Performance Counts September 2015: Adieu to Cinema Judaica

Posted on September 11th, 2015 by

Two museum workers unframing items from the exhibit.

De-installing Cinema Judaica

This week at the JMM we bid a fond farewell to Cinema Judaica. The exhibition of film posters and memorabilia, developed by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum, was on display from July 1-September 6. Thanks to the creativity and hard work of JMM collections manager, Joanna Church, with assistance from exhibit designer and fabricator, Mark Ward, the exhibition also featured a local tie in through the addition of the wonderful photographs by Amy Davis of local movie houses (many of which have long been shuttered) and documentation about local film screenings of movies on display.

Cinema Judaica proved to be a summer blockbuster, drawing unexpected crowds and press attention. In total, during the nine weeks the exhibit was on display we welcomed 9% more visitors in comparison to same period last year.  This was, in large part, thanks to the very successful events planned by JMM Programs Manager, Trillion Attwood.


Lecturer next to PowerPoint slide on Screen

Jewish Movies 101

Cinema Judaica was an excellent inspiration for the nine programs that took place during the exhibit’s run.  Many programs were lectures, with speakers from California, New York and Pennsylvania. Topics varied from an exploration of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, to a brief history of Jewish movies and even an exploration of what remains of Baltimore’s movie theaters.

The Great Dictator film poster next to lecturer.

Fighting Fascism with a Movie

We also presented JMM Features, a series of three free movies screenings inspired by the exhibit. Two of the movies were screened outside in the lot across from the JMM entrance and one was shown in the JMM lobby. The movies were a huge success attracting great crowds including lots of new faces. Unfortunately we lost count of how many bags of popcorn we served but we did see the largest audience for An American Tail.

Outdoor film screenings of The Great Dictator and Gentleman's Agreement

Outdoor film screenings of The Great Dictator and Gentleman’s Agreement

In total the programs attracted 612 attendees, it is interesting to note that almost all of the programs attracted an above average audience. However the most popular program was Amy Davis’ lecture Flickering Treasures, which explored Baltimore’s historic movie theatres. If you missed any of our programs we recorded the audio of three lectures which will soon be available on our website.



View down wall of various film posters, starting with large 10 Commandments

A variety of poster sizes on display

“Cinema Judaica” included 61 movies, which were represented by 66 different posters, lobby cards, pressbooks, trade advertisements, and the like.  The images ranged in size from an 8”x10” still photo of Claude Rains (in character as Haym Salomon from Sons of Liberty) to a “six sheet” poster for The Ten Commandments measuring almost 7’ square.

An Amy Davis photo in situ

An Amy Davis photo

To put a local spin on these posters, we researched the Baltimore-area movie theaters at which the films played.  Thus, we were able to namecheck over 50 theaters, with eight significant venues shown in photographs.  Many of the comments made by visitors focused on memories of their favorite movie houses in and around the city.

The #GoldenTevye voting box.

The #GoldenTevye voting box.

In the hope of engaging audiences even further, we asked visitors to vote for their favorite poster in the exhibition. During the course of the exhibit 164 votes were cast, with visitors choosing 35 of the included movies (sorry, The House I Live In and your unloved friends).  The winner by a landslide was The Ten Commandments, with 22 votes (just over 13% of the total); Exodus came in second with 10 votes, followed closely by The Diary of Anne Frank and The Great Dictator, which garnered 9 votes each.

A selection of posters

A selection of posters

In the course of researching and installing the exhibit, a number of entertaining facts came to light.  For example, as I typed the cast lists of all 61 films I noticed that several actors appeared twice in this exhibit, including Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and Haya Harareet. However, two actors managed to sneak in as the accidental stars of the exhibit: Character actor Hugh Griffith appears in four of the films (and won an Oscar for his role in Ben-Hur), and supporting actor George Sanders (shown here in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent) appeared in five.

George Sanders in Foreign Correspondent, he is holding a phone to his ear.

