Posted on January 21st, 2015 by Rachel
Despite the icy weather this past Sunday, Rabbi Ronnie Perelis of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University transported us both back in time and to a much warmer and sunnier place – the Caribbean. Before there were thriving Jewish communities in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Savannah, most Jews in the Americas lived in the Caribbean. They were part of a dynamic Sephardic network of trade and culture which connected major metropolitan centers such as Amsterdam and London to colonial ports such as Curacao and Kingston.
Rabbi Perelis welcomes the crowd.
Rabbi Perelis began his talk around the turn of the 16th century, in 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World and as the Spanish Inquisition reached its peak. In the “Prologue” of his Diary dedicated to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus writes “And thus after having expelled all of the Jews from your kingdoms and possessions, in the same month of January, Your Royal Highnesses sent me . . . to these parts of the Indies. . .” Then, within 5 years of Spain expelling its Jews, Portugal followed suit. Iberian Jews were forced to either practiced their faith in secret or seek refuge in the cities and towns of Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and even as far as Dutch-ruled Brazil.
Rabbi Perelis shared some great images.
However, in 1654, Portugal regained control of Brazil and continued the expulsion of its Jewish colonists. As a result, most either returned to Holland or relocated to Caribbean colonies. In hopes of building a new life, a small group of Jewish refugees settled in New Amsterdam. As the Jewish community continued to grow in the subsequent years, they appealed to the government in an effort to gain the rights offered to other settlers, such as the right to engage in civic duties and to own property.
In response, George Washington wrote to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1790 that
“happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support… May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Throughout his talk, Rabbi Perelis shared several intriguing maps, drawings and artifacts. Among my favorites were:
Illuminated Ketuba of Meir Meyerstone and Rebekah De Meza on November 7, 1819 New York
Solomon Carvalho painted the interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim from memory after the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1838. He offered the canvas to the congregation “for such Compensation as the Board may deem proper to allow.” They judged it to be “neat & accurate” and paid him $50.
Interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim by Carvahlo
John Rubens Smith (1770-1840). Jews Synagogue in Charleston [Beth Elohim], ca. 1812.
Overall, Rabbi Perelis’ talk was incredibly informative and a great first program in our Sephardic Lecture Series.
You definitely don’t want to miss the second, and final talk in this series: Ladino, a Language of the Jewish Diaspora
. Dr. Adriana Brodsky of St. Mary’s College of Maryland will talk about the history and current state of Ladino, a Jewish language that arose in the Iberian Peninsula and spread in the wake of the expulsion of Jews in 1492 as new Jewish communities settled throughout the Mediterranean region.
La Epoca was a Judeo-Spanish newspaper.
Rabbi Perelis also sent me a list of books that may be of interest!
Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1800, edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan
Jews in the Caribbean, edited by Jane Gerber
A Nation upon the Ocean Sea: Portugal’s Atlantic Diaspora and the Crisis of the Spanish Empire, 1492-1640; Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.
Posted on December 26th, 2014 by Rachel
Last Thursday evening was Olive fun at the JMM. We hosted a DIY Olive Oil workshop led by Pearlstone Center farms. The night started off with light refreshments. We then had a rather theatrical explanation of the life of an olive tree – their resilience and strength in the face of harsh weather conditions. We also learned that Israel is home to some of the oldest olive trees in the world, dating back several hundreds of years.
We then moved into the messy and fun process of pitting the olives, which involved rolling them with highly technical equipment – a wooden stick – until the flesh separated from the pit. During this process, many participants discovered that un-cured olives are rather bitter and taste awful. After the pitting process, the flesh was collected and dumped into a large press in the middle of the room. Did you know that 5 lbs of olives only yields approximately .75 oz of oil? That means an average 51 oz bottle of oil requires 340 lbs of olives!
We also learned about a more modern method of exacting the oil via a centrifuge. We explored the physics of this method by grabbing a partner and spinning quickly in a circle together to mimic how a centrifuge spins the olive liquid swiftly until the oil separates from the pulp. We then moved into making our own herb infused olive oils using fresh sage and rosemary from Pearlstone’s farm. As museumgoers were crafting, Laura retold the story of Hanukah and reiterated the importance of oil during the season. All and all, the evening was a blast!
Showing off rosemary-infused olive oil
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.
Posted on December 12th, 2014 by Rachel
2014 has been a busy year at the museum. In total, we have seen presented four different exhibits over the course of the last twelve months (Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the American Civil War; Project Mah Jongg; Electrified Pickle and The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen). This rich menu of offerings stimulated some great ranging from serious lectures to cotillions and concerts – on topics from Abe Lincoln to zombies. I’ve asked Trillion Attwood to take a look back and give us a quick review of our ten top programs of the last year. Just in case you missed a few, here are the highlights.
Thanks, Marvin. We had so much fun with the program schedule this year that it was hard to pick out just 10 (we actually presented/will present more than 60 programs in 2014). Here are my choices. How many of these do you recall?
