Lessons from Across the Pond

Posted on May 14th, 2014 by

Over the Passover holiday I traveled to England, meeting up with my wife, who took a vacation from her dissertation research in Turkey.  I am normally quite reticent to share tales of my journeys, probably due to being subjected to one-too-many travelogues from my myriad aunts and uncles.  But Rachel has persuaded me that a few of my observations/adventures might be of more general interest.

1. One Site, Many Dimensions

My favorite site on the whole trip was Hampton Court Palace.  It is the home that King Henry VIII took off the hands of Cardinal Wolsey after he sent him to the Tower.  It continued to be “improved” by English monarchs up through the mid-1700s.

Anne Boleyn has a fight with her mother for the entertainment of 21st century guests.

Anne Boleyn has a fight with her mother for the entertainment of 21st century guests.

The custodians of this site showed tremendous imagination in interpretation.  They created separate tours for different time periods and though Henry VIII may be somewhat better known than George II, they managed to find attributes (like chocolate making) that evened the field.  They broke common museum labeling conventions, often pinning labels to tapestries or draping them on tables rather than pasting them on foam core.  It made the experience much more organic.  They also managed to use a wide variety of techniques simultaneously, including living history performances, audio guides and high-tech slide presentations.  I thought that the combination of techniques, great history to work with and truly beautiful paintings and gardens made this a historic site with very wide appeal… proving that sometimes More is More (and I don’t just mean Sir Thomas).

A truly impressive trump l'oeil from Hampton Court Palace.

A truly impressive trump l’oeil from Hampton Court Palace.

On the long bus ride out to the Palace we passed by a field with the targets set up for what appeared to be a professional archery tournament.  Wish I had taken a picture, especially after we passed by the scoreboard which identified the teams as London Welsh vs. Nottingham!!  Did I really lose my chance to meet Robin Hood?

2. Like No Other Night

When we decided that we’d meet over Passover, I thought I would try to find an interesting Second Night Seder.  I e-mailed Michael Leventhal, who runs the annual Gefiltefest in London, to ask for a recommendation.  He connected me to a group called the Carlebach Minyan which was holding its seder at a private home in the North London borough of Finchley.  Much of the ceremony was reminiscent of seders I’ve had here in Maryland or Illinois (with the exception of a Sephardic custom of lashing your neighbors with scallions during the singing of Dayenu).  But the dinner had an exceptional theme – “Eat Your Way Through the Plagues”.  The dinner had ten courses each course took its inspiration from the plague.  For course one, for example, each guest was given a plastic syringe, a thimble of tomato juice and a thimble of vodka or water – and it was our task to “turn the clear liquid of the Nile into blood”.  Course five, beasts, was brisket and potatoes but the potatoes had been dried to form a rampaging hippo as seen in this photo.  When we got to course eight, the host came in to proudly inform us that locusts were kosher and that this course was exactly what it sounded like.  Here I drew the line – I am not a grasshopper eater.

The "beast" rampages through the potatoes at the Second Night Seder.

The “beast” rampages through the potatoes at the Second Night Seder.

During the seder I was invited to share a story… I shared the tale of the Lloyd Street Synagogue’s own “wicked son” – Rabbi Illowy and the lessons we learned from America’s Civil War.

3. Expectations and Audience

I did take the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum of London.  It is a little challenging to find, but worth the effort.  We have some elements in common with our London counterpart, including the exhibition of one of the oldest mikveh in our respective countries (well, ours is 1845 and theirs is mid-13th century).

This is the rather subtle entry to the Jewish Museum of London.

This is the rather subtle entry to the Jewish Museum of London.

The Jewish Museum of London has three exhibit floors.  The first level is “what is Judaism?”… objects that explain Jewish rituals and observances.  The second level is “the history of Judaism in Britain” and the third level is a changing exhibit gallery.  I found it interesting that such a large portion of the total footprint was dedicated to explaining Judaism in general.  It seemed to reflect an expectation that a significant portion of their audience was unfamiliar with Jewish practice… an expectation not often reflected in American Jewish museums.

This screen from the computer interactive of Jewish settlements in England tells the story of the Jews of Bristol (home of Mendes Cohen's mother).

This screen from the computer interactive of Jewish settlements in England tells the story of the Jews of Bristol (home of Mendes Cohen’s mother).

