The other JMM

Posted on April 11th, 2018 by

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

Almost exactly one year from now, we will be opening an exhibit we’re borrowing from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee (the other JMM), called Stitching History from the Holocaust.

We’re pretty excited about this show, which brings to life the innovative dress designs of Hedy Strnad, a soul and a talent lost to the Holocaust.

The other JMM is also very excited about this exhibit, and they are re-mounting the exhibit, with some enhancements, this spring. Coincidentally my sister, Emily, lives in Milwaukee with her family, and she invited me and my family to visit for Seder.

Beshert, I thought. I could go visit the exhibit IRL, and not just the link I shared with you above. I was to be in Milwaukee from March 29 through April 2. The other JMM opened the exhibit on April 8.

Womp womp.

I didn’t get to see Hedy’s dresses in real life. However, I did get to visit the other JMM, and meet some of my colleagues there.

They shared some of what they’re working on for future exhibits. I told them about some of our plans. We shared impressions of the recent CAJM conference in Washington, DC. I also had the opportunity to enjoy their core exhibition.

Since I was there with my 6-year-old daughter and my nephews who are 7 and 4, I wasn’t able to linger the way I might have (though my sister did an admirable job of keeping the kids occupied so that I could peruse. Thanks, Em!).

Even in my somewhat abbreviated time in the exhibit, I was struck by a few things:

I was reminded that Harry Houdini (with whom this JMM is currently deeply involved, as our original exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini comes together) spent some of his youth in Milwaukee.

I was surprised to read all about the German-Russian divide in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Milwaukee Jewish community. I am well aware of the same divide that beleaguered the Baltimore Jewish community (my family’s stories include the tales of my grandmother’s grandmother who immigrated from what was then Prussia and refused to speak a word of Yiddish, referring to the language as “cussing”). Somehow I naively thought that it was a past that was unique to Baltimore.

And I was taken with a visual family tree/timeline that the other JMM did about the Jewish congregations in the city, visually representing how different schuls splintered and splintered again.

Marvin often tells visitors about how many active congregations in the Baltimore area can trace their roots back to the Lloyd Street Synagogue. The other JMM created a kind of map of those connections (spoiler alert, I’ll be looking into creating our map in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned).

In short, from JMM to JMM, it’s worth the visit!*

 

*Did you know that Premium-level JMM Members get free reciprocal admission to the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, as well as at 11 other Jewish museums around the country? Become a premium-level member today!

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But first, coffee!

Posted on April 9th, 2018 by

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

I am a big fan of coffee. I drink between 2 and 3 cups a day, and though I have had healthcare providers recommend that I cut back or cut it out, I have decided that the possible harm it is doing is outweighed by my enjoyment of it. I love the smell of coffee. I love the way that first taste burns my tongue ever-so-slightly. When I wake up, my first thought is “coffee.”

This deep appreciation for the hot, brewed beverage came to me in my adulthood. I was about 28 and working on my PhD at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (I didn’t finish). I was studying for comprehensive exams and spending at least 10 hours a day in the Regenstein Library. I was reading endless pages of rabbinic arguments and arguments about the arguments and monographs about medieval Jewish philosophy. And I was spending a big chunk of my stipend at Ex Libris, the coffee shop in the basement of the library, or at the Divinity School coffee shop, on a beverage that was already very old, but was new to me.

I was in love. Coffee became my best friend in those days, as I struggled through medieval philosophy (which I loved) and Mishnaic legal arguments (which I decidedly did NOT love). Maybe because my love affair with coffee started while I was poring over Jewish texts (and one of my two favorite coffee houses claimed to be “where God drinks coffee”), there’s a lingering association in my mind between Jewish texts and my favorite warm beverage.

In fact, I recently decided I wanted to calligraph the Hebrew word “Halleluyah” (loosely translated, according to my rabbi, as “Yay, G-d!”) using coffee as my ink.

I also had a travel mug made for myself that inserts coffee (as commentary), into the famous passage from Mica 6:8: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your G-d.”

(I’m thinking of having these mass produced for sale at Esther’s Place. Let me know in the comments if you’d be interested.)

A colleague and I have decided to celebrate warm beverages in Esther’s Place with a display of our many mug offerings. We’ll also support our celebration by participating in #MugShotMondays on the interwebs (which I am assured is a real thing that people do about their mugs).

