Friday, December 27, 2013

A visit to Templo Libertad in Buenos Aires

This past November, my husband Micah and I travelled to Argentina on a late honeymoon. We spent the majority of our two weeks hiking and boating in the Patagonian region, but our last two days were spent in Buenos Aires. We wasted away lazy afternoons in many of the city parks watching families and their dogs enjoying their springtime weather while we relished the last days of warmth before heading back to our cold midwestern winter.

The exterior of Templo Libertad. Note the tablets
at the top- similar to those at Ahavas Sholom!
But before I could tackle all this relaxing, I had to see the gem of the city: Templo Libertad. We had only just dropped our luggage at the hotel minutes ago and I was already waiting impatiently at the door to head down the street. I strategically planned to stay a mere five blocks away from the synagogue. Camera and map in hand we headed out at 4:45 on Thursday afternoon. One guidebook stated the synagogue was open until 5:00. The synagogue's website said 3:00, and another guidebook didn't even include the opening hours. In addition, I had called a few days ago receiving no response. We had become accustomed to this type of confusion over the past two weeks and as a result, had missed out on several restaurants and other attractions. I was determined not to let this happen again. Knowing that the next day, Friday, was the start of Shabbat, I was afraid that if I didn't get in Thursday afternoon there would be no hope of seeing the building's interior. We ran down the sidewalk, dodging Yorkies, a few homeless squatters, cafe tables, baby carriages and flailing cigarettes and arrived at the synagogue on Libertad street which appeared to be completely secured, locked up, and just downright closed. I rattled the gate, walked to a side door and rang the bell. A few seconds later, a man arrived and told me the synagogue as well as the museum were closed. A feeling of sadness rushed over me but then I realized I had a human being in front of me! Not a guidebook! or a website! not voicemail! "What are tomorrow's hours?!" I managed to squeeze out between breaths. The guard said "11-3" just before closing the six-inch thick wood door in my face. I considered this success.
Yours truly in front of the synagogue.

Needless to say, we returned the next day at 11am. At the entrance, like any museum, they requested we purchase a ticket. However, unlike other museums in Argentina, they did not want pesos... they wanted US dollars. We paid for two tickets with a $20 bill and were directed to a young man who unfortunately had the flu, to give us a introduction to the museum. We walked through the 5-6 galleries which were elegantly done. The artifacts, like Argentina's Jewish population, came from all over the world. Captions and other museum text were in English as well as Spanish. A technique I really appreciated was their use of drawers. Each display case had 3-6 flat drawers underneath which visitors could, according to their own desire, pull out to read a letter, see a textile, or examine a silver platter. What a wonderful way to display 2D and low-profile items. I've seen this done before in children's museums and I've also seen this done in visible storage applications, but I thought this melded nicely within a formal history/art exhibit as well. In addition to the 2 and 3D artifacts, we viewed a short film on the Jewish Gauchos who settled in Moises Ville at the turn of the century. To read more about this fascinating commune funded by Baron de Hirsch, please check out this article.

Templo Libertad's sanctuary. Each pew had
a brass name plate. 
The bima of Templo Libertad. Note the organ
pipes pictured at top.  

A stained-glass chandelier in the foyer.
After finishing our tour of the museum, we moved on to a guided tour of the sanctuary itself. While this grandiose Byzantine-revival synagogue was completed in 1932, the congregation was formed over 70 years prior. The sanctuary was gilded in gold, festooned with marble imported from Europe, and embellished with incredible stained glass windows. The synagogue's congregation is Conservative today and according to our guide, the balcony was never used for women's seating but rather overflow seating. Also according to our guide, the organ pipes pictured above are working pipes. I would disagree because often religious buildings showcase faux pipes. The pipes doing all the work aren't all that pretty and uniform and need to be easily accessible for maintenance and repair. Regardless, we can glean a lot of information from this building, the people who built it, and the Jewish community today. First, the bima is at the front of the sanctuary which tells us that the service is more of a production than a participatory event where the bima is in the center of the sanctuary. Second, the organ is typical in the Reform movement but the balcony is typical of an Orthodox synagogue, yet the congregation is Conservative! Finally, we see a piano and a microphone at the front of the sanctuary. While I'm not positive these are used on Shabbat, these are hints that this congregation uses music as part of their services. If I was a specialist in architectural history or the history of the Jews in South America, I'm sure I would be able to extract even more information from this incredible building.

After our 2-hour tour of the museum and synagogue, we were hungry and decided to trek over to the only Kosher McDonald's outside of Israel. When we got there, in classic Argentine style, it was closed... unannounced.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013-2014 Workshops begin!

Jed and I were retroactively
invited to a "Hobo Party!"
We've closed the Ligonier Historical Society museum for the year, but the museum is as busy as ever. This past Saturday, Jed, Everett, Dan, Jeana, my mom (Nancy) and I began organizing the LHS archival collection. The collection consists of 2D materials such as newspaper clippings, photos, flyers, maps, notes, letters and postcards... the list goes on and on! Among the papers, we found a funny invitation to a "Hobo Party!"

We are using a typical archival organization process. We have five main "subjects"
1. Jewish community (001)
2. Ligonier people (002)
3. City of Ligonier (003)
4. Businesses in Ligonier (004)
5. Ligonier area schools (005)

Within these "subjects" we have several "series." These "series" vary depending on the "subject" they fall under. Here's a list of potential series:

o An organization (i.e. a government office, a school, a church)
o A business (i.e. Kids, Ligonier Leader, Solomon Meir Bank)
o A person (i.e. Bill Cochran, Jacob Straus, Tom Conner)
o An event (i.e. Marshmallow Festival, synagogue dedication, demolition of the school)

Then, within these "series" we have "sub-series." Here's a list of potential sub-series:
o financial records
o marketing materials
o meeting minutes
o correspondence
o newspaper clippings

Finally, within these sub-series, we organize the folders either chronologically or alphabetically depending on the type of material we are sorting.

We filled 10 of our new gray archival boxes with a lot of archival folders filled with a lot of materials covering Businesses in Ligonier (004) and City of Ligonier (003)! Archival boxes and folders are acid free and help to protect and preserve all of the LHS paper materials for years to come.

Our goal is to complete the Ligonier People (002) papers during our next session on November 23rd and then cover Jewish Community (001) in January. I hope more LHS members will come join us on November 23rd and get involved in the exciting work we are doing. What's more, for our last workshop, Jeana brought hot coffee and Dan brought amazing donuts from Creps Bakery. I can honestly say, I have never had a donut as good as these in all my 34 years on this planet. Please go there, buy lots of donuts, and try them for yourself.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Busy busy busy!

It's summer in the midwest but the Ligonier Historical Society is busy nonetheless. Over the last month, society members have: (in no particular order!)

  • Ordered (and received) a pallet of archival boxes and folders
  • Driven all over Indiana donating orphaned items to historical societies
  • Gone to the Indiana Historical Society archives in Indianapolis
  • Hunted down newspaper articles from 1889
  • Worked on compiling the Indiana Historical Marker application
  • Gathered donation pledges for the Indiana Historical Marker 
  • Staffed the Ligonier Historical Society museum at the Ahavas Sholom temple
  • Reviewed our newly finished feasibility study
  • Planned (and planning) our next set of cataloging workshops
  • Began transcribing the Ahavas Sholom congregational minutes from the American Jewish Archives
Two pages from the Ahavas Sholom minutes book
We are looking for volunteers to help transcribe these minutes and already have 30 out of 140 pages spoken for. If you'd like to polish your skills at reading late 19th early 20th century cursive writing, please send me an email and I'd be glad to give you a set of 10 pages to transcribe! Our goal is transcription of the entire minutes book by then end of the year.

    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    Indiana Historical Marker

    In February I submitted an application to the Indiana Historical Bureau for an historical marker for Ligonier's 1889 Ahavas Sholom Temple building. The marker would be a big step in getting the State of Indiana to recognize the historical cultural and religious tolerance in Northern Indiana and to help preserve the building for generations to come. The application process is complicated and involves three steps. 
    1. Intent to Apply
    2. Detailed application and proof of funding
    3. Indiana Historical Marker in front of the
      Noble County Courthouse
    4. Historical research
    We are currently in the middle of step two and I am brainstorming ways of locating the $2,050 needed for the marker. The marker seems like the perfect thing to fundraise for: it is permanent, it makes a lasting impression, it creates a media buzz, it helps to preserve the building, it is eye-catching, and it tells the story (in brief) about the building to passersby, the list goes on and on. If anyone has any ideas about ways to fundraise for this unique historical marker, please don't hesitate to send me an email. The deadline to complete step two is August 12th! 

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    Rural Jewish communities in America's past

    Today I read an article about a part-wood part-concrete/stone 19th century mikveh excavated in rural Connecticut. A mikveh is a ritual bath used by Orthodox, or religiously observant, Jews to observe several commandments. While the mikveh is a common find among Orthodox communities in urban areas, it is virtually non-existent in rural communities. For example, our synagogue, Ahavas Sholom, was home to a Reform Jewish congregation and does not have a mikveh. In fact, many congregations that ventured out beyond the comforts of large urban areas like New York City, Boston, and Chicago were Reform congregations and did not observe many of the ritual commandments in the Torah. 

    However, the congregation in Old Chesterfield, CT must have been Orthodox. Archaeologists recently found a mikveh- quite possibly the only mikveh in existence in rural America. It is a physical wake up call to scholars that not all rural congregations in America were Reform. If you are interested in reading more about this archaeological find, take a look at the article "Overlooked Chapter of Jewish History" on University of Connecticut's website. 


    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    Temple Israel in Colorado

    I was reading the Council of American Jewish Museum's (CAJM) newsletter and ran across this great synagogue museum in Colorado. I wanted to bring it to your attention and to celebrate the great work these folks out West are doing. Temple Israel, in Leadville, Colorado, was established in 1884 (just five years before our very own Ahavas Sholom). Read more about this awesome pioneer synagogue and its restoration here:

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Historical Society Volunteers Finish Cataloging Objects!

