Finding MY Stories at JMM
By collections/exhibits intern Cara Bennet. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.
When I first started my internship at the JMM I noticed that a large portion of the museum’s collections and stories focus on the greater Baltimore area. As someone who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I kept asking myself how I fit into this museum. I’m a Jew. I grew up in Maryland. Where’s my story? It took a little more digging but in the past few weeks I’ve stumbled across several objects, places, and stories that have made me think “Oh I know this! This is familiar to me! This is relevant to my life and my history.”
One of these illuminating moments happened a few weeks ago as I was updating the exhibition script for Just Married! Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland. I’m currently working on turning the physical exhibit which was on view at the JMM last summer into an online exhibit. As I was reviewing the script, I stumbled across a label about Claire Dratch Bridal Salon, which is located in Bethesda, MD (where I grew up) and happens to be where my mom bought her wedding dress. I had grown up hearing the name Claire Dratch and had vague memories of passing the salon in downtown Bethesda but had never realized its cultural and historical significance. I had no idea that Clare Bacharach Dratch was Jewish, had escaped Nazi Germany, and went on to start a successful business, outfitting generations of local brides (including my mom).
Another enlightening moment happened the other day as I was browsing a list of Maryland synagogues in PastPerfect. Most of the synagogues were unfamiliar to me because I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. Most of my Jewish friends belonged to synagogues in D.C. and my family continued to attend Temple Sinai (also in DC) even after we moved to Maryland. Since my dad also grew up in Maryland I was curious if he had belonged to any of the synagogues on the list. He told me that while he never belonged to one synagogue (his family jumped around for high holidays and Hebrew school) he and my uncle both had their Bar Mitzvahs at Temple Beth-El in Bethesda. I found another family connection!
I love that the JMM’s exhibits focus mainly on the stories of individuals not just famous or influential figures. While it is certainly important for museums to highlight significant historic figures whenever possible, it is equally important to shed light on the stories of everyday people and communities. These stories are much more relatable and relevant and allow visitors to see their own stories and family histories within the exhibits. The JMM’s exhibits do a great job of highlighting the voices and stories of Maryland’s Jewish community and making them relatable and accessible to a wide audience.