In preparing for this endeavor, I decided to do a little research to support my internal association between Jewish texts and my love of coffee. I went looking for rabbinic sanction of my love. I found a book entitled Jews Welcome Coffee: Tradition and Innovation in Early Modern Germany by Robert Liberles (Brandeis, 2012). Liberles reviews all of the arguments for and against coffee, especially on Shabbat, but my favorite response was the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century understanding that without coffee, Jews “would be unable to enjoy the Sabbath properly.”

Whether you drink it on Shabbat, during the week, or, like me, drink it every day, and even if you (gulp) prefer tea, I encourage you to check out the mugs we have to offer in Esther’s Place, and to follow (or join in!) our #MugShotMonday social media campaign over the next several Mondays.

Our office keurig just doesn’t have the same sort of glamour as these vintage urns, does it? JMM 1998.47.36.6

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my mug is empty, and I need to remedy that.

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April 10, 2018: A Decade in the Making

Posted on March 9th, 2018 by

Performance Counts: March 2018

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes to us from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Ten Years in the Making

In 1971, Isaac M. Fein, the founder of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (predecessor to the JMM), published a comprehensive history of the Jewish community of Baltimore. The Making of An American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920, was originally published by the Jewish Publication Society of America and then re-released by the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland in 1985. It is an excellent book, and one that our Senior Vice President, Dr. Robert Keehn, recommends to friends and family alike.

In 2008, JMM’s then-director Avi Decter and JMM’s then-researcher Deb Weiner started talking about the successor to the Fein book. Deb suggested they bring in their colleague, Eric Goldstein to help research and write, and so began a journey that is scheduled to reach its finish on April 10 at 6:30pm with the official launch of On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore.

Samuel and Albertina Harrison at 1216 McElderry St., c. 1890. JMM 1991.36.1

We have notes in our institutional archives from a conversation the two colleagues had on August 28, 2008. Questions they were asking themselves included: How would they structure it? How could they update and complement the research Fein had done and tell the story into the twenty-first century? How could they include some of Gil Sandler’s important and compelling storytelling work? What distinguishes Baltimore’s story from other American communities?

The questions were intriguing to Museum staff and board, as well as some important patrons. At least seven donors made the book research, writing, and publishing happen, including: the Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation, Willard and Lillian Hackerman, the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation, and the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. Additional financial support for the project was provided by the Southern Jewish Historical Society and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.

“The Masquerade Ball of the Harmony Circle, New Assemblr Rooms, March 1st 1866.” JMM 1990.44.1

Johns Hopkins University Press (JHUP) is the publisher of the work, per a contract signed between the two entities nearly five years ago. The questions from ten years ago are now answered in the JHUP/JMM publication of five chapters (plus an introduction and an epilogue) across 320 pages of historical storytelling. An additional 46 pages convey 907 footnotes. And because this is a work created by and with the Museum, more than 130 images–curated from our collections or borrowed from colleagues at more than 20 other institutions or private collections–punctuate the story.

Rosalie Silber Abrams (top left) and Governor Marvin Mandel (bottom left) at a signing ceremony for legislation Abrams sponsored. JMM 1983.88.17.1

And what a story it is! Ranging from the eighteenth century until the twenty-first, On Middle Ground presents compelling characters and absorbing dramas. The authors argue that Baltimore, with its multiple modes of in-the-middle-ness (as a port for both products and people, and as an in-between space—geographically and culturally—bordering both north and south), created an environment that made it a microcosm of the broader American (Jewish) story.

At the Museum on April 10, Deb Weiner will give a preview of the story with a book talk entitled Life on the Border: The Role of Place in Shaping the Baltimore Jewish Experience. Gill Sandler will also be there to entertain and enlighten as he is wont to do.

Temple Oheb Shalom groundbreaking, 1959. Pictured are Philip Kaufman, Scott Preterman, Arthur Feldman, Helene Sacherman, Shelby Silver, Marge Hecht, Sammy Fox, Steve Agetstein, Roy Gamse, Louis Salai, and John Katz,JMM 2002.117.11

If you can’t make April 10 (or you want to collect that second signature on your personalized copy!), co-author Eric Goldstein will join us at the Museum on May 9, sharing a different aspect of the book with a talk entitled Myth vs. Reality: The Maryland Jew Bill in Historical Context.

Whether or not you can make it to the official launch event, we hope you’ll come see us soon, and pick up your copy of the book at Esther’s Place!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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