Looking Back at 2018

Posted on December 14th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts by Tracie, click here.


For this final Performance Counts of the year, we’ve decided to cast our eyes backward at the amazing programs and exhibits of 2018. The staff asked me to share with you the top 10 events of the year. I know which were my favorites, and I also asked my colleagues to share with me their favorite event of the year, so that I could compile our list.

In response to my question, Marvin wrote, “This question is like asking me to pick my favorite child… except even tougher.  After all, I only have two children, but I have more than 60 wonderful programs to choose from.” Nevertheless, he did choose one (stay tuned for which).

And so, with a promise to Anna and Alan that I’ll never ask their dad to choose his favorite child, below you’ll find the top 10 JMM highlights of the past year, in chronological order.

With my best wishes for 2019,

~Tracie


1. February 25, 2018: Monkey Business

For this Maryland premiere film screening, 39 visitors experienced the entertaining and endearing treatment (in a mixture of live action and animation) of the story of Margaret and H.A. Rey, the creators of Curious George.

After the movie, we had a Skype Q&A spanning 6,915 miles between us and the film’s equally charming filmmaker, Ema Ryan Yamazaki. Yamazaki, a Japanese-American filmmaker, delighted us with stories of growing up in Japan with Curious George, and let us in on the fact that she was skyping from the bathroom of her hotel room in Seoul so as not to wake her sleeping husband (they were there covering the Olympics).

2. March 22, 2018: Morrell Park: Projected

This event was the culmination of a months-long project that saw JMM educators, professional storytellers and Hopkins film students working with eighth graders at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School. The 32 middle-schoolers learned about storytelling and filmmaking techniques in order to tell their own stories.

Though many of the young people had to be convinced their stories were worth telling, those that were screened at the JMM (after red carpet treatment for the young filmmakers) brought most of the 130 people in the audience to tears. (The exercise also led to one session presentation at the conference of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums).

3. April 10, 2018: Book Launch: On Middle Ground

A decade in the making, the new book on the history of Jewish Baltimore, commissioned by JMM and published by Johns Hopkins University Press, was officially released in April. To celebrate, we threw a big party, and invited Jewish Baltimore’s  preeminent storyteller, Gil Sandler, to share remarks. Gil did not disappoint, eliciting knowing nods, surprised looks and laughter from a sold-out crowd of 79.

Though Gil is always a tough act to follow, On Middle Ground co-author and long-time friend to JMM, Deb Weiner, did just that with aplomb. Her illustrated presentation was both informative and entertaining—enough to convince 46 people to purchase the book that night!

4. April 26, 2018: The Book of Joseph

The readings and conversations on April 26 were the cherry on top of a productive collaboration between the JMM, Everyman Theatre, and Richard Hollander, author of Every Day Lasts A Year (from which the play The Book of Joseph was adapted). Eighty-nine visitors got a sneak peek at the stage play, which had not yet been performed at Everyman.

At the same time, through our lobby exhibit featuring the suitcase and two dozen letters, passports and other documents that generated the book and play, visitors got a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Hollander family story.

5. May 17, 2019: Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Across the Generations

This public conversation between two authors who have written very different books about the iconic RBG left the audience of 116 attendees feeling as though they knew the Justice (and the authors) a little better. This was Development Director Tracey Dorfmann’s top event. Of it she wrote, “Having the authors engage each other in the interrogative process was fascinating and effective.  Learning how an adult biographer and a children’s book author approached telling this story kept the audience enthralled.”

6. June 24, 2018: The Magic of Jonestown Festival and Inescapable opening

We opened our most recent original exhibit with an over-the-top spectacle that included a strait jacket escape (suspended from a 65 foot crane!), stilt walkers, face-painters, and booths from 14 local cultural institutions. Among the 400+ people who came to the festival, we saw our Jonestown neighbors, members of the Jewish community from around the city and region, and other city residents and visitors. 288 people visited the Museum that day and 103 of them visited one or both of our historic synagogues. It was a moment when the JMM truly showed what it can mean to be a community connector.

*Bonus* July 29, 2018: The Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

Since it wasn’t a public or members’ program, it isn’t in the official top ten, but the annual thank-you event for our volunteers was a highlight of at least one staff member’s 2018.

Sue Foard, Membership and Volunteer Coordinator writes of the event “The celebration included entertainment by David London performing the living history character, Harry Houdini, always a hit. A delicious dinner catered by Catering by Yaffa, short speeches of the accomplishments over the year and door prizes made for fun, good food and fellowship had by all.”

7. August 23, 2018: Operation Finale

In an unusual program for us, we partnered with BJC and CJE to present a pre-release screening of a major motion picture at the Landmark Theatre in Harbor East. The sold-out show hosted 185 moviegoers.

