JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Museum Matters: May 2014

Posted on May 2nd, 2014 by

Global stories

1992154001One of the remarkable aspects of working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland are the constant reminders that the events that have occurred in the Jewish community here in Maryland are ultimately tied to experiences across the globe.  On my recent visit to the Jewish Museum of London, I had a chance to see the exhibit on Jewish participation in World War I – a link that connects to the sixty volunteers from East Baltimore who joined the British military unit known as “the Jewish Legion.”

Shanghai_ghetto_in_1943This month our attention turns to the other side of the globe as Rabbi Marvin Tokayer shares his insights on the Jewish refugees from Shanghai in our Risch Memorial program.  This year I learned that there are actually still members of the Shanghai enclave and their descendants living here in Baltimore.  You won’t want to miss this fascinating program hosted by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 18.



Upcoming Programs

Please note that unless otherwise noted, all programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore, MD 21202). For more information and to RSVP for specific programs, contact Trillion Attwood: (410) 732-6400 x215 / For more information on JMM events please visit

While you’re marking your calendars, take note, the Museum WILL be open on Memorial Day, May 26th and will be closed for Shavuot on June 4th and 5th.


Mothers Day Family Mah Jongg Marathon

Sunday, May 11, 11:00am-5:00pm

Program Free with Museum Admission 


What better way to celebrate the important women in your life then coming to the JMM for a day of Mah Jongg Madness!  All members of the family are welcome. Lessons will be available for Mah Jongg novices and we will have plenty of experts on hand to help explain this fascinating game. This event is open to players of all ability and we will have separate beginner and advanced level tables. Everyone will have a chance to win and prizes will include a variety of Mah Jongg goodies! We will be playing with the National Mah Jongg Leagues 2014 card. Registration is not required but is recommended as table space is limited!


The 8th Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration:

From Poverty to Culture: The Refugee Community in Shanghai During World War ll

Speaker: Rabbi Marvin Tokayer

Sunday May 18, 2:00pm

Admission is Free

This program takes place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (7401 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21208)

JMM_Risch_PC_NEW-page-001The Risch Memorial program is the largest and most important annual event in our calendar year.  Each year it focuses on a different aspect of the topic of immigration.  This year, as JMM looks at cultural ties between China and the Jewish Community through its Project Mah Jongg exhibit, we have invited a very special expert on the Jews of East Asia, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, to be our featured speaker.  Rabbi Tokayer is the former chief rabbi of Tokyo and author of the Fugu Plan. You won’t want to miss this powerful evocation of how the 20,000 Jews of Shanghai struggled against impossible odds to not only survive, but thrive in this unexpected site of refuge.

Support for the Risch Memorial Program is provided by Frank and Helen Risch through the Risch Memorial Endowment Fund at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.


Late Night on Lloyd Street: The Wheel and the Star:  Do the Shapes Fit?: Buddhism and Judaism Meet in the Modern World    

Thursday May 22, 6:00 to 9:00pm

jubuDid you know the first American to convert to Buddhism on American soil was Jewish?  Charles Strauss converted in 1893 at an exposition on world religions. Join us for this panel discussion on the connections between Judaism and Buddhism.

As with all Late Night on Lloyd Streets there will be plenty of snacks and drinks.

Late Night on Lloyd Street programs are FREE thanks to generous support from the Grandchildren of Harvey M. and Lyn P. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund.



Annual Meeting: Will Our Grandchildren be Jewish? The Future of American Jewry


Sunday, June 1, 1:00pm

Speaker: Len Saxe

Admission is Free

Annual_Meeting_PC-1The recently released Pew Research Center report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” has unleashed a veritable tsunami of commentary.  The results of this study have been interpreted in so many ways. According to some, the American Jewish community is dissolving, while others maintain that the community has never been larger. The lecture will assess competing views of the state of American Jewry and the prospects for future decline or growth.  The perspective will be one of optimism: How Pew’s findings should be regarded as positive and how understanding the data can help the American Jewish community address challenges.

Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., is Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy at Brandeis University where he directs the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute.

The program begins at 1:00pm with a presentation of the FY 15 slate of nominees to the JMM’s Board of Trustees for election by the Museum’s membership. The lecture will follow. Refreshments will be served.


More Programs

The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit or check out BIYA on facebook.




Current exhibits

Exhibits currently on display at the JMM include Project Mah Jongg (on display through June 29), Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore, The Synagogue Speaks!


Hours and Tour Times

The JMM is open Sunday-Thursday, 10am – 5pm. We offer tours of our historic synagogues each day at 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00.


