hershfield in the same family in Jersey City served on the public School Board.  But this branch of the family are notorious for not answering letters, and we have been out of touch with them since the 1960s, so no documentation has been found to verify the anecdote.

(As for yichus, that is, genealogical status, I sometimes imagine that I am descended from a 2nd Century Sage or a Levitical priest.  But this may be ego on my part!)

Every time we quest for our family’s history, read an article in a Jewish History periodical or visit the JMM, we are raising a memorial to the whole Jewish people.  It is like placing rocks on the top of tombstones when we visit cemeteries. The purpose is to make the marker-stone larger, thereby, increasing the honor of those who have passed away. Saying Kaddish for one’s father is another example.  Sharing our genealogies with living relatives is a third example of zichron – remembering our ancestors.  And from where we came.

1973.008.001 Collage of Galitzianer gravestones (1903) from Gruft family collection. Artist unknown.]

1973.008.001 Collage of Galitzianer gravestones (1903) from Gruft family collection. Artist unknown.]

The value of learning, teaching and celebrating our many-faceted history becomes more apparent when we consider how often in history that the Jewish people have faced extreme adversity.  Even if our immigrant-ancestors lived a life of obscurity, toiling in the moderate Garment Industry of Jonestown or peddling as an arabisher, there is eternal value to our interest, care and memory of them.  We need the Eternal One’s eyes to perceive the value of Jewish history.

1997.149.003  Button sewing machine (1930s), made by Singer, from D. Schwartz and Sons Garment Machinery Co., of Baltimore Street and later, Gay Street.

1997.149.003 Button sewing machine (1930s), made by Singer, from D. Schwartz and Sons Garment Machinery Co., of Baltimore Street and later, Gay Street.

 

photo of Robert SiegelA blog post by Collections Volunteer Robert Siegel. To read more posts by and about JMM volunteers, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Finding a Home in the Collections

Posted on October 30th, 2013 by

Within the first five minutes of my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I found myself in the midst of an intimidating board meeting. Over the course of the next two months, I realized that I had joined a dynamic staff and a group of enthusiastic Collections interns. So far, I have worked with a wide range of collections including photographs, oral histories, scrapbooks, rare books, invitations, and Bar Mitzvah cards. The most exciting evening of my internship was the day Jobi Zink entrusted me with the condition reports for two swords and a rifle for the Passages through Fire: Jews and the Civil War exhibit. You can find photographic evidence of my excitement at handling these objects on the JMM Facebook album or by clicking these links: Civil War Sword and Full Sword and Scabbard.

While most of the other collections are not as thrilling as swords and rifles, I gained valuable insight about Jewish culture in Baltimore and the rest of Maryland by processing multimedia collections. As an out-of-state undergraduate at UMBC, learning about Jewish life in all aspects of Baltimore’s history has helped me feel at home. I particularly enjoyed processing an affectionate oral testimony about Camps Louise and Airy. Growing up, I never attended Jewish summer camps, so I was intrigued to learn about this important aspect in the history of Baltimore’s Jewish youth. This record is now available in the JMM’s digital collections (Oral History #170).

Most of my work is in the form of paper documents – ranging from Hebrew diplomas, High Holy Day Cards and Bar Mitzvah invitations to family photos and newspaper clippings from Jewish businesses. I am especially intrigued by the sheer extent of the collections donors such as Linda Lapides saw fit to donate to the JMM collections. Within her file, I found a vibrant story of Jewish life evolving and changing within the city of Baltimore. Perusing her donations helped me realize that Jewish life extended far beyond the walls of the synagogue in Baltimore City.  My favorite piece of the collection was a German-language book representing the early Zionist movement, encouraging Jewish people to migrate to what was then British Palestine (Palästina). This was an exciting opportunity to practice my German language skills! In the next file, I stumbled upon two scrapbooks and a large collection of photographs detailing the development of the family-owned Greenberg’s Jewelers – yet another reminder of Jewish life outside of the synagogue. I can’t wait to find out what else lies in store for me to process in the library closed stacks!

Intern JenA blog post by Collections Intern Jen Wachtel. To read more posts by JMM interns, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Oral Histories: Dr. Arnall Patz

Posted on July 16th, 2013 by

Katharine HarperA blog post by intern Kathy Harper. To read more posts by Kathy and other interns, click here.

I’m going into my seventh week as the Photo Archives Intern here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. While most of my duties have pertained to the photograph archives, I’ve also done extra things for my intern duties, including helping out with the upcoming exhibit on Jews, Health and Healing by transcribing oral histories.

Hard at work, transcribing my oral history.

Hard at work, transcribing my oral history.

The oral history that I transcribed was for Dr. Arnall Patz (1920-2010), a very important figure in medicine, who not only was Jewish, but also spent his adulthood in Baltimore (after growing up in Georgia).  He originally came to Baltimore for an internship at the Sinai Hospital in 1945. While in the city, he met his future wife, Ellen, and they wed five years later in 1950. As his career blossomed, he contributed many things to the field of medicine, including building one of the first lasers used in ophthalmology, and also playing a significant role in the prevention of blindness in premature babies. In 2004 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work.

Dr. Arnall Patz with his Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2004.” Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Arnall Patz with his Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2004. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

In his early years of medicine Dr. Patz was assigned to various hospitals in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia region, and worked in different sections, ranging from cardiology to venereal disease. From the beginning, however, he developed an interest in pediatrics and ophthalmology. Specifically, he was interested in the blindness of premature babies. At the time, the standard of care for such infants was to give them high amounts of oxygen for weeks. This was thought to be beneficial, but in fact was causing major damage as the oxygen led to overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye which caused permanent damage to the retina. Dr. Patz applied for a research grant to conduct a study in regards to the oxygen given to the premature infants, which was rejected; it was considered to be unethical to restrict the oxygen in babies, and his theory was considered highly controversial. However, the “total rejection” (as Dr. Patz described it in his oral history) did not deter him, and instead he borrowed some money from his brother and conducted the study. At a time when nobody was really doing controlled studies, his was one of the first major clinical trials in American medicine. The study was small, but showed an overwhelming difference between the two groups of infants, the ones who received high amounts of oxygen and those who did not. With the help of Dr. V. Everett Kinsey, he was able to have a national study to further support his findings.

Dr. Patz, right, and Dr. Kinsey with Helen Keller in 1956, receiving a Lasker Award for their research. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Patz, right, and Dr. Kinsey with Helen Keller in 1956, receiving a Lasker Award for their research. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Patz was an important contributor to the field of medicine, listening to his oral history was very interesting, as was the additional readings I did on him in preparation for this blog post. With only three more weeks left in my internship I’m glad I had the opportunity to find out about him and I encourage anyone who is interested to check out the New York Times article on him that I referenced.

References:

Altman, Lawrence. “Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89.” New York Times 15 Mar 2010, n. pag. Web. 16 Jul. 2013. <Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89>.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Next Page »