Because it was a JMM program, we weren’t content to simply watch a movie, and instead brought in a historian formerly of the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum. I was honored to facilitate the conversation with him after the movie, about which one of our visitors wrote “Loved that you clarified fiction vs fact. Loved that there was audience participation. Thanks for a wonderful evening.”

8. October 28, 2018: Houdini’s Magical Halloween

In this family day, we hosted 3 magicians and a lockpicker, 10 all-day craft activities, and 5 special workshops. Over 140 people came through the museum at all different ages.

About the day, Jessica Konigsberg, Shop Assistant and Office Manager, said “I’m generally very partial to programs that have a strong family-friendly component, but I especially enjoyed Family Day because the Esther’s Place Shop was involved in selling Svengali card trick kits and lockpicking sets to complement the Card Trick and Lockpicking Workshops offered throughout the day’s activities. Many groups came into the Shop after taking part in these workshops and eagerly shared their experiences and their successes. Many were delighted to invest in further card sets, or some, in their own lockpicking set to continue the spark of excitement from the workshop.”

9. November 11, 2018: Veteran’s Day: The Jewish Legion

If you’ve read this far, perhaps it is because you must know Marvin’s favorite event from the past year. This was it. Archivist Lorie Rombro presented to 45 visitors. About the exhibit and presentation Marvin said “It illustrated a piece of Maryland’s Jewish history that is still not widely known.  It showcased the strengths of the Museum, both in terms of the talents of my colleagues and the rich resources of our collections.  The program made me very proud to be part of the JMM team.”

Marvin’s sentiments were echoed by those of Joanna Church, Director of Collections and Exhibits: “The combination of lecture and exhibition was a chance for us to share a little-known story and highlight our collections, on an important day – the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – that added a layer of commemoration and meaning to our usual activities.  Since the audience included family members of several Legionnaires, it was an opportunity to make connections between the history in our storage spaces and Maryland’s modern community.  Lorie’s presentation was engaging and entertaining, and very much made the point that our work here is both academically vigorous and, well, fun; we love making those discoveries and connections that can be found in our archives and collections.”

10. December 2, 2018: The Great Jewish Bake-Off

The third installment of our annual cooking competition, the bake-off was both delicious and a lot of fun. From the winning challah bread that was, in my humble opinion, the Platonic ideal of challah, to the Asian-fusion inspired Chinese scallion pancake challah to the highly snackable potato and mustard knishes to the Overall Championship babka, it was a truly tasty event. There were 16 total entries, 2 judges, 6 trophies awarded, and 102 tasters present.

About the event, Rachel Kassman, our Development and Marketing Manager had this to say: “As a more behind-the-scenes staff member I don’t get a chance to attend most of our public programs, but this was one I couldn’t resist – The Great Jewish Bake Off! Getting to not just attend such a delicious event but participate as a contestant myself made this a stand out program. From tasting all the other competitors entries (challahs and babkas and knishes, oh my!) to watching the judges put on their serious faces and making the tough choices, it was a fantastic day. Plus nothing beats watching adorable children hang out at craft tables making their own beeswax candles in between sneaking just one more cookie from the tasting table.”


December 25th at JMM

Join us on Tuesday, December 25th for Mitzvah Day
and an afternoon screening of Houdini: The Mini-Series.

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Great Lessons from Humble Places

Posted on March 24th, 2017 by

Have you noticed our obsession with top ten lists?  Our tendency to pay attention to something when it’s the first, or the newest, or the largest?

Museums have a long pedigree in displaying the rare and exceptional, but there is an inherent distortion of history in an exclusive focus on the “most important.”  In the 21st century, in an era of shared authority between visitor and curator, we need to re-learn the art of elevating the ordinary – of making the lives of everyday folks as compelling as the extraordinary.

On the recent trip to the Council of American Jewish Museums conference in Massachusetts, I found two institutions doing just that.  Neither would describe itself as a “museum” per se, but both are worthy of a visit.

Entering Vilna Shul

Entering Vilna Shul

The first was the Vilna Shul in Boston.  Built in 1919, the Vilna Shul (or as its original sign says in a Boston accent – the “Vilner Congregation”) is not the oldest, nor the largest, nor the most beautiful religious space by any stretch of the imagination.  It is rather the last remaining synagogue of the great wave of Eastern European migration to Boston’s West End (out of twenty or more than once were there).  Like our own Lloyd Street Synagogue the Vilna Shul was rescued from a city plan to tear it down and put in a parking lot.

Vilna's stained glass window

Vilna’s stained glass window

The architecture is a pastiche – a little Georgian, a little Romanesque, a little Eastern European folk.  It’s most notable feature is its huge stained glass Star of David, unambiguously facing the street.  The interior has some elements in common with LSS, including chandeliers purchased from a neighboring church.  But also some things I would never associate with a synagogue of this period – huge skylights, and in lieu of a balcony, a women’s section set up like a raked theater.  The Shul has literally pealed back the layers of paint to reveal its historic stenciling.

Skylight

Skylight

There is no golden age of the Vilna Shul.  As our guide pointed out, even by the time this was built, the Jewish community had begun to move elsewhere.  Yet this humble congregation offers a glimpse into Jewish immigrant life that is every bit as important and interesting as the most magnificent temple designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Yiddish Book Center

The Yiddish Book Center

The second non-museum on my “must visit” list is the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Walking up to the building, the architecture already builds expectations – after all, how many American buildings are designed to resemble a shtetl?  The Yiddish Book Center takes “humble” to a whole new level… it’s logo is a goat, the same goat that we celebrate in Had Gadya each Passover, the gentle goat of the Yiddish lullaby Oyfn Pripetchik.  The exhibits do not exist in great galleries but rather mostly meander through the stacks of thousands of books.

Sharing one of the Yiddish newspapers in the collection.

Sharing one of the Yiddish newspapers in the collection.

 

The exhibits and tours don’t try to claim that Yiddish is the most influential language – noting that only 39,000 books were printed in Yiddish in the century in which Yiddish books were being printed.  Instead the focus is on the history embedded in the language.  A Yiddish linotype machine and cases of type are used to illustrate the intersection of technology and language.  A giant story book encasing a video screen connects themes in Yiddish literature to contemporary movies and plays.

Check out that address

Check out that address

Perhaps most intriguing they have a crate on display.  There is nothing terribly special about the crate except the shipped-from address.  The shipped-from address is Zimbabwe and suddenly the crate becomes a vehicle for telling the incredible story of books that escaped with their owner from Lithuania to Shanghai before the Holocaust and from Shanghai to Zimbabwe after WWII and from Zimbabwe to Amherst, MA in the 1990s (with duplicates returned to the Jewish community in Lithuania).  An otherwise ordinary crate turns into a ride through modern Jewish history.

What a fun "madlibs" style interactive!

What a fun “madlibs” style interactive!

It’s definitely worth the extra mile if you find yourself in New England.  If it provides an incentive, know that it is on my “top ten” list of Jewish sites to visit, and I say that in all humility.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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A Year in Review

Posted on December 23rd, 2016 by

This is the time of year for reflection, for compiling top ten best and worst lists, for noting what we did (and did not accomplish) and how we can do better in the year ahead. In keeping with the spirit of the season, what follows is a list of some of my favorite JMM moments from 2016.

1. Paul Simon: Words and Music exhibit brings in record crowds – By the time we closed the exhibit, on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than 5,000 visitors came through our doors over the course of three months. But even more gratifying than the numbers was how the exhibit enabled us to raise our institutional profile and attract new visitors, thanks, in part, to widespread media coverage.

The exhibit provided us with an opportunity to hold several musical performances in the Lloyd Street Synagogue, such as our concluding program by Baltimorean Sonia Rutstein, which proved popular.

The exhibit provided us with an opportunity to hold several musical performances in the Lloyd Street Synagogue, such as our concluding program by Baltimorean Sonia Rutstein, which proved popular.

2. Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America opens – After more than three years of development, we opened a major, original exhibition that explores the influence of science and culture on one another and how medicine has impacted Jewish identity. The exhibit opened to many accolades from both press and the public and we continue to receive wonderful feedback from visitors.

Opening Beyond Chicken Soup

Opening Beyond Chicken Soup

The exhibit marked another important milestone as we successfully raised more funds than ever before for an exhibit and many of our sponsors came from within the medical community. And if you haven’t had a chance to see it, don’t worry, the exhibit remains on view through January 16. (But don’t put this off too long!)

3. Our newest living history character, Henrietta Szold, debuted in September– With a fabulous performance by actor Natalie Smith, the newest member of our Immigrant’s Trunk living history roster, focuses on Szold’s contributions to Zionism and to improving access to quality healthcare in Palestine.

Henrietta in action

Henrietta in action

To date, the character has performed at the JMM, at schools and synagogues.

4. Our annual Summer Teachers Institute successfully engaged more than 40 educators from public, private and parochial schools from across the state – This three-day workshop featured scholars, artists, survivors and a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Teachers enjoyed participating in an interactive session exploring artistic responses to oppression facilitated by Gail Prensky and Sarah Baumgarten.

Teachers enjoyed participating in an interactive session exploring artistic responses to oppression facilitated by Gail Prensky and Sarah Baumgarten.

Comments such as: “How do I adequately put into words all that was imparted during this experience? I was completely blown away with the amount of information conveyed throughout the various presentations and, on a logistical level, I was impressed by the professionalism and organization of the entire workshop. The materials and resources were such a valuable blessing and I walked away having learned so much and excited to be able to take it back into the classroom and school environment.“ reflect the program’s success.

5. JMM launches a new statewide collecting initiative in conjunction with an upcoming exhibition, Just Married! Wedding Stories of Jewish Maryland – In keeping with our mission to collect, preserve and interpret Maryland Jewish history, and to fill in gaps in our collection, JMM staff is looking to collect new material that reflect the diversity of Jewish Marylanders wedding traditions.

You can read more about this important project in last week’s JMM Insights.

You can read more about this important project in last week’s JMM Insights.

6. In preparation for our upcoming exhibit, Remembering Auschwitz, JMM staff, in partnership with artist Lori Schocket and The Human Element Project, held a series of workshops for Holocaust survivors and their families. The workshops resulted in the creation of collages, created on canvases that incorporated photocopies of participants’ photographs and documents that will be transformed into plaques. The plaques will be on display as part of our spring exhibit (March 5-May 29, 2017)

The Rozga siblings make collages honoring their parents.

The Rozga siblings make collages honoring their parents.

7. Our educational programs make connections between past and present –

One example can be seen in a visit this fall by a group of students that included Syrian refugees who learned about immigration history – as they made connections with their own personal experiences – through a tour of Voices of Lombard Street.

One example can be seen in a visit this fall by a group of students that included Syrian refugees who learned about immigration history – as they made connections with their own personal experiences – through a tour of Voices of Lombard Street.

In addition this year’s Lessons of the Shoah, a high school interfaith program co-sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council that took place at John Carroll High school, focused on the plight of refugees, past and present.

8. We continued to build new partnerships and expand existing ones – JMM has long benefitted from our continued partnerships with such organizations as the Baltimore Jewish Council, The Maryland State Department of Education and Baltimore City Schools. This year we were proud to co-sponsor programs with the Gordon Center; the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies; Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University and many others. These collaborations give us the opportunity to reach new and diverse audiences and also allow us to provide access to speakers and programs we would not be able to afford on our own.

An April program sponsored by the 21st Century Cities Initiative of Johns Hopkins University on the topic of redlining brought many people to the JMM who had never before visited for a discussion on a topic that still has contemporary relevance.

An April program sponsored by the 21st Century Cities Initiative of Johns Hopkins University on the topic of redlining brought many people to the JMM who had never before visited for a discussion on a topic that still has contemporary relevance.

One particularly successful joint program was developed in partnership with the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, an October event that was billed as a Jewish Baltimore Family Reunion. Alfred Moses delivered a talk in the Lloyd Street Synagogue based on his book about his family’s business.

One particularly successful joint program was developed in partnership with the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, an October event that was billed as a Jewish Baltimore Family Reunion. Alfred Moses delivered a talk in the Lloyd Street Synagogue based on his book about his family’s business.

9. After more than 160 years in existence, the Lloyd Street Synagogue receives new attention – The JMM’s star attraction, the Lloyd Street Synagogue, was the subject of new research, art, conversations and some well deserved maintenance. In conjunction with Paul Simon: Words and Music we developed a themed building tour that examined the role that music has played in the life of the different congregation that have called LSS home.

We also invited artists for a day of plein air painting and were delighted by the different artistic interpretations of our beloved synagogue.

We also invited artists for a day of plein air painting and were delighted by the different artistic interpretations of our beloved synagogue.

Our efforts to breathe new life into the building resulted in a series of two conversations held with community stakeholders and representatives of other local history organizations. We asked participants to provide feedback about how we can better make use of the synagogue as a venue to attract new audiences (as well as encouraging repeat visitation). We were thrilled by the responses we received and look forward to implementing some of the ideas that were generated. Noting that the inside of the synagogue had gotten a little worn over the years, we also decided to invest in a major fall cleaning project that resulted in a sparkling interior.

10. JMM receives an award from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for an upcoming exhibit on the scrap industry – How gratifying it was to receive notification in September that the JMM, once again, was selected to receive a prestigious (and competitive) grant award from this federal agency. We received the notice just weeks after we launched the second phase of planning for our upcoming exhibition Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling with a site visit from members of our exhibit team including curator, Jill Vexler, and the folks from our design firm, Alchemy Studios.

As part of the team meeting in September, we visited a nearby scrap yard, Baltimore Scrap Corp.

As part of the team meeting in September, we visited a nearby scrap yard, Baltimore Scrap Corp.

The exhibit opens in Fall 2018.

As with all Top Ten lists, there are so many more highlights from the past year that I could have included. 2016 was, indeed, a banner year for the JMM. We look forward to seeing you in the year ahead and wish you and your family happy holidays and a wonderful new year!

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

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