Weekend in New York

Posted on December 31st, 2015 by

At the Center for Jewish History.

At the Center for Jewish History.

A few weeks ago I visited New York City to see a few exhibits, Broadway shows and of course the holiday decorations around Rockefeller Plaza. My first stop was the Center for Jewish History in lower Manhattan. I had actually never heard of the Center, but was glad that I discovered it. It opened in late 2000 and includes both permanent displays, such as the stunning Luminous Manuscript which is shaped like a Talmud page, and temporary exhibits. I visited several exhibits including one called “Modeling the Synagogue: From Dura to Touro,” which contained ten scale models of history synagogues commissioned by the Yeshiva University Museum ranging from Dura-Europos in 3rd-centurey Syria to Touro Synagogue in 18th century Newport, Rhode Island.

Touro Synagogue model

Touro Synagogue model

I then headed uptown to the Museum of the City of New York.  While there, I saw an exhibit called “Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half.” Jacob Riis was a pioneering newspaper reporter and social reformer in New York at the turn of the century who worked tirelessly to improve housing, health care and education, particularly for immigrants. A review in the NY Times rightly points out that with nearly one of every two New Yorkers still struggling to get by, Riis’s exposure of extreme inequalities is still very timely and relevant. The exhibit featured Riis’s photographs as well as his handwritten journals and personal correspondence. I was most struck by images of children living in squalid conditions in the Lower East Side. I found one Jewish connection in a photograph of Jewish immigrants laboring in a tenement sweatshop on Hester Street. There were also two videos of the popular slide shows that Riis staged around the country showcasing his photographs.

Sweatshop in Hester St, 1889-90

Sweatshop in Hester St, 1889-90

The second exhibit I went to at the Museum of the City of New York was “Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival.” This exhibit traced the roots of the Folk Music Revival, its growth in New York and its impact on American culture and politics during the 1960s. It contained photographs, documents, instruments, videos and plenty of songs for headphone listening. Stephen Petrus, one of the exhibit’s curators, spoke earlier this month at JMM about the exhibit. I was excited to see early on in the exhibit a copy of The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg, as a couple of years ago I worked as a Park Ranger at the Carl Sandburg Home in North Carolina. One of my favorite pieces was Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for “Blowing in the Wind.” I also found Odetta’s guitar, a broadside by Phil Ochs on the Cuban Missile Crisis and watched a video clip of my idol Pete Seeger and Judy Collins sing a duet. If you want to visit, I’d hurry, because it closes on Jan. 10th!

Folk City

Folk City

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Looking to learn more about Jewish history and culture?

Posted on July 28th, 2015 by

Consider an excursion to the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia. Located in the Old City, near the Liberty Bell, this 100,000-square-foot, glass-and-terra-cotta-cloaked building explores the history of Judaism in the United States from the 1600s until modern day.

NMAJH Exterior

NMAJH Exterior

I visited the Museum last month to explore my Jewish heritage and to see how we can improve our own visitor experience services at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. At the National Museum of American Jewish History there are three floors of interactive state-of-the-art exhibits, focusing on the theme of American Freedom, with each floor offering a historical chapter: “Foundations of Freedom, 1654-1880,” “Dreams of Freedom, 1880-1945” and Choices and Challenges of Freedom, 1945-Today.”

My visit to the Museum gave me an opportunity to learn why Jews immigrated to America, the choices they faced, the challenges they confronted and the ways in which they assimilated into American culture. I was excited that the Baltimore Jewish community and the establishment of our own Lloyd Street Synagogue was included in the “Establishing Communities” exhibit.  As I grew up near Newport, RI, I was fascinated to read more about the Touro Synagogue and learn about how some Jewish merchants were connected to the slave trade.  The Civil War portion of the exhibit mentioned the debate between Rabbi Bernard Illoway of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai Congregation in Baltimore. Throughout the core exhibit, I was impressed by the inclusion of evocative objects such as a Dutch record from 1654, depicting one of the earliest references to Jews in North America, as well as immigrant belongings, Jewish themed movie posters, and expressions of political and social issues ranging from the push of equality for Jewish women within American society and the fight for gay marriage.

