Despite the wintry weather, we were pleased to welcome Dr. Rafael Medoff, the founding director of The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, to speak at the JMM this past Sunday. His talk focused on Maryland’s Jew Bill and explored how American Jews came to achieve full political equality in the United States. As Dr. Medoff explained, before there was a finalized federal constitution, the original 13 colonies had to have their own system of governance, which established the connection between one’s religious faith and the right to hold public office come. As each state enacted it’s constitution in 1776, each had to consider and articulate the qualification to hold public office. Many states, including Maryland, required an affirmation of one’s Christian faith in order to hold public office and enjoy other civic opportunities. The purpose, however, was not to exclude Jews, rather to affirm the Christian spirit of the new country but, consequently, it had the effect of excluding people. Critical turning point came after the Federal Constitution and northwest ordinance were enacted in 1787, which allowed the principle of full equality without Christian affirmation to be enshrined. However, the road to remedying the conflicting federal and state previsions was lengthy and complex and had a lasting impact on both local and global politics. It is this complex journey of the Jew Bill that sits at the heart of Dr. Medoff’s talk.
We are happy to invite you to listen and enjoy and even share this talk with friends and family!
We hope you will join us for our next talk on Sunday, March 29th at 1pm, where we’ll welcome Dr. Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins University. She will be speaking on 19th century Egyptology and the collection of Mendes Cohen!
This past Sunday we warmly welcomed Dr. Adriana Brodsky of Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, to speak on Ladino as part of our Sephardic Lecture Series. Her presentation traced the origins of the language and explored both the oral and written traditions. Ladino is truly a fascinating language; as someone who knew nothing about the language and its history, I found Dr. Brodsky’s presentation incredibly informative!
Quite the crowd turned out.
Also known as Judeo-Spanish, Ladino is the spoken and written Hispanic language of Jews of Spanish origin. Interestingly, Ladino was originally just the language of a Spanish province and was not considered a Jewish language until the expulsion from Spain in 1492. After the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal, they continued to speak Ladino in the communities and countries to which they emigrated. As a result, the Ladino grammatical structure and vocabulary closely align with 14th and 15th century Spanish. However, as Jewish immigrants became immersed in their new communities their native language began to change and evolve. Dr. Brodsky explained that while some Jews emigrated to countries such as England and Italy (in relatively close proximity to Spain) and were able to maintain their language, other Jews moved to Sephardi communities deep in the Ottoman Empire where their language began to borrow and embrace new words from Arabic, Greek, Turkish and French.
Map of Judeo-Spanish emigration.
Dr. Brodsky also explained that a large part of the Ladino language is linguistic traditions such as proverbs and sayings, such as:
A gran’ a grano, hinche la gayina el papo (One seed at a time, a hen fills its craw.)
Antes ke te kases, mira lo ke hazes… (Watch what we do before you get married.)
Kon esos polvos se hizieron estos lodos. (That dust brought, or made, this mud.)
Dime kon kien fueres i direte kien eres (Tell me who you go around with and I’ll tell you who you are.)
In addition to proverbs and sayings, music was also an important part of the Ladino oral tradition. In order to illuminate it’s influence, Dr. Brodsky shared we all sang a wonderful rendition of Adio Kerida:
As the talk came to a close, we had the opportunity explore the written tradition and to decode a bit of Ladino. It was interesting to learn that most of the time, Ladino can be written in using three different methods: Rashi script, Square script or Solitro script (a cursive method of writing letters) (see below).
Rashi script, Square script and Solitro script
Following Dr. Brodsky’s talk, we hosted community workshop lead by Zachary Paul Levine, Curator at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. The JHSGW is currently in the process of planning their new regional Jewish museum (projected opening 2020) and its core exhibition. As part of that process, they are turning to the community for thoughts on which objects and themes should be included and explored more deeply. Before moving into an introduction to the institution and its vision for the future, Dr. Levine had us all go around and place post-its on images of our favorite objects displayed on posters around the room. After introducing the JHSGW, Dr. Levine told us the story behind each of the objects displayed. However, he presented them in thematic sets and it was up to the audience to determine if they felt that the object fit into its current category. Overall, the workshop got us thinking, talking, and sharing ideas for this new project.
This workshop was one of the first events in our series of community programs. We have several upcoming programs that showcase community collaborations and accomplishments. Later this month, February 23, 2015 – March 8, 2015, we’ll be hosting “The Girl’s Photography Project” exhibit sponsored by CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. in partnership with Wide Angle Media. In 2014, 15 African American and Orthodox Jewish girls ages 10-14 participated in a series of workshops that enabled them to learn about each other’s perspectives living in their northwest Baltimore City community. They learned to use a camera, take quality photos and most importantly, got to know one another while gaining an understanding of each other’s life experiences. The photos in this exhibit feature their viewpoints and are truly one of a kind. We invite everyone to join us for the reception on March 1at 1pm!
