0

Reading My Way Across America: Back to Bawlmer

After five months (finally!), I finished the book that I checked out of the library to fulfill the Reading My Way Across America challenge, stop #2 as determined by Siri: the 7th state to join the Union, my home state of Maryland.

Image result for maryland flag

The options were numerous, but I narrowed it down to two, one book about towns on the Chesapeake Bay, and one about Jewish Baltimore, which is also exactly where I grew up, as did both of my parents (in fact, I later found out that both of them had indeed read the book despite it being relatively recent). I read a book about Smith Island earlier this year, so I decided that the Western side of the bay deserved a shot, so Jewish Baltimore it is. It was quite the trip down memory lane and beyond, and interesting to learn about Jewish life in Baltimore before my family showed up in 1939.

On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore was written by Eric L. Goldstein and Deborah R. Weiner. It was published only last year, so it’s pretty up to date. My dad found it to be a little dense on history and less focused on narrative, to which I agree; the first half of the book was kind of a snoozefest with the occasional interesting tidbit or photograph thrown in. On the whole, the book talked about the different waves of Jewish migration and settlement in and around Baltimore, first downtown, then gradually toward East Baltimore and finally into suburban Baltimore County, where I grew up. The first Jewish settlers in the area were recorded as early as the 1770s, before Maryland even became a state, so it’s pretty clear that the Chosen People of Baltimore are truly among the OGs along with the Anglicans (Note: There were probably Native Americans in the area, but on the whole, the central part of Maryland has never had much of a Native American presence. Even today, Maryland is one of the few states without an Indian reservation or any recognized tribal groups.)

A lot of the book focused on the relationships that Jews had with their neighbors, both the white, Christian community, and the large (and historically, relatively affluent) African-American community of Baltimore. The theme of “middle ground” really hit home and reverberated the most when placing the Jewish community in between the other two. Maryland has historically been an even-Steven kind of place, neutral in the Civil War, geographically south of the Mason-Dixon line but culturally closer to the northern states. Baltimore was, for quite some time, host to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Interestingly enough, back in the 1920s, the Jews of Baltimore were more closely affiliated with the Republican party, as the Democratic side leaned more towards the “know-nothings” and white Christians who wanted nothing to do with the Jews. This prompted both the growth of independent Jewish institutions as substitutes for areas exclusively reserved for white Christians, as well as the community’s turn towards an alliance with the similarly disenfranchised black community.

Speaking of the connections between the Jewish and African-American communities, there were quite a few which surprised me ,beyond the obvious demise of The Buddy Deane Show post-integration as chronicled in John Waters’ Hairspray. In 1927, a Jewish female doctor opened Baltimore’s first birth control clinic, which led to the 1938 founding of Northwest Maternal Health Center, the first hospital in the nation where black and white doctors worked side by side. Hot off the heels of Brown vs. Board of Education, the large Jewish presence on the county school board pushed for and ultimately achieved public school desegregation, one of the first districts south of the Mason-Dixon line to do so. And a year later, in 1961, Sinai Hospital (where I was born) became the only hospital in Baltimore to accept African-American interns among its staff, aside from the all-black Provident Hospital.

Of course, the Jewish contributions to life in Baltimore did not go unnoticed. Jews founded Baltimore’s earliest department stores, and had a hand in cultural institutions from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to Center Stage to the Baltimore Museum of Art. On the religious side, Baltimore’s first bat mitzvah occurred in 1936, only a matter or months after the first ever bat mitzvah took place in New York City. By 1951, Park Heights Avenue was known as “Rue de la Shul” (plausible although I’ve never heard anyone call it that, but then again we also have the so-called ‘Gucci’ Giant, the history of which is beyond me), and yeah, it’s still full o’shuls. And Ner Israel, Baltimore’s notable yeshiva, was the first institute in America to offer a doctorate degree in Talmudic law.

Probably the most interesting parts of the book were the details of Baltimore’s Jewish community during the civil rights movement, where private schools and even country clubs were restricted to white, Christian members only. A particularly interesting photograph of Meadowbrook Country Club’s sign warning against blacks and Jews intrigued me. Towards the end of the book, names of people and places became more and more familiar, and on page 223, there was even a picture taken in a classroom at my high school; obviously, a decade after I graduated, but still very recognizable and very…odd to see in a history book. And who knew about Jewish boxing? There could have been way more information about that in the book.