On the second floor there were some interesting display concepts.  The tailor shop section of the exhibit included tools partially encased in plexi – visitors could lift the iron or the scissors and feel their weight without risk of injury from sharp edges.  There was also a video that blended a historic photo with live actors.  The interactive that allowed you to look up dozens of communities in England and find out their Jewish stories was particularly well done.  I wouldn’t be surprised if someday you could do this with towns of Maryland at a certain museum in Baltimore.

How heavy were those scissors?

How heavy were those scissors?

The temporary exhibit in April was on Jewish participation in World War I.  I thought it was an excellent treatment of a difficult topic.  Naturally, the focus was on the Jews of Britain – but they did a credible job of explaining the participation of the much larger populations of Jews who fought for the Central Powers (Germany and Austria).

London's oldest mikveh was moved to the museum.

London’s oldest mikveh was moved to the museum.

4. York and Memory

We ended our visit to England with a trip to York, a beautiful, walkable small city in the north of the country.  It has an incredibly rich history… underneath the soaring Gothic York Minster lie the remains of the original Roman fort at Eboracum.  There is also a slightly hokey attraction focused on York’s Viking heritage in town.

York Minster, I believe it is the second largest cathedral in Europe.  It stands where Constantine was made Emperor of Rome.

York Minster, I believe it is the second largest cathedral in Europe. It stands where Constantine was made Emperor of Rome.

York plays a role in Jewish history as well, though not a happy one.  It seems that when Richard the Lionheart ascended to the throne in 1189 a rumor spread that it was the king’s wish to deal with infidels at home before heading on a Crusade against infidels abroad.  The small Jewish community of York, numbering about 150, fled the castle keep (a place later reconstructed in stone as Clifford’s Tower).  A mob descended on the keep and the Jews inside made the decision to kill themselves by burning down the keep rather than expose themselves to torture, forced conversion and/or death from the mob.

Memories of York were still fresh in my mind when I boarded the plane back to the US.  I had bought myself a wonderfully illustrated magazine for the long trip home – The Medieval World, published by National Geographic.  Its 127 pages of text and graphics attempted to summarize the major places and events of the thousand year span from 400 to 1400 A.D.  Not surprisingly, York made it into the list  of great places of the age.  The magazine attempted to give a balanced portrayal of the struggle between Christians and Muslims across this millennium.  But somewhere over the North Atlantic, I began to notice something was missing: the Jews.  Not just missing from the sidebar on York, but from the discussion of Moorish Spain and central Germany… as best as I could tell, missing from all 127 pages!

What struck me was how easy it is to erase a people from history… and how important it is that institutions like the Jewish Museum of London (and the Jewish Museum of Maryland) keep it alive and accessible to the public.  I came back from my journey, exhausted, refreshed and ready to go back to work.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here.

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Spotlight on Collections

Posted on January 10th, 2013 by

The majority of our archival collection here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland dates after the construction of the Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845).? This isn?t surprising giving the size of the Jewish population in Baltimore before that time.? But we do have some items from the earlier part of the 19th century or even the end of the 18th century.

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and Miriam (daughter of Ezekiel) in Baltimore, 1839. Courtesy of Mabel F. Kraus. 1964.24.2″]

Prayer book, in Old German and Hebrew, edited by W. Heidenheim and published in Rodelheim by J. Lehrberger, 1838. This book was used by Rabbi Abraham J. Rice (first rabbi at the Lloyd Street Synagogue) with family information inscribed. Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Leo Flehinger. 1963.6.1

Indenture between Daniel Evans and Richard Bell for a piece of ground in Fells Point at Fleet and Ann Streets for $1000.00, 1818. Courtesy of Albert Berney. 1992.232.2

Power of attorney concerning Michael Gratz, his wife Miriam Gratz and Michael?s brother Bernard, 1795. Courtesy of Dr. Joseph Francus. 1983.31.2

A travel diary/itinerary for a trip taken July 9-August 17, 1786. 1988.145.10

Hebrew or Yiddish note with English translations regarding the death of Joshua Cohen in Germany, 6 Tammuz 5539 (1779). Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. 1989.1.19

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Connections Around the World

Posted on July 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education

During the month of June, I was out of the office the entire month.  On June 3rd, the JMM held its Annual Meeting and we welcomed the new Executive Director, Marvin Pinkert.  Two days later, I left with my family and we travelled to Amsterdam for three days and then travelled to Tel Aviv, to stay with my husband’s family for two more weeks.  My family always teases me whenever we go anywhere, I always seem to find some connection to the Museum… so I thought I would share some of the connections…….