Establishing Communities Exhibit

Establishing Communities Exhibit

The exhibit ends in the present day with the opportunity to share your personal views in two high-tech, interactive experiences: Contemporary Issues Forum and It’s Your Story. The Contemporary Issues Forum asks the visitor to respond to questions such as “Should religion play a role in American politics?” There are also video recording stations called, It’s Your Story, where you can respond to questions such as “What is the most valuable thing you learned at summer camp” or “share your favorite holiday tradition.”

The “Only in America” Gallery, located in the lobby area, contains images and artifacts honoring 18 Jewish-Americans selected by voters on the internet. I was honored that they included Louis Brandeis, from my alma mater Brandeis University. The lobby level also contains a small installation on “The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights.” There is also a first rate gift shop (with a fantastic book for sale on the core exhibition which I purchased).

I am happy to report that I developed a stronger connection to Judaism and greater understanding of how the Maryland Jewish story fits into the larger American Jewish experience at NMAJH. I hope that others can have an equally rewarding experience at this museum.

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

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A Volunteer Abroad

Posted on June 10th, 2015 by

My husband Bob just checked off one of the items on his bucket list – a trip to Morocco, a country in the northwest corner of Africa.  Lucky me went with him.  We had a fantastic time in Morocco seeing the various terrains from the fertile coastal plains, to the snow-capped mountains to the dunes of the Sahara.  And the people we met were just as varied from college educated professionals to those with no formal education; western dressed to totally covered by jallaba and scarf; living in spacious multi-floor homes to a tent in the desert.  And almost everywhere we went, we heard about the Jews who used to live there.

Wendy and Bob in Rabat, looking over at Sale.

Wendy and Bob in Rabat, looking over at Sale.

In every corner of Morocco, we heard about the Jews that moved there with the Muslims after expulsion from Spain in1492.  But, we also learned that the majority of Jews left the country between the 1950s and 1970s.   The various local guides we had all commented that the Jews wanted to move to Israel and that the Jews have always been welcome in Morocco.  But, the ultimate truth is that the non–African Arab states were putting considerable pressure on the African countries to ostracize their Jews. In spite of the pressure, we were told that there has always been a Jewish advisor to the king, even today; and, it is very common for those that have moved away to return with their children for visits and to check on their property that is rented to others.  We saw remnants of their lives sold in shops – yads, menorahs, mezuzahs, carved doors, traditional wedding rings, tefillin, jewelry, books, sections of Torah…. I found the sale of these objects and the fact that the Jews felt a need to leave an area that had been their home for hundreds of years very disturbing.

Wendy introduces herself to her ride.

Wendy introduces herself to her ride.

As we walked through the old Jewish quarters in the medinas (the walled cities) called mellahs we noticed streets with Jewish names.  We noticed telltale scars of long gone mezuzahs on doorposts and the occasional plaque marking the location of a closed synagogue.  Most of the remaining Moroccan Jews, just like the Baltimorean Jews, have moved out of the old cities into the newer sections of town.  In the old mellah in Marrakesh, we did find an active synagogue that was established in 1492 according to the plaque on the wall.  Unlike Baltimore’s B’nai Israel, there isn’t a renewal of younger congregants to replace those that are mostly elderly and are dying off.

Lazama Synagogue Mellah Marrakech

Lazama Synagogue Mellah Marrakech

Contrary to what I heard before our trip, my husband and I felt comfortable traveling openly as Jews.  It was obvious by the new Judaica (mezuzahs, hanukiahs, kiddish cups) for sale in shops and the way we were treated by the local retail salesmen and others with whom we engaged in conversation, that Jewish tourists are welcome.

Wendy DavisA blog post by volunteer Wendy Davis, JMM Docent. To read more posts by and about JMM volunteers click HERE.

 

 

 

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