So anyway, upon finishing, I asked for a number 1-50 from Siri, and she picked 39, so North Dakota, here I come! I have already picked out a few books; hopefully it will not take me another five months to read and recap a book from that state.

0

Reading My Way Across America: Basketball Under the Big Sky

I haven’t been doing a ton of reading for fun lately, with grading, research, and dissertation-writing taking up most of my time, but I have managed to finish a few books this semester. In addition to being a stellar read, this book gave me a really interesting and fun idea. But I’ll get to that after this review.

Full Court Quest: The Girls from Fort Shaw Indian School, Basketball Champions of the World by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith is an in-depth look at an extraordinary situation and group of people who have been almost lost to history and memory. Peavy and Smith navigate the reader through life at Fort Shaw, an Indian boarding school in Montana. Fort Shaw was among the institutions set up by the government in order to “civilize” Native Americans in a movement that was later regarded as a cultural failure. However, during the school’s heyday at the turn of the twentieth century, the new sport of basketball took hold in the heart of Josephine Langley, a Native American herself who had been educated on the East Coast. She brought the game back with her to Montana and added it to the physical education regime of the school. It was popular among the students, especially a group of girls who were exceptionally skilled at it, so much so that in the few years Fort Shaw fielded a team, against high schools and colleges from around Montana, the girls lost only once. In addition to playing basketball, they would also perform their own musical entertainment, read poetry, perform tableaus, and ballroom dance with local boys; all in one night. When word of this amazing team spread, they were sent to St. Louis in 1904, where they became part of the Native American exhibits along with Geronimo and others at the World’s Fair.

Along with all the other innovations of the World’s Fair, national and international athletic competitions emerged, reviving the Olympics. In that same spirit, the Fort Shaw girls supplemented their exhibition games at the Fair with a tournament against local high schools. Emerging undefeated against any team they faced, they were declared World Champions and presented with a silver trophy which they took back with them to their school. This level of interaction between Native Americans and white people was highly uncommon and actually revolutionary for the time, and it succeeded in changing many peoples’ preconceived notions about Indians. Even the mainstream media took notice, referring to the team initially with racially-motivated descriptions which got less and less stereotypical, until they were described in the newspapers just as any other team – evolving from “dusky maidens” to “Indians” to just “talented girl basketball players,” earning respect on small and large stages.

The book goes into detail about the early lives of the players, who came together from different tribes across Montana and Idaho to Fort Shaw, working together as sisters in sport. The initial five, assembled by Josephine Langley in 1903, were Belle Johnson, a Piegan; Emma Sansaver, a Chippewa-Cree; Minnie Burton, a Lower Shoshone; and Genie Butch and Nettie Wirth, both Assiniboine. Accompanying them to St. Louis in 1904 were their classmates Genevieve Healy, a Gros-Venture; Flora Lucero, a Chippewa; Rose LaRose, a Shoshone-Bannock; and Sarah Mitchell and Katie Snell, both Assiniboine. They ranged in age from 15 to 19 years old. Together, these ten were unmatched in ability among other girls their age and even girls older than them. At the Fair, they would play exciting, fast-paced exhibition scrimmages, five-on-five, to huge crowds, just like NBA superstars. After the Fair, they returned to Fort Shaw, and eventually parted ways as the school closed only six years later, in 1910.

What I loved about the book were the descriptions of the intense basketball games, and the girls’ relationships with one another and their own identities. Their journey across Montana through North Dakota and the Midwest to St. Louis, and their eye-opening experiences at the World’s Fair, were definitely the most interesting sections of the book. It was as if they were learning as much about the world as the world was learning about them. Even though we get some insight into the girls’ personalities, the first half of the book gets bogged down in details of the girls’ early lives, pre-Fort Shaw, as well as the lives of the superintendent and creator of the school, who was not Native American. When they start talking about the games, the book really picks up, and despite being non-fiction, keeps an exciting narrative all the way through the girls’ return to Fort Shaw from St. Louis.

