Number #2 – Check!

Posted on January 25th, 2016 by

As I write this blog, the weather reports are calling for a major blizzard to hit the Baltimore/Washington corridor.  The idea of snowstorm is kind of nice- thinking about it happening over the weekend-not really having to be anywhere except home with family, a fire, and lots of good food and drink.  However, my mind wanders back to two weeks ago, over Winter Break, enjoying 80 degree days in Hilton Head and Charleston, South Carolina.

The purpose of the trip to the south was to relax, ride bikes and visit Number #2 – Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim (KKBE).  Why did do I care about Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim.  Part of the visitor’s experience at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is to take a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  We tell our visitors that the Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS)  is the third oldest synagogue in the country still standing in its original spot.  Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island is Number #1 – built in 1759 and is the oldest existing synagogue building in  the United States.  Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim is Number #2 and we as the owners of the Lloyd Street Synagogue here at the JMM are Number #3!

Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim

Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim

The Jewish community of Charleston can be traced back to 1695.  Jews were attracted to the civil and religious liberties of South Carolina, and by 1749, these early pioneers organized the congregation, Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). Similar to the early Baltimore Jewish community, the congregation worshipped in people’s homes until 1794, they dedicated a synagogue described then as the largest in the United States, “spacious and elegant.”  The building was destroyed in the great fire of Charleston in 1838, and the new building was constructed in 1840 on the same Hasell Street site.  The building is one of the country’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture.  The Kalal Kadosh Bet Elohim sanctuary is the second oldest existing synagogue building  in the United States and the oldest in continuous use.  It was designated a national landmark in 1980.

The sanctuary.

The sanctuary.

I was curious to as the similarities and differences between KKBE and the LSS.   The first thing that really struck me was the presence of an established Jewish community so early in the our nation’s history.  KKBE was established prior to the Revolutionary War- so it was very interesting to learn about the early Jewish Americans who settled in the US prior to the war.  KKBE has a letter on display from President George Washington dating from  1790 extending his congratulations to the congregation.  In thinking about Baltimore’s early Jewish community-the Jewish community is really not established until 1830, more than  50 years after the Revolutionary War.

The actual building of KKBE is very similar to  the LSS in that both buildings are built in Greek Revival architectural style.  The KKBE has six columns when compared to the LSS’s four columns.  The columns in Charleston also appear to be considerably  taller than the LSS too.   Both buildings have very  large doors for entranceways in the center of the buildings.  The Hebrew prayer and English translation of the Shma are on the outside of the synagogue in Charleston.  Both synagogue building have boot scrapers located outside the door.  My favorite detail of the “lego bricks” underneath the portico of the LSS can also be seen at KKBE.

My favorite detail of the “lego bricks” underneath the portico of the LSS can also be seen at KKBE.

The“lego bricks” of KKBE.

We walked inside the sanctuary, and the space is very beautiful and in ways similar to the LSS.  The ark is very impressive and is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.  The local tradition in the South is to keep the doors of the Ark open.   The Torah scrolls are enclosed behind glass inside the wooden frame.

The ark.

The ark.

The organ is in the back of the congregation and was installed in 1840 introducing instrumental music into its worship service. Since then KKBE has been connected with religious reform and the congregation was one of the founding members of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, making it  one of the earliest reform congregations in the country.   The organ is placed -very much in the way that I imagined the organ to have been installed by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1870’s inside the LSS. in the back of the sanctuary on the balcony level.

The organ.

The organ.

One of my favorite things at KKBE was a beautiful mural that they had displayed in the social hall that depicts the “Patriots of Beth Elohim”. The figure on the horse represents the young Revolutionary patriot and legislator Francis Salvador who was killed and scalped by Tory-led Indians.  He was one of more than 20 Beth Elohim congregants who fought in the American Revolution, symbolized by the standing figure holding a Bible who represents Abraham Alexander, a Revolutionary officer and religious leader of Bet Elohim between 1764 and 1784.  The soldier seated with the broken sword and bowed head represents some 180 Jewish South Carolinians who served in the Civil War.  The tablet with the rampant lions and flames represent the brave Maccabees who fought for religious freedom in the second century BCE.  The soldier and the flag on the left represent KKBE members who served in subsequent wars.

“Patriots of Beth Elohim”

“Patriots of Beth Elohim”

I am so happy to place a checkmark on my bucket list – I have been curious to see KKBE, especially after so many visitors to the JMM have shared their own observations and stories about the rich history of the Jewish community in Charleston. I enjoyed making the connections between the two historic  buildings and I look forward to doing more research over the next few months as we try and showcase the Lloyd Street Synagogue as, “The American Synagogue.”  More details to follow!   Stay warm this weekend!

