“Whose Side Are You On?: Baltimore’s Immigrants and Civil War.”

Posted on January 31st, 2014 by

On Sunday afternoon of January 26th, the JMM was humming with chatter, school groups and chilly visitors taking shelter from the icy Baltimore air.  At 1 pm the commotion came to a pause when speaker Nick Fessenden, a retired history professor, took the stage in the orientation lobby of the JMM.  Fessenden presented an intriguing talk titled, “Whose Side Are You On?: Baltimore’s Immigrants and Civil War.” The audience grew quiet and listened attentively as Mr. Fessenden set the scene, drawing them back to the Baltimore of the 1850′s and 1860′s.


Many audience members were surprised to learn that in the year 1860 more than 35% of Baltimore was composed of German, Irish and Jewish Immigrants and their children.  The city of Baltimore was split into sections – divided by race, religion, and social ranking.  Fessenden made no attempt to sugar coat many of the violent issues surrounding Baltimore and its politics during the Civil War era.  Polls were abused and controlled by the native born working class Marylanders.  Poll workers were targets of excruciating acts of violence.

Fessenden aimed to describe the difference between each minority group during this high-tension time.  The German immigrants were the largest immigrant population in Baltimore at a whopping 25%.  They were businessmen and farmers, and were spread across the entire social spectrum. About 7% of the German immigrant population was made up of Jews living in the city.


Fessenden laid out the Jewish perspective during this turbulent time. In Southern Maryland, Jewish slave-holders were incredibly rare.  However, because the Jewish people felt insecure in a new, unknown country, they typically adopted the opinions of their neighbors. Jews in the south mostly empathized with the confederacy. On the other hand, Jews residing in Union areas took an anti-slavery stance. 

Fessenden’s talk concluded with a flurry of interesting and insightful questions from the audience.  The listeners questioned the violence in Baltimore, the voting system in Maryland, and various other questions surrounding Jewish life and culture in Baltimore during the Civil War.


A blog post by Education Intern Molly Gamble. To read more posts by interns, click HERE. If you are interested in interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, you can find open internship opportunities HERE.

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The Electrified Pickle: A Community Tech and Craft Fair

Posted on January 27th, 2014 by

This summer the JMM will host a unique visitor experience designed to appeal to budding engineers, artists, scientists, DIY-ers and anyone curious to learn about technological innovation and its connections to Jewish life. Our Feldman Gallery will be transformed into a participatory lab-style environment where visitors can discover the mystery behind scientific principles such as magnetism, electricity, solar power, and more through fun and engaging interactive activities. The gallery will serve as a community festival space where people can come to experiment, create, and learn from one another.

Photo Credit Flikr, Creative Commons, sDuchamp

Photo Credit Flikr, Creative Commons, sDuchamp

As part of our planning for this event, this week several members of staff joined collections manager Jobi Zink for a tour of our collections to see what we might be able to display in the gallery relating to the theme of technology and innovation. To my surprise, there was a plethora of artifacts for consideration to showcase the kinds of things that while are considered obsolete today, were formerly at the forefront of technological innovation. Consider for example the sewing machine that revolutionized clothing manufacturing and is also an item associated with Jewish immigrants many of whom found employment in Baltimore’s clothing factories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Here is a sewing machine that was displayed in Hello Gorgeous! Staff often jokes that at the JMM we rarely have an exhibit that does not include a sewing machine or trunk.

Here is a sewing machine that was displayed in Hello Gorgeous! Staff often jokes that at the JMM we rarely have an exhibit that does not include a sewing machine or trunk.

While today’s electric sewing machine looks different from the foot powered ones in our collections, the basic concept has not really changed all that much. That is certainly not true of other objects in our collection such as the typewriter or phonograph.

This typewriter has Hebrew characters.

This typewriter has Hebrew characters.

We look forward to playing games with some of our younger guests to the exhibit to see if they can figure out what these ancient objects were once used for!

During our tour of the collections, we came upon my all time favorite object.

Deborah's favorite object.

Deborah’s favorite object.

