Posted on October 18th, 2013 by Rachel
Nearly 200 people joined us at the JMM this past weekend (Oct. 12 and 13) to celebrate the opening of Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. The exhibit comes to us from the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum and has been enhanced by the JMM to include artifacts and stories that reflect the role of Maryland Jews in the war.
The exhibit sheds light on both how the Jewish community (which numbered 150,000 in 1860) participated in the war as well as how the war impacted the community.
Here are some of the opening event highlights:
guests in gallery
At Saturday evening’s members’ preview, guests enjoyed viewing the fascinating artifacts on display especially those that told local stories. It was fun hearing the chatter in the gallery as people constantly exclaimed how surprised they were to learn about the extent of Jewish involvement in the war effort.
Guest using the stereoscope viewer
The JMM installation featured several new activity stations. Here a guest explores the section of the exhibit on Civil War era photography by testing out a stereoscope viewer.
2nd South Carolina String Band
With their authentic period costumes and instruments, music of the Second South Carolina String Band gave the lobby a Civil War-era feel.
Karen leading tour
JMM curator Karen Falk led two filled-to-capacity exhibit tours where she shared stories about individual artifacts and stories on display.
Marvin leading tour
JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert premiered our new 1861 themed tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue for guests at Saturday’s event. This tour takes visitors back in time to the 1860s as they explore what Jewish life was like in Baltimore at this time as well as the important role that the Lloyd Street Synagogue (then Baltimore Hebrew Congregation) played in the debate on slavery. This new tour will be given daily (Sun-Thurs) at 3pm.
We are so grateful to the two students from the Baltimore School for the Arts who attended the event in period costume. It was especially fun watching Amelia navigate tight corners in her hoop dress. Thank goodness fashion trends have changed!
guests viewing objects in case
Our member’s preview was followed by a successful opening to the public on Sunday. We were delighted to see many people – both longtime friends to the JMM and first time visitors – take in the exhibit. Many people brought their children who enjoyed playing with the exhibit’s activity stations.
visitor talking to re-enactor
On Sunday, we were privileged to have two Civil War re-enactors attend in authentic soldier uniforms. Guests enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with them as they learned about their uniforms’ details and items of significance.
Jonathan Karp, former director of the American Jewish Historical Society and one of the exhibit’s project directors, provided fascinating insights on the development of the exhibit and shared some of his favorite stories with our guests.
Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland through February 28, 2014. We hope you will stop by for a visit.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click here. All photos by Will Kirk.
Posted on October 18th, 2013 by Rachel
A Token of Our Appreciation
A special treat!
If you were among the guests at Saturday members’ preview for Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, you walked away with a replica of a sutler’s token from Lazarus Goldheim, a Baltimore-born merchant assigned to J.E.B. Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry. To be more precise you walked away with an “improvement” on the sutler’s token – since this one was large enough to read AND it was made of chocolate! The token was a fitting symbol for our opening weekend, as we took the powerful story of the Jewish experience in the Civil War and made enhancements that made the topic, the exhibit and our greatest Civil War artifact, the Lloyd Street Synagogue, more accessible to the public.
Marvin gives the inaugural “1861” Tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
In this issue of Performance Counts, I have asked my colleagues to share some of the details about our very successful launch of the project. But before we get to what we accomplished, I want to offer my own “token of appreciation” to those who provided the financial support that enabled every aspect of the project – from shipping the artifacts, to developing new Maryland content, to creating family activities and school group curricula to the opening events themselves. First on my list of thank yous is Barbara Katz who not only provided her personal support to the exhibit through the Morris Schapiro and Family Foundation, but also led the charge in encouraging the generosity of others. Our lead gifts came from Willard and Lillian Hackerman/Whiting Turner and the Middendorf Foundation. Major funding was also provided by the Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation, Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation, the Eliasberg Family Foundation and the Gottesman Fund. Additional funding came from the Lois and Irving Blum Foundation, Stiles Colwill, the Miller Family Gift Fund, Nancy Kohn Rabin and the Joseph Smelkinson Foundation. As the cavalry needed it’s sutler for all its essential supplies, we relied on this exceptional group of philanthropists to achieve our “battlefield” objective.
~Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director
The 2nd South Carolina String Band
The opening of Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War came in two parts. At our special members’ preview on Saturday night, we enjoyed the music of the 2nd South Carolina String Band, a band of musical re-enactors. They played throughout the night which helped set the mood. To enhance the evening refreshments included Civil War-era punch, which was enjoyed by all. In addition, two students from the Baltimore School for the Arts attended in period costume which enhanced the event ambiance.
