The American Dream, then and now

Posted on January 11th, 2012 by

A blog post by intern Mia White.

Since beginning my internship at the museum a month ago, I’ve been involved in so many exciting things that I found it very difficult to sit down and pick one thing to write on. And so, being the double-majoring, multi-interested girl that I am – I’ve picked TWO of my projects to pull into one (perhaps slightly sinuously held together) blog post. My link between the two experiences: immigration to Baltimore.

North German Lloyd Steamship leaving Baltimore (an immigrant ship). 1988.117.3

My main project at the JMM is researching the newest member of the immigrant’s trunk series. She is a woman named Bessie Bluefeld, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1907. I’m betting right now that last name is familiar to many of our readers. Yes, that Bluefeld. She is the woman behind Bluefeld catering, a kosher family-owned company that worked around the east coast from 1937 for over four decades. The sources of my research consist entirely of secondhand recollection, yet it’s clear even from this she was a firecracker of a woman. She is one of so many that came to the United States with that timeless ideal of America as the land of opportunity. And for her and her husband Charles, it would be; they achieved success and wealth not just once during the 1920s but TWICE, when they had to rebuild from nothing when the Great Depression belatedly reached their family fortune. I’ll leave the rest of the story there – you’ll just have to wait for the new trunk character to emerge to find out the details!

My second experience takes us over one hundred years forward from Bessie’s 1907 arrival to 2012. This past Monday, I visited Patterson High School to observe a storytelling course that the JMM runs for refugee and immigrant students. Monday’s class was focused on heroes, or simply a person each of us felt had made a difference in the world. Honestly, I felt a bit at a loss when considering who I admire. Yet these students, some of whom are nearly a decade younger than I, were much surer of themselves. They told stories of a man in their home villages back in Nepal, or looked to TV programs they’d seen on the news about a woman in Miami who fought for animal welfare. Each story was unique and powerful, and yet it was when I came to speak to one girl in particular that I found my research about Bessie gaining new dimension.

Student Immigration Stories Workshop, 2011

She spoke not of a person, but of God. Her imaginings of him as a man, or perhaps even a boy her age, were incredibly vivid and her telling was highly emotional. She saw him not as a hero who had done much, but as a being that held the power to alter the future. What was he up against? I asked. “Racism,” she replied. She went on to say that the racism in this country and in Baltimore in particular was insurmountable, and that she saw no other force in the world that could change it.

And to me, this comes back to Bessie in a very simple way. Though the city shut its shores to immigrants at the outbreak of WWI and would never re-open them, Baltimore continues to be a destination for immigrants. The census recorded a Hispanic population increased from 1.7 to 4.6 percent between 2000 and 2010. Bessie came to this country in search of opportunity and to escape hardship, and each student in that class likely came for similar reasons. And yet, this girl, so confident and articulate about her thoughts, is unable to see America as the land of opportunity – and instead sees it as a place where she is up against something so solid and pervasive that she is unable to fathom where to begin to conquer it. I only hope that she, like Bessie, will find her calling and push through her personal adversity to find success and acceptance. And perhaps, through this she will defy the boundaries that racism has set before her and her life will teach and inspire future generations, as I know Bessie’s story soon will.

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Around the World in 10 Days…

Posted on March 9th, 2011 by

A few weeks ago I met an old friend who I had not seen for many, many years.  We spoke about our lives and our jobs and she asked me, “What does the program director do at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.”  So, I thought I would blog about what I do at the JMM!  Over the past ten days, I feel like I have traveled all over the world, between the many public programs and outreach opportunities that the JMM has participated in…… Here are some of the highlights…