    Wow! Last Saturday the team of volunteers from the Historical Society really came together to get a lot done. We started the day with a fairly messy temple/museum and ended with one that is almost ready to be opened to the public! This past Saturday Jerry, Everett, Cyndi, and Jeana finished cataloging all of the 3D objects (872 total overall) while Jed and I did the heavy lifting, organizing and moving - LOTS OF IT!

    Before cataloging began.
    Objects hung on the wall detracted
    from the building's historic significance.
    Our goal is to open the museum on Memorial Day Weekend for the summer with a new temporary exhibit. The exhibit includes 30 objects from the Society's collection which help tell the story of the Ligonier community from 1860-1980. The exhibit will be open until the fall when the museum closes its doors for the winter.

    The front of the sanctuary will be interpreted to show what the space would have looked like to Jewish worshippers in 1889. We do not have many of the original artifacts from the temple, but we do have the best object of all- the temple itself!

    Baum & Son pump organ,
    original pew, Union Prayer Book,
    and King David stained glass window
    The Torah "Ark" with
    Hebrew 10 Commandments,
    American flag, and bimah (scroll table)
    Cleaning and de-cluttering allows visitors to see the walls of the building and celebrate its stained glass windows. Visitors will now be able to feel what it was like to step inside a 19th century synagogue. There's still a lot of work left to be done but luckily, we have a team of dedicated, hard-working volunteers who just happen to love history!

    Monday, March 25, 2013

    Marathon Cataloging day!

    This past Saturday, Jerry, Jeana, Angie, Jed, Cyndi, and I worked to catalog all of section 001 "Jewish community" and part of section 004, "Ligonier Businesses." We impressively finished section 001 before lunch and made great progress on 004 in the afternoon. We still have quite a bit of work to do on 004 as well as several other areas left untouched. First, there is a 15' shelf full of books and scrapbooks that have yet to be cataloged. Second, there are a lot of administrative materials that need to be organized. Thirdly, there are two groups of materials "unknown" and "non-Ligonier history" that need to be sorted and, if necessary, deaccessioned. Finally, there is all the 2D items (paper, photos, letters, etc) that have to be sorted and filed into appropriate archival boxes.

    Level One Hebrew Primer
    We had a record day on Saturday, cataloging 324 items, bringing our total of cataloged items to 683! Our next workday is Saturday, April 13. Since Everett was unable to join us on Saturday, I must end this post with a highlight from section 001 for him. This is a snapshot of a few pages from an undated Hebrew Primer which would have been used at the Ahavas Sholom Hebrew School. "Where is the dog?" "The dog is under the table." "Where is the cat?" "The cat is on the chair." While we tend to focus on the well-known influential Jews in Ligonier like Solomon Mier and Jacob Straus, this primer is a reminder that it was truly a community, and yes, that includes kids! 

    Monday, February 18, 2013

    Four down, two to go!

    Saturday marked our fourth (out of six total) workshops at the Ligonier Historical Society. Many, many thanks to Jerry, Jeana and Everett who worked with me to catalog sections 003 (Ligonier Government) and 005 (Ligonier Schools). We cataloged 192 three-dimensional objects and finished both of these sections! We have two sections left: 001 (Jewish community) and 004 (Ligonier businesses). As expected, we ran into some items which needed to be moved to other categories, and some items which we felt did not help tell the story of Ligonier's history. Around noon, Kurt Garner, an architect who specializes in Historic Preservation, met with us to discuss a report that we need to compile in order to apply for an NEH grant this summer. This report will be funded by the grant we received from Indiana Landmarks last year. 

    Mr. Whiz looks a bit sleepy!
    When we finish cataloging all of the three-dimensional objects, we will move on to the micro-work. The micro-work includes moving through each of the sections again with the two-dimensional items like photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and other paper. These will be separated into folders and then organized into archival boxes. More updates on this later, but for now, a highlight from our work on section 005, Ligonier Schools: the cover of the 1960 Ligonier "Lance" yearbook featuring "Mr. Whiz!"

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    Cataloging begins!

    A big round of applause for Jerry, Everett and Cyndi who all worked really hard on Saturday with our first day of cataloging. I purchased some archival tags and labels and we began with assigning and affixing numbers to all the 3-dimensional objects in category #2 (Ligonier People). This was no easy task... there were 166 objects! All of the 2-dimensional items (photos, newspaper clippings, and other paper) will be organized later, put into folders, and then the folders will be compiled into archival boxes. These boxes will then have numbers. We started a simple spreadsheet which we will later flow into the collections management software once it's up and running on a server. 

    During this process, we found objects that weren't related to Ligonier's history, objects that were "unknown" and objects that fell into other categories. We did catalog some pretty interesting things. One item of note was the ballot box pictured here. It had white marbles and black cubes inside. This was used by the Stansbury Woman's relief core to anonymously vote on who was "in" (white marble) and who was "out" (black cube). The ballot box was donated by Eleanor Steller on June 1, 1992 and it proudly bears the new object number of: 2013.002.100!