Millenial Belonging: Voices from the Exhibitions Intern Team

Posted on October 23rd, 2017 by

This summer we asked our summer interns to team up and create their very own podcast episodes. Over the course of ten weeks they needed to pitch a concept, draft a script, and record and edit their podcasts. We’ve shared those podcasts here with you on the blog over the course of the last few weeks – here is the final episode from our 2017 Summer Interns! You can see all of their podcasts by clicking on the intern podcast tag.


Exhibit interns Jillie, Tirza, and Ryan.

Exhibit interns Jillie, Tirza, and Ryan.

Belonging in Judaism is not only an academically complex and fascinating topic, but it is also a very personal one. Every person, regardless of ethnicity, race, and age, experiences the intricacies of the concept of belonging.  Work, hobbies, family, friends and other avenues that are defined by people coming together and moving apart are integral to being human. Belonging and in turn not belonging are unavoidable elements to the human experience.  In this podcast episode summer exhibition interns Tirza Ochrach-Konradi, Ryan Mercado, and Jillie Drutz share their personal narratives of Jewish belonging and discuss the involvement of our general millennial age group with Judaism.

>>Listen to the Podcast<<

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Re-thinking the Museum for the 21st Century: My Interview with the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s Executive Director, Zev Moses

Posted on July 17th, 2017 by

Blog post by Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

I lived in the Washington DC area all my life. I remember taking field trips to the many impressive Smithsonian Museums on the Mall in DC when I was in elementary school. Those initial visits shaped my idea of what a museum is: A large impressive sandstone building with exhibits of objects behind glass. That was how museums were to me. It wasn’t until I went to the new “Newseum” (a museum about media) in DC that I got a taste of how museums are evolving and adapting to the 21st century. Multiple interfaces lined the halls, exhibits were interactive, and you could even go up to a chunk of the Berlin Wall and touch it! Few objects are behind glass there! My visit showed me what a museum can be as it transitions to new medians to keep people interested and entertained during their visits. This was the future of museums.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

4040 Boulevard Saint Laurent is the seven story address of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. This placard on the building tells of its past history as a garment factory with extensive Jewish history.

When I started my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) in June 2017, I began working in a much more traditional brick and mortar museum doing extensive research on a new exhibit. The JMM is getting more modern and interactive, but it still has a long way to go. In late June, I took time off to head up to Montreal, Quebec, initially to go apartment hunting, but then an idea struck me: Why not connect the JMM with the Museum of Jewish Montreal? I had studied abroad at McGill in the Fall 2016 Semester, writing numerous papers on Jewish Montreal while there, and even visiting the city’s Jewish Library. Yet, I never visited the Museum of Jewish Montreal. I knew small details about it, that it was fairly new, and that it did walking tours. Networking between the two museums seemed like a good idea to me, so I asked Rachel and she gave me the go ahead. I arranged to take a walking tour, which you can read about here, and I also scheduled to sit down with the Zev Moses, the Executive Director of the Museum who started it back in 2010.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

The Front of the Museum on Boulevard Saint Laurent.

When I walked into the Museum on the afternoon of 23 June, I was greeted with a long turquoise colored room with large windows and exposed pipes. It certainly was very modern. I chatted a bit with the walking tour guide who had just given me a very pleasant tour. I ordered some coffee and a slice of coffee cake and was soon greeted by Zev. We sat down at a table and began our conversation.

I asked Zev questions ranging from how he got started with the Museum to how he has gotten to this point. Zev’s story is truly remarkable, he began his the museum with an initial thought to try something new after leaving a former job in 2009. He noticed that many people were getting laid off and that businesses were not hiring. Zev was right, as anyone who lived through it remembers; 2008-2010 was truly a terrible time for the world economy. Also during this time, Zev became curious of his surroundings. Having studied City Planning in Philadelphia, his trained eye noticed that there were many buildings in the Plateau neighborhood of Montreal that looked more or less like synagogues, or had some clues/ traces of their Jewish past. He eventually looked into one building in particular that he lived across the street from and found out it was one of the largest synagogues in the city! It had a massive 40-50 year history that no one knew about. Zev began to collect information about other buildings and places online and created an interactive map. His project eventually would grow into the Museum of Jewish Montreal that exists now, with a permanent space on St. Laurent boulevard in Montreal’s historic Plateau Neighborhood.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

Inside the museum’s main room with a gift shop on the left, a café on the right, and a small photograph exhibition on the back wall. The room is very modern with exposed pipes and wide windows.

