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




The Power of Museums

Posted on March 7th, 2018 by

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

I was recently reminded of the power of museums.

On February 26 and 27, several colleagues and I travelled the 40 miles south to Washington DC for the convening of the annual conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums. On Monday morning, the keynote address was from Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ms. Conwill’s address was at the same time casual and compelling. She went off script long enough to joke with her audience about Black Panther and stayed on message consistently enough to deliver quotations verbatim. She invoked prophets—biblical and modern—from Isaiah to Martin Luther King Jr., Amos to Abraham Joshua Heschel. She recommended books and movies and articles. She shared successes of her museum.

But it was a phrase all her own that gave me pause. I jotted it down in my notebook: “acts of terror and fear connect Jews and Blacks in America.”

In a story to punctuate acts of terror and fear, she described the demoralizing experience of a noose being found in the galleries at the NMAAHC, in the same general time-period as the nation watched white supremacists in Charlottesville chant “Jews will not replace us” while marching with tiki torches.

As one, those assembled held our breath as we shook our heads in dismay. She told us about where and how the noose was found, and what the response was from her staff. And then she went on to relate the feeling of watching museum colleagues—from the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the Museum of National History, Air and Space, American History, National Gallery, and others, march up the National Mall to stand in solidarity with her and her colleagues.

She described the warmth of the day and the warmth of her heart knowing that museums exist, in part, to stand against the kind of cowardice that would leave a symbol of fear and violence in a public space. I could feel myself and my fellow audience members exhale our held breath. The reality of the noose was still with us, but our response, as museum professionals and as human beings, restored hope.

The story was real for me. It evoked strong emotion.

It was nothing compared to what I experienced the next day.

On Tuesday, I started my day at the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum. 

On an abbreviated docent-led tour of the Museum, I was struck by the presentation of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when thousands of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed. The USHMM displays the remnants of a stained glass window from a synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht along with large scale before and after photos of the sanctuary.* I was struck by the well of emotion the object invoked in me.

Later in the day, I attended Ms. Cornwill’s museum, the National Museum of African American Culture and History. 

In the section about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, I made a point to look closely at the photos of the four girls who were lost, and then as I turned a corner, I was confronted once again by broken stained glass. The NMAAHC displays fragments of a window destroyed by the bomb that took those four children’s lives.**

Acts of terror and fear connect Jews and Blacks in America.

A small shudder ran up my spine. If Kinshasha Cornwill’s words gave me pause, these two stained glass windows, exhibited in museums on the same National Mall, made it real. In that shudder, I was reminded of the truth of the proposition of museums: things matter; experience is not the same as information.

In that shudder, I was strengthened in the hope and the conviction that museums can be a part of the change I want to see in the world.

More and more, our museum colleagues are realizing that though what we do is not partisan, it is political. Our visitors are not just learning information for their own use and edification. They are living experiences that, if we do it right, help them to become better human beings. With a nod to our colleagues at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, if we do it right, our visitors will not be bystanders but upstanders. I look forward to continuing to walk this path at JMM.

 

*From the USHMM: “The shattered stained glass windows of the Zerrennerstrasse synagogue after its destruction on Kristallnacht.” More info here.

**From the NMAAHC: “Stained glass from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was donated by our colleagues Ann Jimerson (1963 Kids in Birmingham) and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland (SNCC veteran). Learn more here.”

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