Learning from Wisdom

Posted on July 20th, 2016 by

Throughout this internship, I’ve spent many fond hours at the front desk talking with Betsy, one of the museum’s volunteers. Betsy is well travelled, wise, and open minded, and I love talking to her about the news and politics. Although she is an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, and I of Bernie Sanders, our differences of opinion only make our conversations more interesting, and lead to excellent discussion. Betsy has a very different point of view from myself, which helps me to see issues in different ways than I would normally look at them, and I can’t help but to trust the wisdom of her experiences.

If you've been to the Museum, you've probably met Betsey at the Welcome Desk!

If you’ve been to the Museum, you’ve probably met Betsey at the Welcome Desk!

We’ve also conversed thoroughly about food and travel. Betsy and I have both been to China and find other cultures fascinating, and have discussed our favorite restaurants in the Baltimore. We both seem to share a passion for ethnic foods and exploring the city. Since the start of my internship, I think I have learned the most about the world and how to have a good life. She just turned 90 last week, so here’s wishing her a happy Birthday!

06.06.2016 Interns (23)Post by Education and Programs Intern David Agronin. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.


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Compared to What?

Posted on July 13th, 2016 by

It goes without saying that America has had more glorious “4th of July” weeks than in 2016.  Rather than fireworks, our eyes were riveted on gunfire – grisly videos of both citizens and police under attack.  In the midst of this cauldron of hatred and fear we lost two major voices that had railed against silence in the presence of inhumanity: Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist, Sydney Schanberg.  It only compounded our sense of loss.

I noticed that the events of the last ten days have also sent people scrambling for historic comparisons.  I have seen articles in several major media sites comparing current events to those of the late 60s.  For me this isn’t a historic era, but rather part of my lived experience.  I chose to escape the constant drumbeat of awful news for an hour going into the basement to sort through my memorabilia from college.  Among the posters for anti-war rallies and flyers for protests of every kind I ran across a school newspaper from my freshman year at GW.  It’s banner headline screamed of the violence that came to campus 45 years ago.  My recollection is that I locked myself in my room, covered my windows with masking tape, and still found myself coughing from tear gas after our dorm was subjected to gas canisters dropped from helicopters.

The Hatchet

The Hatchet

But in shuffling through the papers I also discovered another unexpected (and timely) perspective.

In all the chaos of the last week, the passing of Judge Abner Mikva on July 4 received modest coverage.  But for me it was a significant event.

Readers of my blog posts know that I grew up on the South Side of Chicago at a time when Mayor Daley (the first Mayor Daley) and the “machine” ran not only the city itself but all political representation of the city.  Chicago may be the “second city”, but it takes a backseat to no one in the category of political corruption.  In the 1960’s we were represented in Congress by Barratt O’Hara – a machine politician who was a Spanish-American War veteran and who had served as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois during WWI.  There is nothing like a first political infatuation and at age 14 I went door-to-door for Abner Mikva as he attempted to fight the machine.

Mikva lost.  But in a rising tide of anti-Vietnam War sentiment, he finally made it into office in 1968 and when I entered college at George Washington University I went to Capitol Hill to volunteer.  They assigned me to the addressograph machine – an essential tool in the era before mail merge software.   The job itself was not that exciting but I spent a fair amount of my free time pursuing my interests as a political junkie – running from office to office collecting signatures of the famous legislators of my youth.

As I grew older, I lost much of my ardor for political activism but I continued to admire Congressman and then Judge Mikva from a distance.  Mikva eventually became Chief Judge of DC Court of Appeals in the 1990s (the position now held by my classmate Merrick Garland).  He would encourage a young man named Barack Obama to enter politics and eventually receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievements.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

A newsletter specifically for high school students.

So there in the box with my political autograph collection (including Eugene McCarthy’s on the back of a hastily grabbed West Point application) – I found this newsletter from Abner Mikva directed at high school students.  I may have saved this from my days working the addressograph machine.

The newsletter's final paragraph.

The newsletter’s final paragraph.

I turned to the back page and my jaw dropped.  It reminded me that 45 years ago when many of thought our nation was doomed and the future had never been darker – we were wrong and Abner Mikva was right: “compared to what?”

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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It’s Moses in a Landslide

Posted on April 25th, 2016 by

There are those occasions when the secular and Jewish calendars converge in an unusual harmony.  We all remember “Thanksgivukkah” and this year features the equally rare “Hanuyearsikkah”.  But this month my thoughts go to an exceptional April convergence.  Let me start with a question:

Q: When was the first time you could cast a vote for a Jewish candidate in a US presidential primary?

A: 40 years ago, in 1976, and the candidate was Gov. Milton Shapp

Milton Shapp

Milton Shapp

Well, of course, that’s if you lived in Massachusetts, Illinois or Shapp’s home state of Pennsylvania.  By the time the primary calendar turned to Maryland in late May, Shapp had dropped out, after taking less than 5% of the vote in his home state.  Another early favorite in the election season with strong ties to the Jewish community, Scoop Jackson, had also pulled out after the Pennsylvania primary.  In fact, out of the 16 candidates who had entered the Democratic race only a handful remained by the time voting took place here.  The winner, by a wide margin, was Jerry Brown.  But Brown and the ABC (“anyone but Carter”) campaign started too late to stop Carter’s momentum.  We may not have voted for the eventual Democratic nominee and president, but Maryland holds the distinction of being one of three states to vote for the only 1976 candidate who is still in public office forty years later.

So what makes this Maryland primary night different than all other Maryland presidential primary nights?  Well, by my count it is the first time that Passover and presidential primary elections have converged in this state.  From the 1960’s through 1984, Maryland Primary Day was in May, too late for Passover.  From 1988 through 2008 Primary Day moved around between mid-February and early March, too early for Passover… even in 2012 when it was pushed back to late March it was still too early to overlap that year.

But this year the match between the Jewish festival of freedom and the secular exercise of liberty is “just right.”

Now Moses did not need to run in a primary, this didn’t mean he was immune to politics.

One of the earliest references I could find to political selection was in the Parsha Yitro in the Book of Exodus.  In that section, Moses in the wilderness is overwhelmed by the burden of adjudicating every dispute in the community.  He gets advice from his father-in-law Jethro (the first political consultant?) that he should appoint a system of judges to handle lesser cases.  Jethro goes on to tell Moses “But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, G-d fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens.”

I make no claim to Biblical scholarship, but I find it interesting that the subject of the appointment of judges comes one chapter ahead of the delivery of laws on Mt. Sinai.  This sequence – officials first, laws second – suggests to me an awareness that even the most noble and principled law can be perverted by unjust or corrupted men.

Today each of us plays a bit of the role played by Moses in selecting leaders for our community.  The scale may be different, but as we go to the polls to choose a leader for the three hundred millions, I think Jethro’s advice about seeking people of substance, humility, honesty and financial integrity still applies.  Let’s follow the example of Moses and choose wisely.

MarvinA blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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