What is so interesting about Zev and his approach to this Museum is that its development and approach to museums is different. This Museum is not like the JMM with artifacts behind glass with placards. This Museum is mostly online and the current presence they have is geared more towards a community aspect. The Museum regularly hosts many events, and Zev told me that the Museum and its staff regularly try to think about what works and what doesn’t. What do people want to see in a 21st century museum? Zev’s answer to that is treating people differently. That has materialized in creating a museum that is much more interactive with walking tours, community events, and use of technology to enhance visitor’s experience. For those looking for extensive histories and exhibits, those still exist, just online. The physical space is much more community-centered with a gift shop, a small photograph exhibition, and a café with Jewish-themed food. Walking tours meet here just before heading out as well. When I think about what my perception of museums are, and what this new museum is, I find that this new approach makes sense. Most people only spend 1-2 hours at museums simply walking around, looking at objects, and then leave and forget about what they saw. Not at the Jewish Museum of Montreal. While there is no permanent exhibition that many people would expect to see at a museum, you still walk away with much more than what you would in a traditional brick and mortar museum. The walking tour I took was much more exciting and memorable than a walkthrough of an exhibition. I did not attend any community events there because of limited time, but I’m sure those are memorable as well. As for the website, I checked out their online exhibits after my visit and they’re impressive. The large range of topics and history available are perfect for anyone who has a smartphone or who simply is curious. And to be honest, we millennials spend much of our time online than actually going to museums to learn, so this online presence is genius!

One question I was particular keen on asking Zev was how he coordinated with the other Jewish organizations in the city, such as the Jewish Archives and the Jewish Public Library, who have supplied his Museum with historical materials he needs. I ask this because at the JMM I am so used to simply walking to the library or downstairs to the archives to fetch an item or photo that I need to look at for my research. How does the Montreal Museum do this? Zev explained to me that at the onset of the Museum’s development that he was able to acquire good deals and prices for rights to photos and other materials. This makes sense for a mostly online museum like this one; there is no need for the Museum to have its own archives either when the City of Montreal clearly has two very good institutions dedicated to that job.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

The Museum’s small photograph exhibition titled “No Turning back – Aller simple.” It features beautiful photographs and poems.

As I finished up my interview, I asked one more question, which was where did Zev see the Museum going in the future? Zev explained to me that after a good first year in the new permanent space that he first wants to consolidate what he has and expand on that, after all, starting any business, especially a nonprofit organization like a Museum is hard. However, future projects were still on his mind. He explained to me that he hopes that walking tours, which happen in the warm summer months, could possibly continue on in the winter. How that can happen though is unclear, however the current building where the Museum is housed, in and old garment factory with Jewish history could be a potential site.

I finished the interview there, chatted for a bit, finished my food, and then left. As I’m writing this up now a few weeks later, I realize that Zev’s project, while new and developing, is what a 21st century Museum should look like. Gone are the days of traditional brick and mortar museums, the world is becoming more digital and more refined. People want more than just a walk through, they want interaction and involvement. The Museum of Jewish Montreal’s walking tours and their community-centered events are what Museums need to focus on. History and exhibitions are still very much a part of Museums, but they should no longer be the main focus. What the Museum of Jewish Montreal is doing is what Museums need to start incorporating if they want to thrive as society changes around them.

If you find yourself in Montreal, go check out the Museum, take a walking tour. Or better yet, if you don’t have the means to visit, go to their website and check out their exhibits. I’ll definitely go back to the Museum once I move to Montreal permanently, I really want to go on the other walking tours available… and I really want another piece of coffee cake from the café.

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Rabbis, Writers, and Radicals: A walking tour in a historic Jewish Neighborhood in Montreal, Quebec and why we need Jewish Museums

Posted on June 27th, 2017 by

Post by Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Outside of the Museum of Jewish Montreal.