Baltimore School for the Arts Students
On Sunday we launched the exhibit’s public opening. The highlight of the day was a talk by Jonathan Karp who travelled from New York. As one of the exhibition’s curators, Jonathan provided fascinating insights on the development of the exhibit. We also welcomed two Civil War re-enactors, who came in full dress. They enjoyed talking to visitors about the different elements and significance of the details of their outfits.
Interacting with a re-enactor!
Opening By the Numbers
Exploring the exhibit
Saturday evening attendance: 105 members and guests
Sunday public opening attendance: 91 people
Total attendance for both days: 196
Total Admission from Sunday: $335
Zip Code most represented in our attendance log: 21208
Karen gives a special Curator’s Tour
An activity station
Our members came out in large numbers for Sunday’s opening which was also heavily attended by non-members who had previously visited the JMM. This reflects positively on the Museum’s marketing efforts with our membership and with the public in general about the opening. Our tag line “explore the Civil War you never knew” seems to have successfully appealed to people who were enticed to visit on opening day. In addition to the new exhibit, members and individuals who had previously visited were excited to have the opportunity to hear Jonathan Karp speak as well as follow on the 1861 synagogue tour. We were also delighted to see family groups in attendance and children had a wonderful time interacting with the educational stations set up in the exhibit.
Our stereo-graph activity station
Posted on October 11th, 2013 by Rachel
Tomorrow night is the member’s preview for Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. It is one of those times when exhaustion meets elation. I wanted to take a moment to make an observation on how this exhibit has changed my perspective on this period of history and to thank a few of the people who made it possible.
Looking through my old e-mails I recently realized that I had been working nearly continuously on Civil War themed exhibits (first at the National Archives and now at JMM) for about five years. I have to point out that this is longer than the war itself!
This has been an unexpected journey. I don’t consider myself a Civil War aficianado. I was never a reenactor. Growing up in Chicago ,I wasn’t exactly surrounded by Civil War sites. My first historical passions were cowboys and tales of the wild west (when the occasion is right, I might share a copy of the photo of me in my pajamas and my Davy Crockett “coonskin” cap).
Now I’m not saying I had no connection with Civil War history. I did own a copy of the 1961 How and Why Book of the Civil War. Though I think that the book was a lot stronger on the “how” than on the “why”…not atypical of its time. In that same year the National Archives produced a centennial exhibit that never mentioned the word “slavery.”
How and Why, 1961.
As a kid I also enjoyed climbing up to the dome of the Chicago Public Library to visit Grand Army of the Republic Hall – my favorite artifact was the century-old hard tack.
But I had no real passion for the topic. When I finally did get to tour the battlefields, it seemed that every visitor center’s exhibit boiled down to two uniforms, three rifles and interminable details about troop movements.
I certainly felt no personal connection. When people would speak of ancestors as Union or Confederate, my response was that mine were all “anti-Czar” at that time. The Civil War, and all its horrors, were someone else’s struggle.
While working on my National Archives project, Discovering the Civil War, substantially raised my interest in the topic it really didn’t change my level of personal detachment.
The last six months have been different. Looking at the war through a Jewish lens has really helped clarify the connection that all of us have to these events – even the folks who arrived 40 or 50 years later. The “battles” of the Civil War weren’t just at Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas but also on Baltimore Street. This was a fight for hearts and minds as much as for territory. Embedded into the conflicts of the early 1860s were struggles over acceptance and assimilation which profoundly shaped the American Jewish experience. The Civil War is part of my history because the social justice oriented, pluralistic Jewish community that I live in was built out of the events of those years.
As for my ancestors being far away in Poland and Lithuania… consider the following thought: I recently looked up the front page of the New-York Daily Tribune for October 12, 1863 – 150 years to the day before our exhibit opening. As it happens the headline article for that day was about the arrival of the Russian warship Alexander Nevsky at the port of Baltimore. The article contained a resolution from the mayor and city council conveying “the high respect of the authorities and citizens of Baltimore for the sovereign and people of Russia” and thanking the Russians for abstaining from any effort to give aid to the “Rebels of the South”. Over on the left column of the same day’s paper is a much smaller notice reading “the chief rabbi of Warsaw had been arrested”, followed by the curious comment “Continental news is unimportant”. With a little more research I learned that Dov Ber Meisels, the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw had become involved in a Polish uprising in 1863. Russian authorities imprisoned the rabbi as part of their effort to put down the rebellion. Britain and several other Western nations were outraged by Russia’s suppression of the Poles and threatened to “de-recognize” Russia’s acquisition of the territory. America, by contrast, was silent – after all, Russia’s neutrality in our Civil War was an important diplomatic objective. Perhaps my ancestral shtetl was not as far from Gettysburg as I originally thought.
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here.