What Carroll County Missed
A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.
Last Sunday, here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland we had a celebration of Iraqi Jewish culture – there was a dance troupe and musical performances, henna painting and hamsa making, storytelling and some pretty darn good cookies.
It was one of the biggest attendance days of 2017 – with nearly 220 visitors – including visitors from DC and Montgomery County and a whole school group from the Eastern Shore. There were people of all ages and many ethnic backgrounds. I mention this not to brag about what we accomplished (at least not just to brag), but also to mourn the way in which fear has trumped reason and denied opportunities to share and learn.
I am sure by now you are aware of the decision of the Carroll County School Board (on the recommendation of the county sheriff) to ban field trips to Baltimore City. The ostensible reason was the “recent violence in the traditional tourist areas of the city.”
Now I’m not going to minimize the fact that there is a real violence problem in the city and my heart goes out to each of the 300+ families who have lost a loved one. However, like any risk we face in life I think this requires a little perspective. How many people are killed or even injured each year in the city while visiting a museum or participating in a Christmas Parade? Darn few.
I happen to live in a collar county and I commute to the Jewish Museum everyday. I am acutely aware of the fact that the fatality toll on this state’s highways is 70% higher than the number of murders in the city. This doesn’t persuade me to stop driving… no more than a county-wide crisis with prescribed opioids would suggest I should stop seeing a doctor.
But some would argue, “why take any risk for the sake of a field trip?” “It’s just a frivolity.” I took a look at the Carroll County Schools website. There I found a document entitled Vision 2018, describing the four major strategic initiatives of the school system. One of the four major planks was “Prepare Globally Competitive Students.” Surely, a part of being “globally competitive” is a greater understanding of the 7 billion people on the planet who do not live in Carroll County. Such understanding has many components but only a few are found on the Internet or in a textbook. Some need to be experienced by meeting people who come from other cultures or contact with the artifacts and places that shape ideas and beliefs. And most of us will remember something we experienced on a field trip years after we have forgotten everything that was taught in school that week.
As concerned as I am about the ban in Carroll County, I am far more concerned about the way this ban has influenced conversations in the Jewish community over the last couple of weeks. I have heard the argument made that some neighborhoods are too risky to visit, including our own neighborhood of Jonestown (home of JMM, the Star Spangled Banner Flag House, the Reginald F Lewis Museum, the historic Shot Tower and – with all irony intended – the Carroll Mansion). I object to this line of argument for all the reasons stated above… and one more: it flies in the face of Jewish values.
We are a caring community that would no more abandon the place that gave us birth (Jonestown, Baltimore) than we would the parents who nurtured us. A “Jewish” reaction to the very real challenges is not to hide but to repair. All around us are institutions committed to making Jonestown a better place including our new neighbors Ronald McDonald House and the National Aquarium, not to mention the expanding Helping Up Mission. At a time when so many are investing in Jonestown are we really going to let our fears prevent us from lending a hand? And sometimes lending a hand requires no sacrifice – just ask the 220 people who enjoyed themselves on Sunday, advancing this community’s economy.