Outside of the Museum of Jewish Montreal.

Before I started this internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I scheduled a trip for late June to go to Montreal to go apartment searching to prepare me for my upcoming move to Canada for Graduate School. Suddenly, the idea hit me that I could use this trip as an opportunity to help the JMM connect with another Jewish Museum, The Museum of Jewish Montreal. This Museum is very new, founded in 2010 by Zev Moses, a city planner who started mapping out Jewish histories of buildings around the city. His project eventually turned into a Museum. One of the services the Museum provides are walking tours of historic Jewish Neighborhoods. I decided that while I was in Montreal I would stop by to interview Zev and also take a walking tour to learn something new. The walking tour I picked was titled “Rabbis, Writers, and Radicals” and this blog post will be about my experience on that tour.

My guide on the walking tour, Trisha, showing us what an old Synagogue looked like before it was converted into a high school.

My guide on the walking tour, Trisha, showing us what an old Synagogue looked like before it was converted into a high school.

The blurb on the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s website described the tour as: “A hub of Jewish culture in the 1920s, Mile End was home to cantors and community organizers as well as poets and politicians of all stripes. Mile End has been a centre of the Yiddish language for nearly a century, first with its left-leaning Jewish schools, libraries, and social clubs, and now with dozens of Hasidic synagogues, yeshivas, and storefronts.”

The former building of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA?). It is now a mixed-use/ residential building but the old sign still remains on the façade along with two Stars of David.

The former building of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA). It is now a mixed-use/ residential building but the old sign still remains on the façade along with two Star of Davids.

Right away I saw similarities in this description. Like Baltimore, Montreal used to have a thriving Jewish Community in a central neighborhood known as “The Plateau/ Mile End.” The neighborhood teemed with newly arrived Jewish immigrants mainly from Yiddish-speaking Eastern Europe who created a truly thriving neighborhood with shops, entertainment, and cultural institutions. Eventually, the Jews of Montreal moved away to other areas of the city, or left Montreal all together. The same situation happened in Baltimore, where Jonestown and Lombard St were once the epicenter of Jewish life until the Jews left the neighborhood for areas outside the city. Already seeing similarities, I was excited to take the tour. I brought along my phone for pictures and met Trisha, my tour guide. We started at the Museum and went on our way.

College Francais, an old synagogue that has now been converted into a High school. The old Hebrew letters are still on the top. I believe that this is the synagogue that Trisha is showing us in a previous picture.

College Francais, an old synagogue that has now been converted into a high school. The old Hebrew letters are still on the top. I believe that this is the synagogue that Trisha is showing us in a previous picture.

As we walked the streets of Montreal, everything looked modern with no signs of any Jewish presence. One could be excused for thinking that there was no Jewish community at all. One of the first places we stopped was a residential building that looked like an old office building. No outward signs of Jewish presence caught my eye until Trisha asked us to look up to the top of the façade. There in big letters carved into the stone was the name “Young Men’s Hebrew Association.” To me that sounds similar to the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). Star of Davids also adorned the stone as well. Trisha informed us this used to be the said organization’s meeting place, as well as the location of facilities Montreal Jews used such as a swimming pool. I was amazed that such a normal looking building had such an interesting past. And yet, I never noticed until I looked up and read the sign. I assume the majority of people haven’t noticed the sign as it is high up and a little difficult to read. This was the first taste of what I would see on the rest of the tour.

The Evangelical Pentecostal Church that use to me Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine, an Orthodox Synagogue. The building has many similar architectural features of a Synagogue. Behind the cross is an outline of a Star of David.

The Evangelical Pentecostal Church that used to be Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine, an Orthodox Synagogue. The building has many similar architectural features of a Synagogue. Behind the cross is an outline of a Star of David.

Another stop on our tour was to a local high school, now turned into a youth centre. Trisha explained that back in the day, the school had a 90% Jewish population and then showed us photos of some prominent alumni. One would have never guessed that a school in the middle of Christian-majority Quebec would have an enormously high Jewish population. An orphanage for Jewish Children and then a house of a Jewish radical were next on our list. At each stop. Trisha explained to us the context and history, as well as used visual pictures she had in her binder and even music to enhance the experience. Finally, towards the end of the tour, one last stop really struck me.