The Netherlands

We visited Holland on February 24th when we held a book launch/Dutch tea and reception for the newest JMM publication, “18 Stones.” We welcomed noted author and illustrator, Susan L. Roth and Nancy Patz, to the JMM whereby our visitors learned from the artists how the book came to be.   “18 Stones” derives its title from the Jewish practice of leaving small stones on a grave. Actual photographs of Dutch Jews in the 1930s were the source for Patz’s oil pastel and charcoal portraits, which are accompanied by Susan Roth’s prose poems.  Daily life before the Holocaust is evoked by artworks as “The Marriage of Grietje and Aron,” in which the newlyweds seem to have so much to look forward to, and “The Recipe for Apple Kuchen,” in which the portrait of a smiling woman is accompanied by her recipe for an apple cake. Visitors to the event enjoyed Dutch treats of Gouda and edam cheeses, licorice, and chunks of thick bread with sweet butter and chocolate sprinkles.  I imagined myself walking along the canaled streets of Amsterdam and seeing a young girl that looked like Anne Frank talking to a school friend.

Nancy and Susan show off their hard work. Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

A delicious, Dutch-inspired spread! Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

Finland

On Sunday, February 27th, the JMM welcomed noted author, Antero Pietila (an immigrant from Finland) who wrote the acclaimed book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City. Antero’s book examines many of the famous neighborhoods of Baltimore and describes how segregation shaped our city, and how the migration from white to Jewish to black in many neighborhoods and its exploitation created the slums in Baltimore. Following Antero’s talk, celebrity radio host, Marc Steiner moderated a panel that included residents (both former and present) of the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.  I imagined myself living in the 1940’s, growing up as a teenager around Druid Hill Park as I was listening to the panel.

Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

France

The next day, my colleague and friend, Simone Ellin (JMM Marketing director) got on a train and headed to Philadelphia to participate at the CAJM (Council of American Jewish Museums) Conference.  We had the opportunity to meet other colleagues from all country and from Jewish museums all over the world.  At the conference, we had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we were the first group to see the new exhibition, “Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle,” that looks at the influence that Paris had on Marc Chagall and his fellow modernists from 1910 to 1920.  Just for a few moments, I imagined myself on the Champs-Elysees sipping a coffee at a sidewalk café.

Champs Elysees by Fernand Claver

Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle March 1, 2011 - July 10, 2011 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Belgium

My friend Simone and I also had time for a bit of fun while in Philly.  We took in the movie Black Swan and we also visited the Eulogy Belgian Tavern, one of Philadelphia’s premier dining institutions that feature 21 drafts and 300 different bottled beers. The food is award winning and the restaurant is owned by a Belgian American family and staffed with a few employees from Belgium.  I remembered walking along some of the streets in Antwerp on Christmas Eve with my brother Jay and longing to eat all of the chocolate that I saw in the storefronts and seeing the Manneken Pis everywhere I turned.

Place Verte and cathedral, Antwerp, Belgium

This week, my position as program director started off with two programs sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Maryland.   We welcomed Lori Turner and Music Monkey Jungle/Kinderlach Rock to the JMM for a rockin’goodtime concert for the preschool set.  At the same time, the JMM was also invited to participate at the 51st Annual Interfaith Institute at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.   The year’s topic was “Immigration Challenges: Religious and Ethnic Responses.” The JMM’s program, Coming to America: Student Immigration Stories was highlighted at the conference.

Eritrea

El Salvador

This educational initiative was developed by the JMM and is designed to promote immigrant students from Baltimore City Public Schools to share their stories of immigration with other BCPS students. The JMM has the good fortune of working with two consummate professionals on this program, acclaimed storyteller, Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff and ESOL teacher extraordinaire, Sally Franklin.  These ladies both joined me on Monday at the program and the crowd of over 200 people had the privilege of listening to the stories of Patterson High School students Muluburan Bahre, from the African nation of Eritrea and Pablo Joseph Muñoz from El Salvador.  These students were so eloquent and poised telling their own stories that I found myself transported with Muluburan and Pablo to their native homelands of Eritrea in Northeast Africa and El Salvador in Central America.

It’s been an exciting ten days at the JMM!  I wonder where the next few weeks will take me.

 

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