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A Surprising Find at Eastern State Penitentiary

Posted on May 2nd, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

On Monday, April 23, the JMM management team (Marvin, Tracey, Joanna, Ilene and me) piled into Ilene’s car and drove to Philadelphia.

We made the trip to visit our colleagues at the National Museum of American Jewish History and at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Both institutions provided engaging and meaningful experiences, and both provided surprises. I will leave some stories for other posts (and maybe other writers), and focus here on what I found the most surprising about Eastern State Penitentiary: its synagogue.

The historic prison has a beautifully restored synagogue in its midst. I was surprised when our tour guide first mentioned its existence, and my surprise was only compounded when we stepped into the space.

The small room is paneled in a dark wood not unlike our own Rosen-Salganik Board Room, with a simple but decorative ark in one corner and a golden star of David medallion on the ceiling.

The original synagogue door shows the ghosts of two stars of David that used to adorn it.

The space had been built in the early 20th century. “Were there a lot of Jewish prisoners here?” I wondered aloud. Our tour guide informed me that when the synagogue was completed in the 1920s, about 80 of the 1400 prisoners there were Jewish. Rather than a pressing demand for Jewish religious expression among the prisoners, the Eastern State synagogue was built by the broader Philadelphia Jewish community. Likewise, the gleaming, restored space was made possible by the contemporary community.

Once we had had a chance to take in the space, our guide asked for our help flipping down a long section of paneling. As the section flipped down on a long piano hinge, exhibit panels were revealed, presenting the history of the space and of Jewish life at Eastern State.

We had fun comparing historical photos to the contemporary space in which we stood, and were all intrigued to read that the first Jewish clergy to visit Eastern State did so in 1845, the same year our own Lloyd Street Synagogue was born.

Also on display in the synagogue space was a small crowd-sourced display, Share Your Mitzvah.

The Eastern State staff created cards that allowed visitors to share mitzvahs done either by them or for them. They’d also created cards for children to draw pictures to share their stories of good-deed-doing or -receiving. I was impressed with both the sentiment of the display and the low-tech efficiency of it.

In fact, don’t be surprised if one day in the not-too-distant future JMM asks for similar crowd-sourced reports of good-deed-doings.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Graham Goes to MAAM!

Posted on October 29th, 2015 by

Building Communities: MAAM 2015

Building Communities: MAAM 2015

Last week I went to the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums annual conference in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference was “Embracing Diversity In All We Do.” It was fitting that it was held in the historic center. A plaque around the corner from the conference hotel stated that it was in Philadelphia where Quakers, Jews, Catholics and Protestants “experienced the difficulties and discovered the possibilities of fruitful coexistence that American democracy was to offer.” The plaue also stated that diversity is still evident in the Old Philadelphia Congregations, a consortium of historic churchs and sygogogues that are working together to broaden interfaith understanding and celebrate Philadelphia’s inique contribution to religious freedom in America.  Within steps from the conference hotel, I also discovered Mikveh Israel, which is Philadelphia’s oldest Jewish congregation and dates from the 1740s. In front of the synagogue stood a statue to Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy who was the first Jewish U.S. Navy Commodore serving during the Civil War.

Mikveh Israel and Uriah Levy

Mikveh Israel and Uriah Levy

As a way of gaining admission to the conference, I volunteered in the morning assisting with set up and handing out of session evaluations. This was also a good chance for me to network with other museum professionals. I was glad to run into several former employees of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, including one intern, Falicia Eddy who is now back in graduate school. The first session I sent to was on developing programs to bridge the gap between museums and individuals with cognitive, intellectual and sensory processing disabilities. I came away with some ideas which I hope to implement at the Jewish Museum. I also went to a session on diversity, where the highlight for me was hearing from Melissa Yaverbaum, the Executive Director of the Council of American Jewish Museums. I was also fascinated to hear from Eastern State Penitentiary about how they have diversified their staff by hiring former prisioners as front line staff and tour guides. 

MAAM conference session

MAAM conference session

Between sessions, I walked a few blocks over to visit the National Constitution Center to look at their new exhibit titled “Speaking Out for Equality: The Constitution, Gay Rights, and the Supreme Court” as I felt that this supplemented nicely the theme of the conference. I concluded the day with a session focusing on social justice in museums and how museums have the potential to become centers of gravity for discussions around civic unrest and human rights. I left inspired by some of the efforts other institutions are making to diversify their audiences, programming, exhibits, and staff, but also committed to improving our Museum.

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

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




An Intern’s Trip to Philadelphia

Posted on July 31st, 2015 by

Realistically, there must be people who dislike going on field trips, but I am not one of those people. Throughout my internship with the JMM I have been observing and practicing the work that Joanna, the wonderful Collections Manager, does on a daily basis, reaffirming my desire to become a Collections Manager. On July 23rd I was able to accompany Joanna to the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to pick up a donation, reminding me that Collections Managers sometimes go on field trips to other museums. I immediately added that to the list of reasons why I am on the right career path!

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)

When we arrived at the museum, Claire Pingel, the Chief Registrar and Associate Curator of the NMAJH, met us in the lobby. She arranged for us to be able to look through the museum before we signed the paperwork and exchanged the donation.

The main lobby of the NMAJH

The main lobby of the NMAJH

The museum consists of five floors. The 1st floor contains the museum store and café, the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame, and small rotating exhibits. Floors two though four hold the core exhibition which is split into three time frames. The exhibition begins on the 4th floor with “Foundations of Freedom: 1654 – 1880,” continues on the 3rd floor with “Dreams of Freedom: 1880 – 1945,” and ends with “Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today” on the 2ndfloor. The fifth floor is home to larger rotating exhibits, currently showing “Richard Avedon: Family Affairs.”

Claire escorted us to the 4th floor. Joanna and I quickly walked through the 1stthird of the core exhibition and then decided to look though the museum store and have lunch in the museum café. We then quickly walked through the 2ndthird of the core exhibition and called Claire when we were finished. She met us in the lobby and Joanna signed the Receipt, proving that the donation was transferred to her and the JMM.

 Joanna signing the receipt!

Joanna signing the receipt!

This was my first ever trip to Philadelphia. Despite the unfortunate short duration of our stay (3 hours), I was able to see a little of the city, catch a quick glimpse of Independence Hall which is situated right next to the NMAJH, and see some of the NMAJH exhibits. Although this field trip was fun, it was also educational. I was able to observe a museum partnership, which demonstrates how museums can help each other to be successful.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Skyline of Philadelphia

Skyline of Philadelphia

I absolutely plan to return to the NMAJH to look through their exhibits again when I have more time. I encourage others to visit as well! The museum is innovative and interesting. There are a ton of kid friendly activities throughout the core exhibition, and activities that adults can enjoy too.

IMG_0985A blog post by Collections Intern Kaleigh Ratliff. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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