An Electrified Pickle?

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By Marvin Pinkert
Executive Director, Jewish Museum of Maryland

Elisheva Goldwasser was one of the first people I met after arriving as the new director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I met her in the context of the relationship between the museum and our neighbors at B’nai Israel Synagogue. Elisheva is a very active member of the synagogue, serving as office manager.

A few months ago I learned that Elisheva’s former profession was as an electrical engineer. With only a little persuasion she became one of the first volunteers for the project we’re calling The Electrified Pickle.

What’s an Electrified Pickle? It’s a community tech fair with a Jewish twist. Its origin lies in the type of do-it-yourselfer events that have been popping up all across the country – even the White House just hosted its very own “Makers Faire” on June 18. In an age when technology often means staring at a screen these events engage young people and families in the physical principles that lie behind gadgets that often seem to work by “magic.”

The Electrified Pickle will run at the Jewish Museum of Maryland for five weeks beginning July 13. Each Sunday of the week will have a different program theme. For example, Elisheva is participating in our opening “Power This!,” a day we are dedicating to both sources of power and the empowerment of women in science and engineering. And yes, we will be lighting up dill pickles and electric menorahs (without any wires), and we’ll be using potatoes for batteries instead of latkes.

But the real Jewish ingredient in our story is not pickles or potatoes; it is the bonding of community. The Jewish community is defined not only by our holy places, our synagogues and our cemeteries, but also by our social clubs, our camps and our business associations.

I think this has to have been the reasoning of the first generation of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (the predecessor to JMM) when they started to collect the material culture of everyday life of the Jewish community. They collected not only objects associated with spiritual life, but clothing from department stores, household objects from long-time Baltimore families and the oral histories of doctors, authors and artists. They staked out a position that said that the whole community mattered and that whether your grandfather was a rabbi or a radical, their lives played a role in the Jewish Baltimore we have today.

With The Electrified Pickle our central challenge is to strengthen bonds of community. We are engaging our neighbors who are scientists and engineers and using their considerable talents to reach out to young people. Some people will bond with the Jewish community at a basketball game at the JCC and some people will bond over bottle rockets at the Jewish Museum of Maryland – did I mention that July 27 is “Fly This!”?

Of course, loving history as we do, we couldn’t resist pointing out that the connections between our community and technology stretch back way before the Internet. We will be putting some of our favorite pieces of technology on view.

These include a 1923 typewriter that has an extra shift key to move from English to Hebrew, a hair wave machine that looks like it belonged to Medusa and the original woodblocks used to make Yiddish theater posters in the late 19th century.

The woodblocks are artifacts and will be in a protective case – but not before they receive a 3D scan. On July 20, “Print This,” we will be using 21st century 3-D replicas of the woodblocks, allowing our visitors to once more make posters from these historic letters.

For those who like to mix artwork with technology, we have invited the Mosaic Makers group to help us organize the creation of a community mural celebrating the life of Lombard Street in the early 20th century. The mural making will run all five weeks of the project.

In the end we found ourselves with so many volunteers from the Jewish community who wanted to share their passion for robotics (“Imagine This” – Aug. 3), decoding and encryption (“Code This” – Aug. 10) and all our other themes that we’re considering doing this again next summer. But don’t wait that long – bring your children or grandchildren down in July and August and build something great – especially a great bond!

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Filed under Families, Jewish Learning, Women

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