Ask Our Docents: A Blog Series Part VI

At JMM, we don’t just seek to connect people to history; we aim to connect people to people through history. Exhibits are one of the ways we do this. Exhibits can ignite curiosity, inspire learning, and spark memories and conversations. A simple question like “What’s your favorite?” can spark a conversation. Just as our volunteers are often asked by visitors what their favorite exhibit at JMM is and why, in this month’s Ask Our Docents blog post, JMM volunteers shared their responses.

Paige Woodhouse, Project Manager

(PS. Are you curious about other JMM past exhibits? Try exploring the Past Exhibits page of our website.)

Section of exhibit with historic photographs, quotes, and props. In the foreground are cut-outs of a butchers holding chickens.
Voices of Lombard Street Exhibit. Photo by Will Kirk.

Front Desk Volunteer Harold shared that, “my favorite exhibit is the permanent Voices of Lombard Street exhibit because it reminds me the most of my childhood in Albany, NY.  I remember the names of the Jewish organizations mentioned, the various occupations that Jews had, and many other aspects of the exhibit. I specifically remember the kosher butcher, with live chickens in the back of the store ready for slaughter.”

Section of the exhibit that shows artifacts in cases on the floor, photos and text panels on the wall at eye level, and above “HOUDINI” in red lettering.
Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. Photo by Will Kirk.

“I have been a docent for about a year when the plague hit, so I saw a few exhibits in that time. I enjoyed the Houdini exhibit. Although I had heard of him many times throughout my life, there were things I learned.

I discovered his Jewish background. I learned how he died and about his refusing medical treatment secondary to his need to perform in another city. He promised, it hasn’t returned yet!” – Volunteer Docent Bruce

Interior room of exhibit with panels and archival documents hung on the walls. Taking up the majority of the image is a black and white photo showing nursing students singing around a piano with a wreath hung behind them.
Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. Photo by Will Kirk.

Archives Volunteer Fran responded: “I saw the ‘Beyond Chicken Soup’ exhibit sometime in 2016. The exhibit explored how doctors, patients, and the Jewish community used (and still uses) medicine to define their place in American culture.

I ‘assumed’ that the exhibit would be a history of Jewish physicians and healers as well as a display and history of local medical providers (ambulance service, pharmacists, MDs, nurses,  PT,OT, etc.). The exhibit, I felt, would be Sinai Hospital of Baltimore centric… and, indeed, the exhibit nicely covered the hospital and staff history.

What I didn’t expect was a large mural featuring nursing students at a group sing / holiday party. 

The students were in a plaid uniform that I knew was NOT worn by Sinai Hospital of Baltimore nursing students – back in the day – but by nursing students from Mt. Sinai Hospital of New York City – back in the day. 

I wore that plaid uniform for years; I knew it well. 

And coincidently, around the time of the JMM exhibit, I was in NYC at a Mt. Sinai School of Nursing alumnae meeting. I left my school scrapbooks, brochures, other ephemera, that I had kept for years with Barbara Niss, the Mt. Sinai Hospital of N.Y. archivist. She posted some of the items on the Mt. Sinai website and said she would do an exhibit of nursing student life circa mid to late 1960’s. I believe that Ms. Niss (Mt. Sinai, New York) provided the student photo for JMM’s ‘Chicken Soup’.  

The entrance of the exhibit space. To the left there is a large panel hanging on the wall with a photo of Paul Simon and illegible text. To the right in the background is a person walking through the space.
Paul Simon: Words & Music. Photo by Will Kirk.

“I loved the Paul Simon exhibit.  It brought back memories, as I actually saw Paul Simon perform live in Merriweather Pavilion in Columbia, MD.  I believe it was his Graceland Tour.” – Shop Volunteer Laraine

Exhibit in the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
The Synagogues Speaks exhibit in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

Volunteer Docent Michael shared that, “my favorite exhibit is the oldest exhibit: the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Why? Its architecture, both outside and inside, lets me feel that I am back in time with those who first attended. 

The outside when first built had nothing to indicate it was a synagogue and everything to indicate it was an American edifice. It was constructed in Greek Revival style, harkening back to the world’s first democracy and popular with all official American buildings back in the mid 1800’s.  Yet the inside with its typical Jewish bimah, ark, and Ner Tamid are quintessentially Jewish.  Why the difference between outside and inside?  It was because the Jews who formed Nedche Yisroel still felt themselves to be the “scattered” (read that as “oppressed”) of Israel. They wanted to show the outside observers that they were indeed “American” but needed an inside home in which they could gather and feel Jewish.

The inside structure makes me feel as if I am living with those early Baltimore Jews as well. As I look out over all the empty pews, I wonder about the people who sat there. Many of those congregants were poor Jewish immigrants who spent the week travelling the countryside with one hundred twenty pound packs on their backs selling their wares. Why did these poor people find it so important to contribute to the building of this very expensive edifice? I think it was because this edifice was their German-Jewish home, a home that was of paramount importance to these developing Americans.

I also look at the pews filled with immigrants and marvel at the strength these people had to leave their homelands in Germany and later in the Pale of Settlement and make the very difficult journey to America.”

Lloyd Street Synagogue 175th Anniversary Logo

This blog series is shared as part of our year-long 175th Lloyd Street Synagogue anniversary celebrations. Thank you to all the JMM Docents for continuing to share their knowledge and passion with us. Keep an eye out for next month’s edition! 

Exhibits Volunteers

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