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights: Fun (with a serious purpose)

Posted on January 22nd, 2016 by

I would be the first to admit that we’ve had a great deal of fun with our recent projects – “Paul Simon: Words and Music”, “Cinema Judaica”, “The A-mazing Mendes Cohen” but in this JMM Insights I want to remind us of why this type of fun matters.  You can call this my version of a “State of the History Museum Address”.

I begin with an observation: Today we sit within an ocean of information, never have so many Americans had easy access to eyewitness accounts of history; visual databases of historic artifacts; timelines, graphs and charts of every description.  Yet it is hard to argue that we have a deeper understanding of our past.  Politicians and pundits invoke an imaginary past with impunity – pretending, for example, that Japanese internment was a solution to a real problem in WWII or that slavery wasn’t the primary cause of the Civil War.  Nonsense is repeated with the same authority as fact and we lose our grip on reality.

So why don’t more of us take advantage of available resources to make ourselves better informed?

  1. We lack motivation and inspiration – this is where the “fun” part matters; we need to build good habits for exploring history the same way you would develop good habits for physical exercise or reading books – you need for lower barriers of engagement and increase rewards of participation. History museums are particularly good at this.
  2. We don’t see ourselves as history “makers” – we offer labs for science courses because we know that true understanding of scientific processes is more durable and deep when people make discoveries for themselves; history is not commonly taught this way in school – often relying exclusively on secondary sources written decades or centuries after the events. History museums allow visitors to “uncover” information from original sources.
  3. As a society we don’t value history. To many of us in the museum field today this is the most troubling cause of our collective version of Alzheimer’s. Most of us have heard of STEM, some of us have heard of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) but for at least a generation the history community has been pretty quiet about promoting its brand.  Public history has been starved of resources both within the formal education system (social studies as it turns out was “the child left behind”) and in public support for history museums, historic sites and historic parks, all of which lost government funding in the 2008 recession – and to put it politely, “have not participated in the recovery.”

A group of us have decided the time has come to change the public dialogue.  At the AASLH meeting in 2013 there was the formal launch of a national History Relevance Campaign, spearheaded by Baltimore’s own John Durel.  For more information on the Campaign check out their website: http://www.historyrelevance.com/

The core of the Campaign is the Value of History statement – a common expression of the public history community.  Both the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Greater Baltimore History Alliance endorsed the statement this fall.  If you feel as we do, I urge you to download a copy of the statement for yourself – share it with friends and family and let people know why history isn’t just a “nice-to-have”, it’s an essential.

Closer to home Preservation Maryland is organizing a Preservation and History Advocacy Day in Annapolis on February 9.  This year Preservation Maryland has included new funding for history museums in its advocacy agenda in addition to its ongoing strong support of the Maryland Heritage Area Authority.  In a subsequent newsletter we will share details on how you can let our legislators know that history matters to you.

MarvinA blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Reflections on Paul Simon

Posted on January 21st, 2016 by

Visitors listen in Paul Simon: Words & Music

Visitors listen in Paul Simon: Words & Music

As the “Paul Simon: Words & Music” exhibit is being packed up to return to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, I wanted to reflect on its run at the JMM. We had 5,159 visitors to the Museum since mid-October while the exhibit was open.  Just this past Sunday, we had 474 visitors which is more than anyone can remember coming in a single day. On Sunday, we also had two well attended programs including a children’s program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a concert in Lloyd Street Synagogue by SONiA disappear fear. Visitors have come from across the country and even from a few foreign countries such as Brazil, Poland and Australia.

SONia performs in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

SONia performs in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

We had a good diversity of groups seeing Paul Simon as well. Last Thursday evening, we had around 70 young Jewish professionals associated with IMPACT attend a “Night at the Museum” where they enjoyed drinks, snacks and an exclusive look at the Paul Simon exhibit. Prior to that, several special needs students visited the Museum from the Maiden Choice School as well as students from the Maryland School of the Blind where they got to use the new Braille handouts that our docent Robyn Hughes developed. We’ve also had visits from several senior groups, Jewish congregations, public and private schools, colleges and even a group of men from a drug addiction treatment center.

Comments abound.

Comments abound.

For the past few months, visitors have been leaving sticky notes commenting on the exhibit. It has been fun to read some of the comments such as visitors being excited that they got to feel like a teenager again and others who thanked us for the memories and the inspiration. One man described growing up near Paul Simon’s neighborhood in Queens and another recalled being at the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park in 1981.

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in AMerica logo, shades of green with a stethoscope as the ampersand.

Mark your calendars for March 13th!

Although we are sad to see Paul Simon go, the space will not be empty for long, as we will begin installing our next original exhibit, “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America,” which will open on March 13th.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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