What happened to the girls afterwards, though, was mostly disheartening with a few bright spots. Although one of them Nettie Wirth, was honored at the World’s Fair in 1962, and another, Genevieve Healy, lived until the age of 93, dying in 1981 as the last survivor of the team, most of them died in their thirties-fifties, including one under “questionable circumstances” and one who was unable to be tracked down entirely. Even sadder was the life of Minnie Burton, one of the team’s superstars (known for her shooting skills, so much so that spectators would chant “shoot, Minnie, shoot!”), who, although she did live to see many children and grandchildren, never spoke of her experience (imagine their surprise when they found out their grandmother was the LeBron James of the early twentieth century!) Fortunately for us, though, and for the authors, who found out about the girls from a team photo in a Montana archive, Emma Sansaver kept a journal and boxes of memories, which she passed down to her children and grandchildren, keeping the story from fading away into history. The authors did a mind-boggling amount of research for this book, contacting descendants of all ten of the players and people who knew them, ensuring that their legacy would live on.

Overall, I learned a ton about one of American history’s most unlikely and underrated footnotes, from a place I’ve neither been to nor even heard of. What these girls from the middle of nowhere did was groundbreaking, and even though all that’s left of Fort Shaw is an arch and a monument of a basketball – not even a museum – I’d still like to go visit it someday.

The idea that this sparked? Well, I had heard of this book and had it on my list for a little while, and ended up finding it in the Historical Society Library, where books are catalogued by country, region, and state. Finding it in the Montana section led me to want to read more from that section, and the Historical Society Library as a whole, with hopes to find more unusual but fascinating historical footnotes. I’m not sure how long I can keep up with this, but I’m going to try to find one historical hidden gem from each state. Now that Montana’s down, I’ve got 49 states to go, and rather than go in a specific order, I’ll ask Siri to give me a number between 1 and 50, and pick states that way.

As I typed that, I did that, and it gave me 7 – so Maryland, my home state, I guess I’ll be in your section tomorrow afternoon.

15

The National Convention Lineup Generator

For the last few weeks, at least here in America, everything in the news has been about the Republican National Convention, which concluded with Donald “The Human Cheeto” Trump being nominated, and currently, we’re in the middle of the Democratic National Convention, where Hillary “After a 16-Year Break, Ready To Pick Up Where She Left Off” Clinton is the first female major-party candidate in American history. The conventions have been filled with speeches by great American orators such as Melania Trump, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Sarah Silverman, as well as booing, protesting, and awkward out-of-sync dancing. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we Americans don’t get to share the fun with our friends and neighbors from other nations, because a) most of us can’t name more than 5 foreign countries, b) most of you are too busy dealing with actual issues in your own countries, and c) most of you are just happy not to have it thrust in your face 24/7.

But that’s all changed now, because I’ve created a way for you to have your own three-ring circus, wherever you are in the world, with…

The National Convention Lineup Generator

Disclaimer: This might take a while for you to do, but I’ll try not to make it too complicated.

Your convention will be four days, each with a different topic.

Step 1: Take the first four letters of your first name. These will be your topics.

A – Angry

B – Bake

C – Confused

D – Drink

E – Emotional

F – Fart

G – Gassy

H – Hiccup

I – Irritated

J – Juicy

K – Kill

L – Loopy

M – Married

N – Nae Nae

O – Oblong

P – Pregnant

Q – Queer

R – Regular

S – Sigh

T – Twerk

U – Urinate

V – Vomit

W – Wardrobe Malfunction

X – X-Rated

Y – Yawn

Z – Zucchini

Mine would be: Juicy, Angry, Confused, and Oblong.

Step 2: Next, you need someone to open your convention by singing your country’s national anthem? Who will take the honors? It’s the first number in your address.

1 – Madonna

2 – Celine Dion

3 – A chorus of one-armed schoolchildren

4 – Mongolian throat singers

5 – Your least favorite aunt

6 – Roseanne Barr

7 – Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast

8 – The cast of Big Brother

9 – The Baghdad Gay Men’s Choir

Mine would be my least favorite aunt. Joy.

