Looking for Stories of Culture

Posted on July 31st, 2017 by

By exhibitions intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Judaism is built on stories, which is natural for any religion. Religions are based on shared beliefs and the story format is the way a lot of that content gets passed down generation to generation. Religious stories act like pneumonic devices for religious beliefs. It would not be easy to compile, maintain, and memorize a giant bulleted list of religious beliefs, but it is attainable to establish, maintain, and recollect from a big book of stories.

Jewish religious stories are super accessible and have been carefully maintained but, the particular Jewish stories that I am interested in are less carefully stored. I am interested in the stories of Jewish culture and Jewish community. The stories that come from Jews as a group of people doing things together that are designed to share what it means to participate in Jewish culture. This is entirely personal bias. I am not a religious Jew and cultural Jewish stories resonate more with me.

I learned holiday traditions from my parents, but I also had those traditions reinforced through reading story books. In particular I remember reading The Matzah that Papa Brought Home which is by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Ned Bittinger about Passover and Purim Play by Roni Schotter as well as ZigaZak! a Hanukah book by Eric Kimmel illustrated by John Goodell. As a child these stories helped me understand my family’s traditions and situate them into a larger culture. Participation in religious community was not right for us because we didn’t believe. We also didn’t live in an area with a high population of Jewish neighbors so these stories were the way I got a broader understanding of the traditions and holidays my family undertook.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

This summer has been fun because the oral histories that I have been working with are basically big cultural Jewish stories. This includes the collection project I am focusing on. I have been part of conducting a major interview project for Beth Am. The congregation is collecting the recollections of members who were present during the earliest years of the synagogue. Some of these people are folks who went to Chizuk Amuno when it was in the Eutaw Place temple and chose to remain in the downtown location when the rest of Chizuk Amuno moved to their Stevenson location. The rest of the participants are individuals who joined very early on in the life of the congregation.

I do feel out of my depth when interviewees reference religious practices with words I’ve never heard before. However, even though this project revolves around a religious institution, I find that what I really get is a sense of how these people built a Jewish community. The stories I get to collect are full of accounts of how friends drew other friends in, how the membership took pride in being a “do-it-yourself” shul where everything from youth education to painting the building was undertaken by rank-and-file members, and how the biggest strength of the shul is its open and welcoming culture.

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

I’ve personally interviewed five people this summer and I’ve heard and transcribed the recordings of five more. Because these interviews are so intently focused on the one topic the effect of having heard all of the recollections is as if I have read the same story written out by ten different people. Each version highlights different events and participants. Together they build a picture of the full reality of the experience. It is awesome to have this front row seat in pulling together the piece. Like the books of my childhood, these stories have been able to share a sense of Jewish community and help me understand myself as part of a bigger culture.

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Generations 2002: Jewish Family History

Posted on November 5th, 2016 by

Generations 2002: Jewish Family History

Table of Contents

Introduction by Avi Y. Decter

All in the Family: Jewish Women in Baltimore Family Business by Jayne Guberman and Shelly Hettleman

Second Cousins, Card Parties, and Chickens in the Back Yard: Family Life and Jewish Community in Rural Maryland by Deborah R. Weiner

Dispossession and Adaptation: The Weil Sisters Rebuild Their Family in America by Anita Kassof

From the Collections: A Jamboree, A First Grandchild, and A World at War:Glimpses of Family Life from the Schapiro Family Papers by Robin Z. Waldman

Photo Gallery: Family Photos: Images of the Jewish Family in Baltimore by Erin Titter

“I Think It Will Go”: Robert Weinberg Creates the Jewish Heritage Center by Avi Y. Decter

Field Notes: Center for Jewish History, NYC

Chronology: Jewish Family Services by Melissa Goldman with Gail Lipsitz

Cost: $6

To order a print copy of Generations 2002, please contact Esther’s Place, the JMM Museum Shop at 443-873-5179 or email Devan Southerland, Museum Shop Assistant at dsoutherland@jewishmuseummd.org.

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Visitor Reflections at JMM

Posted on June 22nd, 2016 by

I thought I’d take some time to share some of the visitor feedback we’ve received at the Museum whether on post-it notes in the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit, comment books in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit or expressed to me at the front desk.

The comment board

The comment board

At the end of the “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” exhibit, visitors have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feedback by leaving post-it notes on a board. Here is a selection of some of the comments we’ve received:

“I love the structure and the interactive exhibits!”

“Exhibit called my attention to things about which I’d previously been unaware”

“Varied, informative, entertaining – Wow!!”

“Very informative exhibit that invites visitors to explore the Jewish medical experience and to also see themselves within the context of its evolving history. Thanks!”

“So fun! I feel like I have gone back in time!”

I suspect that the person who wrote the last comment may have been referring to features such as the recreation of a corner drugstore.

I suspect that the person who wrote the last comment may have been referring to features such as the recreation of a corner drugstore.

We also had a few comments from graduates from the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing saying that they had a wonderful experience and that the exhibit brought back many memories.

As I was walking through the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit, I noticed that our visitors had completely filled out the comment book at the end of the exhibit. It was a pleasure reading through it the book and hearing about visitor’s connections to our neighborhood. One visitor thanked us for reviving memories of his youth. Several others remarked how the exhibit reminded them of how their immigrant grandparents grew up.

Another described coming down to Lombard Street with her father to get corned beef while also playing with the chickens in the wooden cages.

Another described coming down to Lombard Street with her father to get corned beef while also playing with the chickens in the wooden cages.

In addition to written feedback, I sometimes get people coming up to the front desk telling me stories of their connections to Jewish Baltimore or of their connection to our collections. A few days ago, I heard from a rabbi who went on the Lloyd Street Synagogue tour that his great grandfather, was the melamed, or teacher of the synagogue from the Bavarian village of Gaukoenigshoffen, where one of our Torah scrolls came from.

The scroll he was referring to was our Kleeman Torah which was rescued by Louis Kleeman during Kristallnacht in 1938 and then smuggled out of Germany in 1940.

The scroll he was referring to was our Kleeman Torah which was rescued by Louis Kleeman during Kristallnacht in 1938 and then smuggled out of Germany in 1940.

This story had a tragic end because on March 24, 1942, the 40 year old Jewish community of Gaukoenigshoffen disappeared when the remaining 37 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Despite the sometimes sad stories I hear, one of my favorite parts of my job is hearing how our exhibits and collections touch visitors and often reconnect them to a part of their past that they thought they had lost. I hope you will all continue to leave your feedback!

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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