A Sneak Peek at “My Family Story” objects.
Later in March JMM celebrates Jewish family history with another special exhibit. Over the past few months, the JMM has worked with middle school students from Beth Tfiloh on an exciting and creative education program, My Family Story. In this inspiring program, students work with museum staff to investigate their family roots and discover deeper connections to larger issues of American Jewish history, community, Jewish identity and Israel. Their exploration culminates in an artistic expression that creatively represents their family’s history. We are greatly looking forward to showcasing all of the students’ work and invite you to join us for a reception on the evening of March 12th at 7pm.
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.
A Town Known As Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community
Listening to Ms. Sandler speak.
On Sunday, January 25, the JMM was delighted to host a very special speaker, Shiri B. Sandler, U.S. Director the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland along with over 95 audience members. In honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, Shiri spoke on the town of Oświęcim, which despite its long and varied history, is known for one thing: Auschwitz. However, for centuries prior to World War II, Oświęcim was home to Jews and non-Jews who lived rich and vibrant lives. And it is this side of Oświęcim’s story that Ms. Sandler sought to share. The goal of her talk was to illuminate the rich and deep history of the formerly Jewish town that has become known as the symbol of the Holocaust.
Jewish Street, with the Great Bet Midrash (on the right) and the Great Synagogue (on the left), early 20th century. Collection of Mirosław Ganobis.
Throughout her presentation, Ms. Sandler shared with us several wonderful images that together help tell Oświęcim’s story. Although her presentation was broken in to four segments: Early Years 1200s-1800s, Jewish life 1867-1939, Wartime 1939-1945, and Post-War Life and Memory, each highlighting Oświęcim’s transition over time, Ms. Sandler spent a great deal of time discussing what life was like for people directly before the war. One of the first images she shared was of a postcard that highlighted the vibrancy of Oświęcim’s Jewish community. She highlighted the rich social life with another photograph showing members of Poalei Yisrael association in the mid-1930s festively dressed in crowns and robes for the Jewish holiday of Purim. This photograph, stressed Ms. Sandler, really speaks to the essence of Jewish life in Oświęcim as one that both embraced individuality and togetherness.
Marta Swiderska (left) and Olga Pressler (right), 1934, Oświęcim. Collection of the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
Ms. Sandler also made a point to discuss the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Oświęcim prior to its involvement in WWII. To do so, she shared a photograph of a group of boys on a public school field trip. Although it is easy to distinguish which boys are Jewish and which are catholic by their hats (Ms. Sandler explained that the students in the hats were Jewish while those without hats were catholic), the boys stand happily united in the photograph. Beyond this, Jews were also active participants in civic life, both in military service and political leadership. Ms. Sandler explained that although the mayor was frequently catholic, the deputy was often Jewish. To further illumine the harmonious relationships between Jews and non-Jews in the town, Shiri shared a photograph of two high school students on first day of classes. However, their close pose indicates that Marta Swiderska and Olga Pressler were more than schoolmates, they were best friends. Ms. Sandler explained that the photograph was taken by Olga’s father, a well-known photographer in Oswiecim, in 1934 when both girls were seventeen years old. Olga was Jewish and Marta was Catholic. The girls would meet frequently at each other’s houses and often went to the Sola River, a popular place for young people to socialize. Unfortunately, when the war broke out, Marta and Olga were forced apart. It was later discovered that Marta survived the war and still lives in Oswiecim; Olga Presler perished at Auschwitz. From there Ms. Sandler transitioned to a photograph of men walking through synagogue ruins gathering ruble. She explained that this photograph was taken in 1940 and shows the demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by KL Auschwitz prisoners. It is on the most poignant photographs in the exhibition as it stands in stark contrast with the vibrant images of Jewish life and indicates Oswiecim’s solemn transition into a camp.
Demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by the KL Auschwitz prisoners, c. 1940. Collection of Emilia Weźranowska.
To conclude her presentation, Ms. Sandler briefly discussed the impact of the Holocaust as well as rebuilding and remembering Oświęcim. It is estimated that close to 90% of the nearly 3.5 million pre-war Polish Jews perished. Thus, only about 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. Despite the tragedy, Jews in Poland attempted to rebuild their lives both individually and as a community. Today the Auschwitz Jewish Center stands in Oświęcim and is dedicated to public education about the richness of pre-war life, the Holocaust, and the dangers of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
It was a full house for this important talk.
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.