The cornerstone of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine. It is in Yiddish and is one of the only visible symbols on the building that signify its Jewish past. The Yiddish says something along the lines about women helping to build the building and congregation.

The cornerstone of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine. It is in Yiddish and is one of the only visible symbols on the building that signify its Jewish past. The Yiddish says something along the lines about women helping to build the building and congregation.

A large brick building stood before me. Over the door a sign read, “Evangelical Pentecostal Church.” A crucifix also adorned a large window as well. To me, it seemed like just another christian church, but then Trisha told us to look closely at the crucifix window. I looked closely and behind the cross was a Star of David outline! I was amazed and shocked at the same time. Trisha then pointed to the left corner of the building where a cornerstone was with Yiddish writing that told of women builders who helped build the congregation. What I was in front of was the old building of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine, an old Orthodox synagogue which was sold to the Christians who converted it into a Church. However, its Jewish character still remained. The Star of David outline behind the cross and the Yiddish writing on the cornerstone revealed to me the striking past of the building, as well as a symbol for Jewish migration and assimilation of their buildings. This congregation’s story is all too similar to many historic synagogues that once were in the Mile End Neighborhood. It thrived for a time, was a central meeting place for its congregation, and then moved away to another area. With the Jews gone, Christians came in, bought the building, and renovated it to be a Christian church. This really connected with me, as I had spent my last year in college learning about how former Jewish communities and buildings in the Middle Ages were taken over by Christians and appropriated into Christian houses of worship. The Montreal Synagogue I was looking at was a modern example of my studies coming full circle. It was both incredibly interesting yet sad.

 Inside of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine. You can see the Star of David outline with the cross facing the outside and covering it.  Source:  Taube, Sara Ferdman. Traces of the Past: Montreal’s Early Synagogues. Montreal, QC. Vehicule Press: 2011. Pg 97. (I picked up this book at the Museum Gift Shop)

Inside of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Ukraine. You can see the Star of David outline with the cross facing the outside and covering it.
Source: Taube, Sara Ferdman. Traces of the Past: Montreal’s Early Synagogues. Montreal, QC. Vehicule Press: 2011. Located in photo portfolio between pages 96 and 97.
(I picked up this book at the Museum Gift Shop)

The tour ended at a historic sandwich shop, much like our very own Attman’s. I got a bite to eat and then walked back to the Museum. As I was walking I realized that Montreal’s Jewish presence was all over, but required a keen eye to notice it. I passed a hairdresser shop that had Stars of David brick designs on the top of the building. It reminded me of the other buildings I saw on the tour, such as other buildings that had been re-appropriated into mixed-use buildings such as a high school, daycare, and even just apartment buildings that still had traceable Jewish symbol on them like Hebrew letters or Stars of David. There are massive Jewish influences on all these buildings and I doubt anyone knows about them or why they’re there. Thankfully, the Museum of Jewish Montreal will shed light on these buildings. One may ask why there is a need for Museums, especially Jewish heritage museums. If you’re in a large city or a historic neighborhood, look around you at your surroundings, perhaps you’ll see Hebrew letters or Star of Davids on buildings, or maybe something that looks Jewish and wonder why they’re there. That is why we need Jewish Museums, to uncover and preserve the past to something as small as a deli sandwich to an Synagogue turned into a church. Montreal’s new Jewish Museum will and is certainly fulfilling that important mission by helping the general public connect to history through exciting walking tours and other programs.

A hairdresser shop and apartment building in Montreal. It has noticeable Jewish Stars on its façade, yet it is not a synagogue nor does it have anything to do with the  modern Jewish Community. This is an example of a property that was formally Jewish but is now in mixed-use. A very similar sight in Montreal’s historic Mile End neighborhood.

A hairdresser shop and apartment building in Montreal. It has noticeable Jewish Stars on its façade, yet it is not a synagogue nor does it have anything to do with the modern Jewish Community. This is an example of a property that was formally Jewish but is now in mixed-use. A very similar sight in Montreal’s historic Mile End neighborhood.

 

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