Can you guess what this is? No, this is not a medieval torture instrument or a relic from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. This was a hair styling implement used in Sonya’s Beauty Salon in the 1930s so that women could transform their straight hair into the more fashionable permanent wave style. Funny how hair style trends come and go and new gadgets are constantly being invented so women can keep up with the latest. (Perhaps I should hold onto my 13 year old daughter’s collection of flat irons used to flatten every trace of curl in her hair for a future exhibit!)

And lest you think we only collect women’s beauty implements, here is another hair styling implement used to clip men’s hair in Kramer’s Barber Shop on Bond Street.

And lest you think we only collect women’s beauty implements, here is another hair styling implement used to clip men’s hair in Kramer’s Barber Shop on Bond Street.

In displaying objects such as these, we plan on illustrating the impact of invention on everyday Jewish life and help visitors make connections between the tools that changed the lives of our parents and grandparents and the high-tech gadgets that fill our lives today. We hope you will join us this summer – the Electrified Pickle runs from July 13-August 10.

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah, click HERE.

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Performance Counts – January 2014

Posted on January 10th, 2014 by


At last count the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) had 82 members, from the Alaska Jewish Museum and Cultural Center in Anchorage to the Zimmer Children’s Museum in Los Angeles.  CAJM includes a handful of accredited history and art museum, like the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and dozens of institutions that in some ways share characteristics with museums as centers for culture in their respective communities.  These include galleries at JCCs, Holocaust museums and centers, synagogue museums, and community archives. CAJM aims to strengthen the field of Jewish museums by serving as a central body for information exchange, professional development, and advocacy.

cajm logoJMM has played an important role in the development of CAJM for more than two decades.  Today, Deborah Cardin serves as Vice Chair of the organization.  The Chair of CAJM is former JMM curator, Melissa Martens Yaverbaum and the Treasurer of CAJM is Avi Decter.  While every institution that belongs to CAJM has a unique mission and a distinctive audience, the opportunity for sharing ideas in this cultural community remains very valuable to us.

Each year CAJM holds an annual conference in some part of the United States bringing together its diverse body of professionals.  This year the organization is taking a year off from the usual museum conference format to hold what we are calling a “Retreat/Forward” at the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, here in Marriottsville, MD from March 23 to 25.  Though it is not quite Baltimore, JMM is serving as the official host institution (with Marvin Pinkert taking a leadership role as host chair).  Since the “Retreat/Forward” is open to staff, trustees and Museum volunteers (that is, most of you who receive the Performance Counts newsletter), we thought we would share the link to the event with all of you.

The brochure is located at http://www.cajm.net/uploaded/file/fd.CAJM_2014_Conference_Brochure.pdf

The brochure is located HERE. 

The program will feature:

•  Cutting-edge thinkers and practitioners on participatory culture and emergent learning trends

• Frank discussions about audience expectations, civic engagement, and changing community structures

• Workshops, charettes, and small group discussions that will make the retreat an engaging, active experience for all participants

• A dance demonstration and group exercise by MacArthur Fellow Liz Lerman, founder of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and a lively talk, “From Holy Land to Graceland,” by former Walters Art Museum Director Gary Vikan

•  Remarks from Ford W. Bell, President of the American Alliance of Museums; Marsha Semmel, former Acting Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and Steven M. Cohen, advisor to the recent Pew Research Center study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”

Single day registration as well as full conference registration are available at the website.


Not all of our collaborations with other Jewish museums happen at conferences.  Next month we celebrate the role of Lincoln and the Jews in the Civil War.  In addition to Passages Through the Fire:  Jews and the Civil War, we will be using our orientation plaza to display Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, an exhibit developed by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

Check out our upcoming programs HERE.

Check out our upcoming February programs HERE.

We will share exhibits and we will also “exchange” directors.  Laura Apelbaum, Executive Director of JHSGW will speak on Lincoln at JMM on the afternoon of February 9th and she is bringing a tour group from her Board, staff and volunteers with her.  Ten days later, Marvin Pinkert will head down to the JHSGW’s Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum to give his final presentation on Jews and the Civil War.

You may have noticed that we now carry news about the Small Museum to our membership through Museum Matters and Laura distributes information about upcoming programs at JMM.  It’s just one of the ways that it is better not to be alone.


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