The Civil War Still Has Lessons to Teach

passages photo

By Trillion Attwood
Programs Manager, Jewish Museum of Maryland

When I started working as programs manager for the Jewish Museum of Maryland last year, we were already planning for war: the American Civil War. “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War” has been at the museum since October and it continues to get rave reviews from our visitors.

A wide variety of people visit the museum: school children, families, Civil War enthusiasts and many familiar faces returning to the museum. In the first three months of the exhibit our walk-in visitors have increased six-fold. For some the whole idea of Jewish participation in the war is a revelation, but even for the most knowledgeable there has been an opportunity to learn a little more about how Jewish life changed during the conflict and about how the war changed the future of American Judaism.

I have had a chance to observe how different groups draw unique lessons from the exhibit. Many school children who have visited us have learned about Rosa Wiesenfeld, who was a young girl during the war, and her father, who was away from home for long periods of time. We have a letter on display that was written by Rosa to her father telling him how she was being a good girl and doing her lessons. The school children wrote responses to Rosa from her father, taking into consideration both the conditions at the time and what it would be like to be separated from your family.

In talking with Civil War enthusiasts, I’ve observed that they are especially excited to learn about Mr. Robert Marcus, a major lender to the exhibit. Mr. Marcus has an enormous collection of Civil War era Jewish memorabilia, including many of the pictures of Jewish soldiers who are featured in the exhibit. Mr. Marcus was key in compiling much of the information regarding these individuals.

There are even lessons to be “un-learned.” It appears that a popular story that circulated was that the Lloyd Street Synagogue was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Visitors to our new “1861 Tour” get the real scoop on the rabbinical debate on slavery and learn that the leadership of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in the period was actually sympathetic to the South.

It won’t surprise you to learn that for me the programs that accompany the exhibit have been at least as important a source of “lessons” as the exhibit itself. We have completed 13 Civil War programs to date – from a presentation about Rabbi Sarner, one of just three rabbis to serve as a chaplain during the war to a talk on the roles of women in the war, like Confederate spy Eugenia Levy.

I find these personal biographies fascinating. My own favorite was the story of the Bendann brothers who were photographers in Baltimore during the Civil War. Although they lived in Maryland, which was officially a union state, they were very much Southern sympathizers. As our speaker, Ross Kelbaugh, told the story, this led to some challenging developments outside the darkroom.

The good news is that the chance to learn is not yet over. The exhibit will be on display through February 27. Here are some of our upcoming programs you can look forward to in the next six weeks, visit us at jewishmuseummd.org for the latest happenings!

Sunday, January 19
Faith and Freedom in the Civil War
1:00 p.m.
Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore
Barbara Franco, Founding Executive Director of the newly-opened Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, explores how the religious foment of the second Great Awakening influenced thinking about war and slavery. For more information please go to jewishmuseummd.org or contact Trillion Attwood tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or phone 410-732-6400, ext.215.

Sunday, January 26
Whose Side Are You On? Baltimore’s Immigrants and the Civil War
1:00 p.m.
Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore
Baltimore’s immigrants composed 35 percent of the city’s population, and yet histories of Maryland’s Civil War make scant mention of this important segment of the community. Nicholas Fessenden, a retired history teacher, will share with us the impact of Baltimore’s immigrants during the Civil War.For more information please go to jewishmuseummd.org or contact Trillion Attwood tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or phone 410-732-6400, ext.215.

Sunday, February 16
Lincoln Comes to Baltimore
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Abraham Lincoln living history performance at 1:00 p.m.
Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore
In honor of Presidents’ Day Weekend, we will have a Lincoln-themed family day, including Civil War crafts and even an interview with our 16th president! Honest Abe will stick around for the afternoon as he answers questions and poses for photos. For more information please go to jewishmuseummd.org or contact Trillion Attwood tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or phone 410-732-6400, ext.215.

February 20, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Reading Your Way Through the Civil War, Part Two: March by Geraldine Brooks
Enoch Pratt Library, Light Street Branch, 1251 Light St, Baltimore
This is a Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War partner program! Register with the JMM today to join us for a discussion of Geraldine Brooks’ novel, March, led by historian and professor Anne Sarah Rubin. For more information please go to jewishmuseummd.orgor contact Trillion Attwood tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or phone 410-732-6400, ext.215.

Saturday, February 22
7:30 p.m.
Civil War Farewell Cotillion
Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd Street, Baltimore
Join us for an evening of dancing and fun as we send our exhibit “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War” off in true Civil War-era style. Chorégraphie Antique, the dance history ensemble from Goucher College will be on hand to demonstrate and teach us the most popular dances on the time period. For more information and tickets please go to jewishmuseummd.org or contact Trillion Attwood tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or phone 410-732-6400, ext.215.

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