George Sanders in Foreign Correspondent

In the end, my favorite tidbit from “Cinema Judaica” is the fact that this was likely the most exclamatory exhibit we’ve ever had the honor of displaying.  …Sorry, I should say: the honor of displaying! Superlatives, adjectives, and !s abounded. This is only to be expected, of course, when your gallery includes “The thrill spectacle of the year!” (Foreign Correspondent), “The mightiest motion picture ever created!” (Solomon and Sheba), and “A story timeless, tumultuous, overpowering!” (Samson and Delilah).  Though only two movies had exclamation marks in the actual title (Operation Eichmann! and I Accuse!), most of the posters availed themselves of the chance to proclaim the movie’s stars, plot, or general wonderfulness with great excitement. The most excessive use was on Sodom and Gomorrah, which had 11… but lest you dismiss that as B movie excess, I’ll point out that the runner-up in the contest was the prestigious Judgement at Nuremberg, which scattered 10 exclamation marks across the poster.  Through the entire exhibit, I counted 117 exclamation marks total!


Don’t be too sad – we’ll have plenty more movie action this Fall with our Folk Film Festival, Tuesday evenings in November!


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Fievel and the Tooth Fairy visit the JMM

Posted on August 20th, 2015 by

This past Sunday, JMM Features continued, the second in a series of free movie screenings accompanying this summer’s exhibit Cinema Judaica. The classic animation An American Tail  drew a great crowd. Everyone seemed to enjoy the movie and there was plenty of popcorn to go around! It was especially wonderful to see lots of new faces.

The event included fun activities for the whole family. Children and parents learned how to draw their favorite Jewish cartoon characters. Other activities included creating Fievel out of pipe cleaners and illustrating modern cartoon version of An American Tail, considering the challenges faced by immigrants today.

The crowds gathering before the movie starts

The crowds gathering before the movie starts.

Learning how to draw Fievel

Learning how to draw Fievel.

My favorite activity -  making Fievel with pipe cleaners.

My favorite activity – making Fievel with pipe cleaners.

We also had a visit from an unexpected guest, the Tooth Fairy! Adam and his family, visiting from Ohio, joined us for the movie. However, while watching Fievel on his adventures, Adam’s wiggly tooth came out. We have welcomed guests from around the globe but this may be a first.



If you haven’t had a chance to join us yet for JMM Features you have one last chance this week. On Sunday, August 23rd at 8:00 p.m. we will be holding a free screening Gentleman’s Agreement in the lot in front of the JMM. Again this is a BYOC (bring your own chair) event but we will supply the popcorn. If you feel like making an evening of it, bring a picnic, or even grab something from one of the wonderful local restaurants.

I hope to see you on Sunday!



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Ancient Egypt at the JMM

Posted on May 18th, 2015 by

I became involved in the development for The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen as I have a background in Egyptology, it isn’t something I ever expected to use when I started working at the JMM but recently it has been put to good use. In addition to working on the exhibit I have been able to plan a few programs that also draw on this knowledge.

Last month we held an Ancient Egypt family day here at the Museum. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just the usual discussion of mummification but something that would teach some of the skills needed by an early Egyptologist like Mendes. We planned a series of interconnected activities that showed some of the process an archaeologist follows.



Understanding how to excavate was our first aim, everyone received their own archaeological dig to excavate. We started by carefully dividing the site into sections, these would be essential for recording our finds accurately . As we dug we also spoke about the importance of stratigraphy and how it helps to date a site and the objects we find.

Due to some careful planning everyone found the remains of two ceramic vessels which were carefully recorded and collected for the next stage.

ancient 2

Finds Analysis

This was an important part of the day that really taught some practical skills. We examined the pieces we found, discussing rim sherds especially. We looked at how they can be used to create a better impression of how a vessel may have originally looked, especially the size of the vessel. We also discussed why ceramics are such a common find on archaeological sites and what they can reveal.



Once we gathered as much information as possible regarding our sherds we stared the process of reconstruction, this took a lot of patience and a little creative thinking, but eventually we were able to reconstruct our precious artefacts!



The one thing that no Ancient Egypt day would be complete without is of course hieroglyphs. All of the materials that were excavated came ready inscribed with their ‘original’ contents, including bread, beer, cobras and fish. Once the translation was done we took the opportunity to do some writing in hieroglyphs ourselves.

Grave Goods

Finally we explored some of the types of object an archaeologist might discover. Most of the material that survives from Ancient Egypt, including all of the antiquities on display in The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, were originally intended for a funerary context. So we decided to make a few grave goods of our own including this fantastic death mask and some shabtis.

If you missed out on Egypt Day don’t worry! We have another great family day planned for June 14th, the closing day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen and Flag Day.

Trillion BremenA blog post by Programs Manager Trillion Attwood. To read more posts from Trillion click HERE.

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