A Visit to Gettysburg and the Seminary Ridge Museum

Posted on July 3rd, 2013 by

On the last Friday in June, just ahead of the enormous sesquicentennial crowds, JMM’s education department made a field trip to Gettysburg.  The central purpose of the trip was to gain inspiration for hands-on activities for school groups and families.   We intend to add these experiences to Passages through the Fire:  Jews and the American Civil War, a traveling exhibit opening at JMM on October 13, 2013.  They let me come along for the ride.

935802_213278468823337_112805752_n (1)There were conversations with re-enactors, a visit to a sutler (the supplier of re-enactment gear) and one more high point (literally): the Seminary Ridge Museum.  It was a last-minute decision to make this a part of my visit.  Barbara Franco, the director of this new museum, is a treasured friend and colleague.  I had remembered that the Seminary Ridge Museum was opening as part of the Gettysburg commemorations, but from a flyer I suddenly realized that it was in fact 48 hours from opening its doors to the public.  I took a chance and made an unannounced appearance, and Barbara was extremely gracious, taking time from her last minute preparations to offer me a preview of the facility.

Seminary Old Dorm, 1915 era. Image courtesy Seminary Ridge Museum.

Seminary Old Dorm, 1915 era. Image courtesy Seminary Ridge Museum.

The three upper floors of the building tell three stories about three roles that the Lutheran Seminary and specifically this building, Schmucker Hall, played in US History.  The top floor tells the story of July 1, 1863, the day Gen. John Buford went to the cupola atop the building and decided that the Union would take up a defensive position here, determining that this would be the site for one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War.  The floor below tells the story of the Seminary as field hospital, serving the wounded at the end of the battle.

994497_213278558823328_1071471798_nBut the lower exhibit floor, entitled “Faith and Freedom”, really intrigued me.  It tells the story of Christian clergy, churches and seminaries in relationship to the struggle over slavery and its abolition.  I had spent a fair amount of time in June looking at the records of the Lloyd Street Synagogue at the outset of the war and re-reading the sermons/writing of Rabbi Illoway and Rabbi Einhorn as the debate over slavery made its way through Baltimore in 1861 (see Todd’s blog post from last Friday).  The parallels in the arguments within the Christian and Jewish community were quite remarkable.  It’s not just that both communities’ leaders cited the same biblical passages to make their respective cases, it’s also that in both communities the argument about slavery became wrapped up in larger theological questions of reform vs. tradition.   Rev. Schmucker’s Lutheran church even had a dispute over the use of English rather than German in congregational rituals that echoes debates in the German Jewish community of the period.

Image courtesy of Seminary Ridge Museum.

Image courtesy of Seminary Ridge Museum.

I found the exhibit very thought-provoking and hope to work with Barbara on an exchange of programs during the period when Passages through the Fire is on display here in Baltimore.  In the meantime, if you are headed to Gettysburg for to see the 150th, this is a new feature not to be missed.

MarvinA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read other posts by Marvin, click here!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




There’s No Place Like Home

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by

A blog post by Senior Collections Manager, Jobi Zink

 

I know it’s the New Year and everyone is going to expect this to be a saccharine sweet post about family, traditions, and food. And I have plenty of entertaining stories about my family—and my family’s traditions with food! Just ask Karen Falk what she learned about the Okin clan’s food traditions during her research for Chosen Food. But that will have to be another post.

CP 15.2010.35

And this isn’t a post about a girl from Kansas with some sparkly shoes, either.

This is really about the satisfaction of crossing something off my to-do list and feeling like I’ve done a mitzvah at the same time. Now Avi would joke that crossing anything off my to-do list is a mitzvah since the list is currently about 26 pages long. He might be right: I think that this was actually one of the very first things that I put on my to-do list when I started as a part-time curatorial assistant over a decade ago.

A sample page from my to-do list of epic proportions.

In 1998 The Jewish Museum of Maryland purchased a pinkas (congregational record book) belonging to the Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, PA.For a brief history of the congregation click here: http:///www.kesherisrael.org/index.php/shul/C15/ 

As evidenced by the cover of the pinkas, the book is from the congregation’s 15th anniversary

Shortly thereafter acquiring the pinkas, the Museum revised its mission statement with a clear concentration on the history, traditions and culture of Jewish life inMaryland, rather thanMaryland and its surrounding areas. The book was never approved for accession, and in 2001 I tried to find a suitable repository for it. My calls, letters, and pleas brought no response from any of the institutions I contacted.

The book remained in its acid free box on the shelf downstairs. The collections staff would look at it and sigh. Every few years I (or my interns) would try again to find a home for it, but never with any luck. But this year an e-mail was answered: the congregation wanted it back!

So on a cold, rainy Tuesday before Thanksgiving I drove up to Harrisburgto hand-deliver the pinkas. When I arrived, a Thanksgiving dinner was in full swing! It was a wonderful to see the members enjoying their extended family. I didn’t have a chance to meet Rabbi Akiva Males, but he’s assured me that when the book is translated he will share the information with the congregants.

The Collections Staff is thrilled that the pinkas has finally found its way home.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland