JMM Insights: Membership Looks Good On You!

Posted on November 16th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights is from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE. Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!

I think a lot about what it means to belong. Not only is it the subject of a future permanent exhibit, I believe the need to belong (or the rejection of it) drives a great deal of human behavior. At JMM, we tell you stories of Jewish Maryland. Our tales will make you question, make you laugh, make you think and feel deeply—no matter who you are—because it is stories that make us human.

Nearly all of our stories have something to do with belonging, whether it’s the recent immigrant who desperately wanted to belong in America, the Holocaust survivor who knows the dire consequences of being told they don’t belong, or the rags-to-riches scrap dealing family who succeeding in belonging through determination and grit.

When it comes to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we believe everyone belongs. Luckily for us, there are some who choose to make their belonging official by purchasing a membership.

There are perks to making it official! All members receive free admission to the Museum every day including to nearly all of our fascinating and engaging programming (between 50 and 60 a year!). Members are also entitled to a 10% discount at Esther’s Place: the JMM Store and invitations to exclusive, members-only events.

And don’t forget the free parking, weekdays at the Parking Authority of Baltimore City, Fayette Street Garage (Baltimore and N. East Streets).

Perhaps the most important benefit of membership is knowing you’re helping to discover, preserve and tell the stories of Jewish Maryland—stories that belong to all of us—today and into the future.Membership is an important way our family and our fans support us. Not only do your membership dues provide essential resources (about 5% of our revenue), we are often judged by public and private funders by how many members we have, and how many visitors we see each year. That means that every time you visit and bring a friend, you are helping us achieve our mission.

For individuals and families who choose to make it official at the Premium Level of our membership program (Lombard Street Club, Living History Circle, Lloyd Street League, and the 1845 Society), there are some extra perks, including reciprocal admission at select Jewish museums nationally and history museums locally.

Members in the Living History Circle, Lombard Street League and 1845 Society all receive a museum-selected publication each year. Past selections include the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project that accompanied Remembering Auschwitz, the catalog for Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, and Paul Simon: Words + Music. (If you are a member of one of those groups, watch your mailbox for this year’s selection sometime in the month of December.)

Because we believe everyone belongs, and because we’ve heard requests for it, we are delighted to announce that we have created a new Grandparents’ Package membership. This membership level will allow families to make it official for Grandparents, their adult children (up to 2), and their grandchildren (up to 4 minor grandchildren). This allows Bubbie and Zayde to include the little ones on their membership, even when they don’t live in the same household.

Speaking of households, members at the Family level may notice that we’ve renamed your membership. As a part of our effort to ensure that everyone feels as though they belong, we’ve renamed the membership to be as inclusive as possible. Don’t worry, only the name has changed. The benefits remain the great perks they’ve always been!

When it comes to perks of membership, our guest passes are among the most popular.

We have good news in that department, too. Effective immediately, for new and renewing Senior Members, the membership now comes with one free guest pass per paid member (i.e. one guest pass for a Senior Member and two for a Senior Couple). This is a new benefit at this level.

If you’ve read this far, and you are a member, I have a reward for you—watch your mailbox for a special Hanukkah gift from the Museum in early December. And thank you.

If you’ve read this far and you’re not yet a member, what are you waiting for? We can’t wait to welcome you officially.

~Tracie


Questions about membership? Contact Sue Foard, membership coordinator, at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org / 443-873-5162.


 

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Learning About Me, Museum-goer

Posted on October 25th, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Earlier this year, my family received the invitation to my first cousin’s October wedding in Snowmass, Colorado. When we discussed the possible trip, my husband and I decided to make a vacation out of it. Why fly all that way and only stay a few days? we asked ourselves. We extended the wedding weekend into an 8-day, Colorado vacation.

And what is a vacation without museums?

We visited several museums on our trip, and while I had fascinating experiences and left with very real memories, one of the most fascinating things about my museum visits on this trip was what I learned about myself as a museum-goer.

On our first day in Colorado, we spent time in the mile-high city, Denver. I’d heard great things about Denver’s history museum History Colorado, so it was our first stop.

History Colorado lived up to its reputation. On the first floor of permanent exhibits, they create an environment of a frontier-town Keota, Colorado. My 6-year-old daughter had fun “driving” a model T, retrieving eggs from a hen house and selling them in the general store for cash she then used to buy dry goods. My husband had a great time editing her photo to fit into the sample photo from the Keota Yearbook. (She was less excited about the end result. Please don’t tell her I posted it onto the internet…)

I enjoyed the Keota exhibition. I noted the use of the glass front cases with shelves all the way to the floor, and smiled as the museum educators replenished the eggs in the hen-house for kids to find. I read a few panels, and was interested by what I learned, but for the most part, I was not completely absorbed by any of the experiences.

We moved upstairs to additional exhibits. In their “Colorado Stories” core exhibit, History Colorado brings together a series of smaller exhibits that become vignettes to the visitor. Unlike the Keota exhibit, I found myself completely absorbed by some (Mountain Haven: Lincoln Hills, 1925-1965”) even as I breezed by others.

And then I got to Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects. This exhibit was a big white box, with 100 objects, labeled on platforms. Each label was numbered, and they were presented in order, roughly chronologically, from 1 to 100. There is no environment except the museum (though they do project landscape images on the back wall). There was no music, no interactives. It was not an immersive experience like the one downstairs, no props to create the environment, like the ones I’ve written about before.

Friends, I was transfixed.

As a museum-goer, that presentation grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go. I needed to read every label, in order. The curators worked hard to make their 100 objects representative, so there were Native American artifacts juxtaposed against white settlers’ material culture which were adjacent to the personal effects of members of the Chinese-American community who came to Colorado en masse to work on the railroad. There were objects representative of everyday lives and others that carried the weight of historical significance. I found the juxtaposition arresting and fascinating.

I read every word in that gallery.

Somewhere in the 40s, there were visitors ahead of me who were not on pace with my reading. I got annoyed that they were in my way and I had to read out of order.

I laughed out loud at the story of the ceremonial silver railroad spike that was pawned by its delivery people and had to be re-acquired by its intended recipient (he was given a regular railroad spike wrapped in paper to make it look like it was silver in the ceremony).

I was captivated by the “Despondency” vase, created to express the feeling of living with tuberculosis by an artist who moved to Colorado to treat his tuberculosis. 

In the 1980s war veteran’s shawl from the Ute people, I saw resonance with artifacts in our collection. Jews in the 19th century, like American Indians of the twentieth century, integrated symbols of the U.S. into their ritual objects to assert their co-equal identities as Americans and as Jewish or Ute. (Note that this Ute example of integrating identities through clothing is particularly interesting to me as I work with Joanna on developing the original exhibition, Fashion Statement.)

I even enjoyed the curators’ call for comment—they asked visitors to suggest the 101st object for their exhibit.

After I left the Zoom In exhibit (long after my family had moved on), we came upon Denver A to Z. It was a fun exhibit where I learned a bit more about the city I was visiting, but I found it’s layout disorienting. It wasn’t in alphabetical order, and that left me feeling like I was out of sorts.

Visiting the Keota exhibit, Zoom In, and Denver A to Z in the same trip, a pattern in my museum-going preferences became plain. In an immersive experience, I let the environment wash over me. I didn’t feel the need to read every text or interact with every artifact. I passed through the environment and waited for stories to grab me. In an exhibit like Zoom In, on the other hand, where the environment is nothing other than a gallery, I felt the need to understand every artifact, to absorb every label. I sought out the stories behind every one of those 100 objects.

The contrast is an interesting insight into the kind of museum-goer I am. What kind of museum-goer are you? Do you know? What presentation of story is more compelling to you? What kind is easier for you to learn? Maybe you’ll pay a bit more attention next time you visit a new exhibit to how you react to the environment, the label copy, and the artifacts. All of these questions come into play as curators, registrars, exhibit designers and other staff work to put together exhibits. I’m having a great time watching the interface between what museums create and how visitors interact with that creation—both at JMM and at museums I visit around the region and the country.

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On Religious Liberty

Posted on September 27th, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

I recently had a conversation about the separation of church and state with an acquaintance.

 I was telling him about the voter pledge cards that we’re using at the Museum and at my congregation, Baltimore Hebrew, and several other synagogues, churches, and now a mosque, throughout the region. This acquaintance of mine was surprised at the use of the cards. He wondered aloud if we should be engaging in such activities. He asked me if we weren’t crossing the line between church and state. At the time I told him “the separation of church and state means that the state can’t tell you how to church. It doesn’t mean the church has to pretend the state doesn’t exist.” I assured him that as long as we—either the congregation or the Museum—are ensuring that we are not telling people for whom to vote, only that they should vote for the candidate(s) of their choice, we are completely within the bounds of what we may do as non-profits. What I didn’t get into with him at the time is that not only are the 501(c)3 designations safe, we are tying into a long history of Jewish congregations and organizations celebrating and bolstering American democracy.  

These high holy days, I was reminded of that long tradition and decided to explore it. As I sat and stood and sat and stood beside my mother in the sanctuary that has been my religious home my entire life, one prayer stood out to me this year.  