Step 3: Now, you need some speakers! Day 1 will be a female speaker, determined by the final number of the year you were born.. Day 2 will be a male speaker, determined by the last digit of your phone number. Day 3 will be a private citizen, determined by your birth month.

Female Speaker:

0 – Theresa May

1 – Miss Universe 2016, Pia Wurtzbach from the Philippines

2 – Malala Yousafzai

3 – Angela Merkel

4 – Conchita Wurst

5 – Taylor Swift

6 – Kate Middleton

7 – Dame Maggie Smith

8 – Nicole Kidman

9 – Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi

Male Speaker:

0 – Kermit the Frog

1 – Vladimir Putin

2 – Lin-Manuel Miranda

3 – Rafael Nadal

3 – Bill Cosby

4 – Pope Francis

6 – Lance Armstrong

7 – Prince George of Cambridge

8 – PSY

9 – Jedward

Private Citizen

January – Your kindergarten teacher

February – A garbage collector

March – A bag lady

April – The exterminator

May – The head of the local nudist colony

June – The kid next door

July – Your long-lost twin

August – Your grandmother

September – Your accountant

October – A local prostitute

November – That annoying guy at the gym

December – Someone who just walked in off the street

Step 4: Now, each of your speakers need topics. Your first speaker will talk about teaching our children about [the date of your birth]. Your second speaker will talk about the dangers to our society presented by [the date of your first blog post] and your third speaker will talk about what we really need is [the date of birth of your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband/best friend/life partner take your pick]

1 – Selfies

2 – Rollerskating

3 – Plagiarism

4 – ISIS

5 – Beauty tutorials on YouTube

6 – Game show hosts

7 – AshleyMadison.com

8 – Photoshop

9 – Medical marijuana

10 – Store-brand knockoff Oreo cookies

11 – The 2016 Olympics

12 – Picking your nose and eating it

13 – Zumba

14 – Sweatshirts for dogs

15 – Broccoli

16 – Emojis

17 – Doritos

18 – Pokemon Go

19 – Laser hair removal

20 – Sweet potato fries

21 – The metric system

22 – Hand-me-down bridesmaid dresses

23 – Spaghetti

24 – Adult diapers

25 – Cinnamon-flavored dental floss

26 – Peeing in the swimming pool

27 – Lumberjacks

28 – The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge

29 – Nuclear warheads

30 – Miniature golf

31 – Babies

Step 5: Finally, it’s your turn to shine. You speak, and then what happens? Look at the time: it’s whatever hour it is, AM or PM.

1 – ::crickets::

2 – Someone starts a slow clap

3 – The crowd joins hands for an emotional chorus of “Call Me Maybe”

4 – Someone throws a bra at you

5 – Someone throws rotten vegetables at you

6 – A fire breaks out and everyone runs for their lives.

7 – You pass gas loudly into the microphone and blame it on a staffer.

8 – You tell everyone to open their hymnals to page 29 and lead the congregation in singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus,” followed by communion and a bake sale.

9 – You tell everyone that they get a new car!

10 – You put on your jet pack and do aerial stunts above the crowd.

11 – Fireworks go off, scaring the bejeezus out of a bunch of cats in the crowd.

12 – You go “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Now, welcome to…

The National That’s So Jacob Convention

Day 1 – “Make America Juicy Again”

The national anthem will be sung by Jacob’s least favorite aunt.

Headliner: Dame Maggie Smith, “Teaching Our Children about The Metric System.”

Day 2 – “Make America Angry Again”

Headliner: Rafael Nadal, “The Dangers of Miniature Golf to Our Society”

Day 3 – “Make America Confused Again”

Headliner: A local prostitute, “What We Really Need: Lumberjacks.”

Day 4 – “Make America Oblong Again”

That’s So Jacob accepts the nomination, and…some fireworks go off, scaring the bajeezus out of the cats in the crowd.

Your results may vary.

Enjoy!