When we travel, I love to just walk the cities to really get a feel as to how the locals live.  I enjoy shopping at the flea markets and seeing all of the yummy local foods available.  In Amsterdam, we wandered through many of the neighborhoods throughout the city. On our first day, we walked over to the Jordaan neighborhood where the Anne Frank Museum is located.  It was raining too hard and the line was too long so we went to a flea market near the Waterlooplein and we saw local vendors selling yummy cheese and fresh fish, Holland’s Chosen Food.  

Across the street from the flea market, I noticed a sign Joods Historich Museum and we ran over to the Jewish Historical Museum.  We arrived five minutes too late-after Museum hours so we opted for pictures from the outside.  Across the street, we saw a sign that said Portugese Synagogue.    We ran to the entrance of the building- once again, the building was closed to the public –  we were too late!  We did notice that  the  building was open to a private tour – once again we opted to take pictures from the outside.   

Another JMM connection – In 1665, the Portuguese Jewish Community commissioned the Portugees-Israëlietische Synagoge, an elegant brick structure within an existing courtyard. Construction took place from 1671 to 1675 under Elias Bouwman and Danield Stalpaert. When completed, the Portuguese Synagogue was the largest synagogue in the world. The synagogue was restored in the 1850s and 1950s, but has been well-preserved in its original form. Miraculously, the synagogue survived the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam in 1940 unscathed. This building dates back to 1675.  I thought, WOW, this building has the JMM  beat by 170 years!   

From Amsterdam, we travelled east to Tel Aviv to visit with my husband’s family for the rest of our vacation.  It’s hard finding time to do “touristy” things when we visit, as we have so many family obligations and commitments. However, we did manage to get  to the beach a few times  – a short 10 minute ride by bus – and we went to the famous Shuk HaCarmel.  I love seeing the fresh produce, the amazing colors of the fruits and veggies- everything always looks so vibrant.  We stopped by the Druze woman who was making fresh pita and then filled it with labane (sour cheese) and zaatar (spices).  We ate our fresh pita with hummus and tabuleh….  Israel’s Chosen Food…….

One day we travelled to Jerusalem-one of the world’s oldest cities.  I love walking through the streets of the Old City.  I love the smells and the exotic feeling going through the shuk.  I love to haggle with shop vendors.

We stopped at the Kotel (Western Wall) and stood before this impressive remnant of the outside wall surrounding the Temple Mount that was destroyed in 70 CE. by the Romans. This is one of Judaism’s most holy places and millions of people come each year to place notes and offer prayers at this historic site.    JMM Connection – Another place that is older than the Lloyd Street Synagogue…  This time by a whopping 1775 years!

We arrived back to the United States, I recovered quickly from jet lag and the next thing I knew I was on a train to New York City to spend a week at Columbia University as an Alfred Lerner Fellow.  I attended a week-long conference on Holocaust education sponsored by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.  I spent five days in intensive sessions learning about the many facets of history and pedagogy by leading scholars in their field of expertise.  Many days I was wiped out by the emotionally charged sessions. 

One evening, we ventured downtown and toured the National 9-11 Memorial.  We were all moved by the impressive site and peacefulness of the sound of running water in the pools…. It’s still a work in progress – Something everyone should see…..

I returned to Baltimore for one night and then our home was one of the lucky tens of thousands throughout the State of Maryland that lost power.   The week was exceptionally challenging with no power and record high temperatures.  Last Friday evening, my husband and I went to Fells Point for dinner- to get away from the heat in the house and feel some cooler breezes from the water.  After dinner, we were walking along Thames Street and I noticed a building with a bicycle dangling in the air with lots of colored glass.  My friend, Loring Cornish opened three floors of gallery space with his very creative art and mosaics and I was once again reminded of the JMM- we exhibited Loring’s work in 2011, In Each Others Shoes.  Friday night, Fells Point, after hours… I am reminded of work… at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

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