“We pray for all who hold positions of leadership and responsibility in our national life. Let Your blessing rest upon them, and make them responsive to Your will, so that our nation may be to the world an example of justice and compassion. 

Deepen our love for our country and our desire to serve it. Strengthen our power of self-sacrifice for our nation’s welfare. Teach us to uphold its good name by our own right conduct.  

Cause us to see clearly that the well-being of our nation is in the hands of all its citizens; imbue us with zeal for the cause of liberty in our own land and in all lands; and help us always to keep our homes safe from affliction, strife, and war. Amen.” 

(This is from the older Reform Machzor, though there is a version of it in the Mishkan Tefillah, the prayerbooks adopted by the Reform movement over the past several years.) 

Not only did the synagogue (church) not pretend there was no state, we integrated a prayer for the state’s well-being into the liturgy of our holiest day. Like I said before, separation of church and state doesn’t mean non-acknowledgment between them.   

In the few days in the office between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I found myself gazing at my framed copy of the “See America” poster of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. (I’ve written about the development of this poster before.) As I re-read the information on the poster about the creation of the LSS, it got me to thinking about the history of the Jewish participation in the American experiment, and, necessarily, that led me to the phrase “religious freedom.”  

The poster says, “The Baltimore Jewish community built its first synagogue in 1845. Made possible by the 1826 Maryland Jew Bill, the building stands as a reminder that the thread of religious freedom is woven into the fabric of the city, the state, and the United States.”

In the same way that “church and state” seemed to have morphed for this acquaintance of mine, it seems to me that “religious freedom” no longer means what it once did.  

Today, it seems “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” is used as an excuse to descriminate. But for my—and many of your—ancestors, “religious freedom” was the opposite of discrimination. It was the ticket to full Jewish participation in their new, American home.  

This was made very clear when we published our booklet “The ‘Maryland Jew Bill’ And the Struggle For Equal Treatment Under the Law.” While Amending America was here, we created this facsimile of many pages of our artifact, the 1819 pamphlet “Sketch of Proceedings in the Legislature of Maryland, December Session, 1818, on what is commonly called The Jew Bill.”

While working on that pamphlet, I read several early nineteenth-century essays in defense of religious freedom. The essayists included no less than Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and the arguments suggested that the Enlightenment ideal of religious liberty insists that Jews should not be prohibited from full participation in our democratic process because of their religion. It was a non-Jew’s commitment to this ideal that led to the passage of what is known as the Jew bill here in Maryland. That legislation allowed, for the first time, Jews to hold public office— a role that had previously been unavailable due to the requirement of a Christian oath for public office.  

Let me repeat that: religious freedom demanded of nineteenth-century Americans that Jews not be prohibited from full participation in our democracy. In case you doubt the importance of that concept to our Jewish American foremothers and forefathers, I’d like to share this image:

This discovery of mine may be very familiar to any of you who grew up in a Reform Jewish home. This page spread is near the back of the Union Haggadah Revised—the Passover Haggadah published by the Reform movement in the 1923.

I recently came upon the page and was fascinated by this statue of religious liberty, paired as it was with the lyrics to America. The pedestal says “Religious Liberty. Dedicated to the People of the United States of America by the Order B’nai Brith and Israelites of America.” The figure appears to be a female warrior, sheltering a young boy and accompanied by an eagle. With a little research I realized I’d seen the statue before, as it is now in front of National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. I further learned that this Lady Liberty holds the U.S. Constitution in her left hand, and the boy she protects carries a lantern representing religion. The eagle at her feet is clutching a serpent in its talons—a metaphor for democracy defeating tyranny. She was installed on Thanksgiving day 1876 as part of the commemoration of the country’s centennial.  

With all of these historic ideals, symbols, and realities of “religious freedom” resonating in my mind, contemporary news stories seem to be assaulting and insulting this Lady Liberty I never realized I knew.  

I recently saw an article about the baker at the center of the cake religious liberty case. For those of you who may have missed it, a commercial baker in Colorado refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The couple sued. The case went to the Supreme Court, and the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights commission showed hostility to the baker based on his religious beliefs, since the baker claimed religious freedom was the reason he had chosen not to make the cake. Fairly recently, I saw that the same baker had again refused to bake a cake, this time for a transgender woman, once again claiming religious freedom as his defense.  

Especially now, as we celebrate Sukkot, that festival of radical hospitality, I pray the Religious Liberty our co-religionists put on a pedestal is returned to her former glory. She was the protector of the stranger, the guardian of the rights of citizenship and civil society. I do not believe she would take up arms to protect anyone’s right to refuse to interact with those who do not share their religious beliefs.  

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