17

Five Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever

Today, I was on Facebook, and I found out that one of my close friends from when I lived in Israel is moving to America: New Jersey for a little while, and eventually, Philadelphia. While I’m not thrilled about him being so far away, it’ll hopefully be a great change for him and we’ll be in the same country again. Someone commented on his wall that he could come and stay on his couch in New York City, and I responded, “my couch is better.” And as I was redoing the Wisconsin refrigerator magnet puzzle (some of the pieces had gotten out of place) I realized that Wisconsin truly is the best state ever.

So here are Five (of the many) Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever.

  1. I can point out where I live on my hand. Sure, so can Michiganders, but we don’t have the lake effect in the winter.
  2. We have some of the best produce and dairy products in the country. Go to any weekend farmer’s market and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Also, if you’re into dairy and not on a diet, Calliope ice cream is kosher and DELISH.
  3. Midwestern nice. Seriously, I feel like I’ve become nicer since I’ve been here. Or at least more social. People here are just so genuine.
  4. The best European cuisine outside Europe. Since my parents have been here, we’ve had Belgian food at Brasserie V, Norwegian food at Norske Nook, and Dutch food at Cafe Hollander. Not to mention the German restaurants and the Catholic-inspired Friday Fish Fry, every Friday, all year long.
  5. Concerts on the Square. Tonight was my parents’ final night here, so we went to Concert on the Square, which is a summer tradition here in Madison. About six Wednesday evenings every summer, when it’s light outside until 9 PM, everyone brings blankets and food and picnics on the lawn of the State Capitol building to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra play. People have fancy spreads and get dressed up, and it’s just such a fun time. Does your state capitol double as a marketplace, art museum, AND concert venue? I didn’t think so.
11

Masterpiece YouTube: Team StarKid, “The Trail to Oregon!”

Happy July 4th, y’all! I haven’t shared a fun YouTube in almost a whole year (September 30th, 2015), so I figured I’d share one of the most American things of all time (or what should be): musical theatre mixed with American history, so…here’s the full cast recording of Hamilton!

Just kidding, and yes, I am sick of hearing people obsess over it, it’s kind of like…have you ever seen a musical before? Ever? Anyway, here’s another fun musical.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 22: Team Starkid, “The Trail to Oregon!” (2015)

Any true American who grew up in the 1990s played Oregon Trail, the original educational, low-graphics game designed to teach kids about Manifest Destiny but mostly ended up teaching kids how to shoot a buffalo, die of dysentery, and an excuse to make up obscene family names.

I remember I was scared of the game when I first encountered it in fourth grade, because the trend was to name your characters after your family members and friends, and I got it in my head that if you died in the game, that meant you died for real, or were going to die soon, which led to many, many nightmares about my family members being buried in the Wyoming wilderness or eaten by wolves. Eventually, though, I got over that silly fear and joined everyone else in making sure that Jelly Head, Pantyhose Nose, Donkey, and Princess Bunny make it to the Willamette Valley. And if they didn’t, oh well, at least you could write a dirty epitaph on their 8-bit tombstone.

But enough about nostalgia, back to the video. Team StarKid, the University of Michigan-based student acting troupe behind A Very Potter Musical and its sequels came up with The Trail to Oregon!, a brilliant choose-your-own musical adventure that eventually made it off-Broadway. Five characters play the basic family members your game gives you: the dimwitted Father (Jeff Blim), the stressed-out Mother (Rachael Soglin), obnoxious Son (Lauren Lopez, AKA Draco Malfoy from AVPM), easily-distracted Daughter (Jamie-Lyn Beatty, AKA Ginny Weasley from AVPM), and stereotypical oldster Grandpa (Corey Dorris), who doubles as Cletus Jones. The remainder of the parts, including a deformed ox, a fast-talking general store owner, and a horny bandit, are played by Joey Richter, AKA Ron Weasley from AVPM.

If you have two hours, or even if you don’t, it’s worth a watch for all the witty lyrics and low-budget fun. You even get to pick who dies at the end: I’ve only clicked on the Mother one and the Daughter one, but eventually I’ll watch the other three.

