The Mikveh Excavation Continues

Posted on December 16th, 2010 by

A blog post by archivist Jennifer Vess.

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It’s been a few weeks since my last report on the most recent round of mikveh excavations, and a lot has happened.  Archaeologists have been in the Lloyd Street Synagogue clearing, digging, and sifting through the dirt (and mud).

After removing the dirt from the excavation site these archaeology students have to sift through it to find small objects like nails and pottery fragments.

This archaeology student is digging in the area that we now know to be the 1845 mikveh.

The archaeologists have uncovered more than just the mikveh. This picture shows the base of a defunct chimney from the 1860 expansion of the synagogue.

Archaeologist making measured drawings of the site. The lower right corner shows the area where the 1845 mikveh was located.

Under all of the dirt you can just make out a piece of wood recently uncovered in the mikveh excavation.

Last week the excitement surrounding the dig began to increase.  First, we hit water.  A few of the museum staff had a moment of panic when they heard water – imagining a gushing flood (like Old Faithful maybe), but that wasn’t the case.  The archaeologists had been digging down into an area they believed to be the 1845 mikveh itself, and had reached the water table – essentially they had standing water.  While we were spared the trials of gushing and flowing water, this did mean that the deeper the archaeologists dug the more water they would encounter.  In order to continue the investigation they have been pumping water out as they go.

This picture shows the first signs of water in the excavation. The archaeologists had been expecting it. The deeper they dug the more mud they encountered -- water couldn't be far behind.

Pumping water out of the excavation

But far more exciting than encountering water (at least to me) was discovering nineteenth century pottery and bottle fragments.  Some of the pieces have markings that can help us identify their use and age.  They most likely ended up in the mikveh when it was filled in before Baltimore Hebrew Congregation expanded the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1860.

Pottery and bottle fragments

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We have a few more days of excavations left, then the archaeologists will work on a report that includes all of their discoveries.  Look for at least one more blog post before it’s all wrapped up.

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November at the JMM

Posted on December 3rd, 2010 by

I just finished compiling stats for November 2010 at the JMM. Every month, I tally our on-site attendance with separate categories dedicated to walk-in visitors, adult group members, schools, special events, and rentals. I am now in my 9th year as “keeper of the stats” and it is interesting to compare and contrast the ebb and flow of visitation over the years as we try and track trends and determine the various factors (weather, season, new exhibitions, popular programs, etc.) that seem to encourage higher numbers of visitors. School groups, in particular, are a special area of interest. As we work to promote our programs and resources to even larger numbers of school groups, I always pay particular attention to our monthly totals in an effort to discern how we can continue to grow our program.

November was a banner month for school groups. During the month, we served 834 students, teachers, and chaperons (as compared to just over 400 last November). One of the most influential factors driving school group visitation during the month was our installation of the exhibition, A Blessing To One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. While many groups booked visits to see this exhibition – and we also saw the number of walk-in visitors rise – Catholic schools, in particular, demonstrated a high level of interest in bringing groups to see the exhibition. During November alone, we served 606 students, teachers, and chaperons from Catholic schools and universities.

One of the challenges in serving such large number of student groups is the limited space within the gallery housing A Blessing To One Another. As many of our docents have pointed out, ideal group sizes for a guided exhibition tour is 15 or fewer and yet, the average size group of students is larger than 50. It, therefore, becomes necessary to break the classes into smaller groups and rotate each group through various stations. This also necessitates bringing on additional volunteer docents and staff to help facilitate.

On November 16, 75 students from The Catholic High School, an all-girls school in Baltimore City, visited for a half-day trip. The large number of students necessitated some creative thinking as to how we could break them into smaller groups and facilitate meaningful activities with each group. We decided to split them into four groups. Two groups were combined for an Introduction to Judaism program in the Lloyd Street Synagogue (which can accommodate larger numbers of students) where students learned about Jewish history, traditions, and customs. This station proved to be a terrific complement to the Blessing To One Another exhibition where students could ask questions and probe the significance of Jewish ritual items.

Catholic HS girls participating in an Introduction to Judaism program led by JMM docent Lois Fekete

Catholic HS girls participating in an Introduction to Judaism program led by JMM docent Lois Fekete

The other two groups were split between A Blessing To One Another and The Synagogue Speaks! exhibition that explores the histories of the three different congregational groups (including a Lithuanian Catholic church) that occupied the Lloyd Street Synagogue at different times in history. The Synagogue Speaks! station included hands-on interactive activities that encouraged students to work together in teams and to solve mysteries of how the building changed over time.

Catholic HS students creating watercolors in The Synagogue Speaks!

Catholic HS students creating watercolors in The Synagogue Speaks!

The program culminated with a presentation by Holocaust survivor Rachel Bodner who shared her personal experiences of life before, during, and after the Holocaust.

Catholic HS students listening to Holocaust survivor, Rachel Bodner

Catholic HS students listening to Holocaust survivor, Rachel Bodner

Through these various activities and presentations, students received an intensive learning experience that touched on many aspects of their classroom lessons. One of the teachers from The Catholic High School shared his feedback about the field trip with JMM staff: “Thank you so much for helping to plan our experience at the museum. My students had an amazing experience and are still talking about it today. I cannot express how grateful I am for the museum, you, your staff, the volunteers, and the wonderful programs that you have available. The other faculty members and myself were discussing how we can incorporate the museum into our curriculum to make it a yearly event.”

The next day, we received a visit by a joint group of students visiting from St. Frances Academy and Shoshana S. Cardin High School. This interfaith gathering of students of Jewish and Catholic faiths was inspired by the Blessing To One Another exhibition. Students were split into small mixed groups and toured the exhibition with the assistance of worksheets looking for examples of how Pope John Paul II worked towards building positive relationships between Jews and Catholics throughout his life. As I walked through the exhibit asking students if they needed assistance finding answers to worksheet questions, I kept hearing from students that they were equally interested in getting to know their peers from the other school and they were conversing about mutual interest in sports, music, etc. I took this as a sign that the program was successful!

Again, we received positive feedback about the field trip from both teachers and students. “I just wanted to thank you for the experience yesterday.  It proved to be a wonderful example of Judeo-Christian camaraderie and dialogue.  I thought it went great, and my students were genuinely interested throughout the visit.  I could not even get anyone to admit to liking one part of the day over the other, they said again and again, that it was great from beginning to end.”

While we are always pleased to serve high numbers of students and teachers, we are even more concerned with the quality of the programs. Feedback that we receive through teacher and student surveys (such as the comments shared above) provides guidance as we plan new programs and activities. We are grateful to all of the JMM staff and volunteer docents who provided such superior service for school groups this month and look forward to developing new tours, resources, and activities in the months ahead.

While it was an exhausting month, comments from students such as this St. Frances Academy student, truly make it all worthwhile!

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Once Upon A Time Photos: 6.12.09

Posted on June 24th, 2009 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. Click here to see the most recent photo on their website. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

Date(s) run in Baltimore Jewish Times: 6/12/09

PastPerfect Accession #: 1998.142.067

Status:Unidentified.

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