Get Involved

The JMM is looking for volunteers to help staff our front desk, work in the gift shop, and lead tours as docents. No prior knowledge or training is required. All that is needed is an interest in learning about the JMM, our historic sites, exhibits, and programs and a desire to share this knowledge with the public. All volunteers are provided with thorough training. If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen at 410.732.6400 x217 or



Revamped and revitalized, membership at the JMM is now better than ever – with new categories, benefits, and discounts to enrich every visit to the Museum for you and your friends and families.

All members receive our monthly e-newsletter, along with a 10% discount at the Museum store, free general admission to the Museum, free admission to all regular programs, attendance at exclusive member opening events and discounted weekday parking at the City-owned garage at 1001 E. Fayette Street.

Your membership provides much needed funding for the many programs that we offer and we hope we can count on you for your continued support. Memberships can be purchase online! For more information about our membership program, please contact Sue Foard at (410) 732-6400 x220 or


Gift Shop


The Museum Shop is the place to shop for your favorite Mah Jongg must-have pieces…your game will be on-game!   These are only a SAMPLE of what you will find!  See you at the tables!





Esther Weiner, Museum Shop Manager, 410-732-6400, ext. 211 /



Posted in jewish museum of maryland

China & the Jews

Posted on April 30th, 2014 by

We are less than a month away from the eighth annual Herbert H and Irma B Risch Program on Immigration.  This year’s program, to be held at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation at 2 p.m. on May 18, features Rabbi Marvin Tokayer.  Rabbi Tokayer will be speaking on the topic of the Shanghai refugees, the remarkable Jewish community that not only survived WWII but also flourished in the years that followed (former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal among them).   The selection of this year’s program was influenced by JMM’s current exhibition, Project Mah Jongg, and its focus on cultural connections between Jewish Americans and Chinese traditions.

Mark Your Calendar!

Mark Your Calendar!

The connections between Jews and China are far older than most people think.  The merchant trade of the Silk Road brought the first Jews to this part of the world by the time of the 8th century Tang Dynasty.  When Marco Polo arrives in Beijing in the late 1200s he finds an active community of Jewish traders.  Kaifeng contained perhaps the largest and most enduring Chinese Jewish population, preserving kashreit and shabbat well into the 1700s.

Jews of K’ai-Fun-Foo (Kaifeng Subprefecture), China. Image via wikipedia.

In the modern era China has been a place of refuge for Jews on more than one occasion.  When the Inquisition reached Goa, India in 1560, the demand was made that Portuguese marranos and “New Christians” return to Portugal and the punishments meted out to the unfaithful.  A group of Portuguese marranos went further east to Macao instead.  “Captain” Bartolomeu Vaz Landeiro was among the most notable of these refugees. Taking on a role that combined piracy and diplomacy, Landeiro became an agent for the local Chinese authorities in their dealings with the European powers.  Without any sense of irony, his Chinese neighbors would call Landeiro, “The King of the Portuguese.”

Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain during the times of inquisition, painting by Moshe Maimon. Image via wikipedia.

Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain during the times of inquisition, painting by Moshe Maimon. Image via wikipedia.

In 1844, it was the opium trade that brought Elias David Sassoon, son of the treasurer of Baghdad, to China.  Initially setting up shop in Hong Kong, Sassoon becomes the first Jewish member of the international colony in Shanghai in 1850.  The big break for the Sassoons is the American Civil War.  Suddenly, Chinese cotton becomes an important international commodity and Elias David Sassoon its most prominent dealer.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. Image via wikipedia.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. Image via wikipedia.

In the early 1900s, Jews fleeing pogroms in Western Russia, managed to make it across the Trans-Siberian Railway to settle in Harbin, China.

And perhaps the most interesting Jewish emigre to China is Morris Cohen (known more commonly as “Two Gun Cohen”).  Cohen was a British born pickpocket, pugilist and con artist (as a boy, in a scene right out of American Hustle  Cohen is employed by glazier, breaking  windows to bring in business).  After leaving reform school in England, Cohen headed to Saskatchewan, Canada where he was hired on as a farmhand and taught to shoot with a gun in both hands.  He made an unlikely friendship with a Chinese restaurant owner in Saskatoon whom he saved from an armed robbery.  This brought him into the inner circle of Cantonese Canadians who were supporting Sun Yatsen independence movement against the child emperor PuYi (think Last Emperor of China).  He eventually became a body guard for Sun Yatsen and his family and later a “Brigadier General” under Chiang Kai Shek.

Image via.

Image via.

If these stories pique your interest, I have two resources to suggest:

1) There is a terrific on line magazine called Asian Jewish Life at  You will find much more detail on “Two-Gun Cohen” in one of their archival issues – this one to be exact!

2) In addition to his lecture in May, Rabbi Tokayer runs a series of highly-rated kosher tours of Jewish history in Asia.  His next China-Japan tour is in July.  You can find more information at

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here. 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Next Page »