1. Kaddish For Lincoln with Harold Holzer
The Sadie B. Feldman Family Lecture
Sunday, February 23rd
We invited Harold Holzer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the JMM to deliver his talk Kaddish For Lincoln. The talk was a fascinating exploration of how the Jewish community mourned the passing of the 16th president and how his connection with the Jewish community passed into legend. Prof. Holzer, a nationally respected Lincoln scholar, offered new insights on why this unlikely self-educated man became the beloved “Father Abraham” to so many American Jews.
2. The Jews of Shanghai with Rabbi Marvin Tokayer
The Eighth Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration
Sunday, May 18th
The Eighth Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration focused on the plight of European refugees in China in WWII. Rabbi Marvin Tokayer provided incredibly vivid descriptions of what life was like for thousands of people living in limbo in a land with few shared customs and culture. He kept the large audience at Baltimore Hebrew Synagogue on the edge of its seat. We were especially excited to welcome a number of former Jewish Shanghai residents to the event.
3. The Future of American Jewry with Professor Leonard Saxe
Sunday, June 1st
The Annual Meeting, when we welcome our new board members and thank those who are leaving, is always an important event in our programs calendar. This year we also welcomed to the museum Professor Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University to present his keynote lecture The Future of American Jewry, which is based upon the recent findings by the Pew Report. This fascinating talk presented a much more optimistic view than anticipated by many based upon the initial report findings.
4. Annual Volunteer appreciation event featuring Our Volunteers
Friday, June 6th
Each year, we hold a number of events for our volunteers, and this year our volunteer appreciation lunch was held at the National Electronics Museum. We all had an opportunity to explore the museum that would be our partner institution for the then upcoming exhibit The Electrified Pickle. We were taken on a guided tour by Alice Donahue, the Assistant Director, who was able to highlight some of the most important parts of the collection. I know that some of you may be thinking I’m cheating a bit to put this on the list, because only volunteers could attend this great event – and you are not a volunteer. Well give us a call and we can fix that!
5. Mah Jongg: More than Just a Game of Chance with Dr. Robert Mintz
Sunday, June 8th
Project Mah Jongg brought a new audience to the Museum. We were surrounded by the sounds of tiles clicking for three months, and some of us even managed to learn the game ourselves. Our most popular program in connection with the exhibit was the presentation by Dr. Robert Mintz of the Walters Art Museum. Dr. Mintz discussed the art of the game and the significance and history of the images on those tiny tiles. Even the most experienced Mah Jongg aficionados found new details about the design and history of the game that they had never thought to ask.
6. Imagine This! featuring Jennifer George (Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter) and a team of robots
Sunday, August 3rd
For five weeks over the summer we featured a different tech related theme each week as part of The Electrified Pickle. I learned so much on each of these Sundays and we had such great volunteers from the Jewish tech community that it was hard to pick just one. But I believe I have a special passion for Imagine This!, in which we explored the world of tomorrow. The museum was overrun with robots of all shapes and sizes, including one that was able to play giant Jenga with our visitors!
On the same day, we were also very excited to welcome Jennifer George to speak about her grandfather, Rube Goldberg, and some of his crazy inventions. The talk had some of the funniest bits we put on all year, thanks to Mr. Goldberg’s marvelous cartoons and some of the videos that professionals and amateurs made in homage to his art.
7. Where are all the Jewish Zombies with Prof. Arnold Blumberg
Free Fall Baltimore
Sunday, October 26th
We participated again this year in Free Fall Baltimore. It has been a great success in the past, and this year proved no different. As with previous years, we saw plenty of new faces which is always a great sign. We invited Arnold T. Blumberg to speak, and he delivered a great talk titled Where are all the Jewish Zombies? The focus was on the story of the “golem” through its many twists and turns in Jewish history. We couldn’t resist the opportunity for a little horror so close to Halloween!
8. Profiles in American Jewish Courage with Dr. Gary Zola
Thursday, November 6th
It was a very significant night for us when we marked the 50th Anniversary of the re-dedication of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. This special event was attended by lay and religious leaders from our local community. We were honored to welcome Dr. Gary Zola, Executive Director of the American Jewish Archives, to present his keynote lecture, Profiles in American Jewish Courage. Dr. Zola tied his stories of three exceptionally brave activists of the 19th and 20th century to their contemporaries here in Baltimore.
9. Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights
Sunday, December 7th
Our most successful family program of the year was this past Sunday, when we welcomed Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights to the museum for a Chanukah concert. Families had a wonderful time singing along and dancing. Freeze Dance proved to be one of the most popular songs of the entire concert, getting everyone up on their feet!
The performance was part of our Downtown Dollar Day program which, in total, drew 190 people to the museum in just one day!
10. Early Jewish Baltimore with Gil Sandler
Thursday, December 25th
So far we have had a great year with some wonderful programs, but we are not finished yet! We still have several great programs left, including our Jewish Book Festival on Sunday, December 14th and Mitzvah Day on Thursday, December 25th. We are especially excited to be welcoming back to the museum noted local historian Gil Sandler on December 25th.
This has been a great year to be at the museum, and I have had a wonderful time planning such a range of events. I hope you enjoyed attending them and are looking forward to another year of great programs!