My favorite numbers are the two that open the show, “Gone to Oregon,” especially with all the bad rhyming, and “Independence,” a perfect selection for July 4th, especially with the “YMCA” tribute towards the end. Even though the talk of it being a “family vacation” is a little cringey – it was actually a complete lifestyle change, it’s not as if they were going to take tacky tourist photos and then turn back around and head back to Illinois, although that would be an interesting twist. The only part where it sagged for me was the story line with the Daughter and the bandit, I felt it was too melodramatic and one-note for the rest of the production despite Beatty’s brilliant acting and singing. “It Pays to Be an Animal” and “Speedrun” are also fun numbers. Anyway, enjoy!

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by AMERICA.

36

Das ist So Jacob ist ein Deutsch-Burger

I’ve been keeping this to myself for awhile now – close to a year – but now, I can officially say that as of yesterday…

I AM A DUAL AMERICAN/GERMAN CITIZEN.

It all started last summer.

My grandparents had their German citizenship revoked when they left the country during World War II. Under the current citizenship and naturalization laws of the country, if your grandparents were born in Germany and had their citizenship taken away by the Nazis, you can qualify for German citizenship. So, after much inquiry, while visiting home last summer, my dad, sister and I paid a visit to the German Embassy in Washington to submit our credentials. We had our driver’s licenses, our American passports, our birth certificates, and my grandmother’s kennkarte with the big ANNULLED stamp on it. All we needed was my parents’ marriage certificate (easy enough to get) and my grandparents’ marriage certificate (easier than we thought; it was a matter of the embassy calling Berlin to check the national or regional archives, and sure enough it was there) so the ball got to rolling sometime in October, when that document showed up.

Fast forward to yesterday, when we all got emails from the German Embassy, saying that our naturalization certificates were available for pickup, and that when we get them, we can put in applications for passports. They are going to be holding some sort of ceremony on June 2, but since I won’t be able to be there and they must be handed over in person, I’m going to see if they can send it to the German Consulate in Chicago or the Honorary Consul in Minneapolis so I can get it without having to trek out to DC.

And that’s how I became a naturalized German citizen.

So, a la David Letterman, here is a list of 10 Things That I Can Do Now Because I’m German:

10. I have someone to root for in Eurovision and FIFA.

9. I can have beer whenever I want.

8. I actually have a reason to celebrate Oktoberfest now.

7. I am allowed to laugh at Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel impressions on SNL and feel no remorse.

6. I can roll my eyes at Americans.

5. If I get pulled over for speeding, I can say…”Sorry, officer, I’m used to the Autobahn.”

4. I can make up long and funny words.

3. German food.

2. I have expanded my job options, infinitely. Being a German citizen also makes be a citizen of the European Union, which means I can live and work almost anywhere in Europe without a hassle, and travel visa-free.

1. “Don’t shoot, I’m German!”

I guess the next step is to go back and visit again. Well, after I get my certificate and passport. We’ll see. But I guess until then, I’m still the same old That’s So Jacob.

Deutsch-Burger. Tee hee.

1

Christmas in July

Oh my goodness.

It’s almost July, so apparently it’s also almost Christmas in July.

Because the day after Thanksgiving until January 1 isn’t enough Christmas for the world.

Six months ago I said that I didn’t resent Christmas that much, but when it comes in July…it’s ripe for resentment. Every single thing about it. Do we really need another month of Christmas movies, or made-for-tv Christmas movies with V-list stars?

The first thing I think about when I think about Christmas is cold. COLD. I am done with that for awhile, at least. I don’t really care that I sweat all day outside and all night in my centrally-heated, temperature-controlled apartment, at least I’m sweating. It gets rid of some calories and is an excuse to enjoy iced beverages with more regularity. The same thoughts go for snow. You want snow in July? Go camping in Antarctica, and don’t do it on my TV screen.

Cheesy Christmas movies have their time: between December 25 and January 1 when there’s nothing else on TV and it’s wicked cold outside, if you live in Wisconsin, that is. Not in July.

And another thing…why can’t Summer in December be a thing?

YES. Yes. Yes to the Yes.

Hey networks, can we make this a thing? Let’s spend December watching Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo and all those fun surf movies!

Oh wait…we can’t.

Because it’s Christmas.

Also, what movie is this from?