Feeling cooped up in the house? Perhaps an evening or two discussing the vastness of space, or a trip to a local space-themed exhibit, may help fight off the claustrophobia.
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is planning to potentially reopen to limited public visits by the end of July with its new exhibit “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” according to Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. In addition, it has been organizing a number of similarly space-themed online events. “Are We Alone and Does It Matter?” was held July 16, while “How to Be Jewish in Space” is scheduled for July 23. Both events are led by Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, and help lead into JMM’s upcoming exhibit.
Additionally, JMM is also offering the program “Become a Wondernaut: A Hands-On Celebration,” in which families create art projects that depict what items they would take with them if going into space, said Trillion Attwood, the director of public programs and visitor experience.
The museum hopes to be able to open to the public with their new exhibit three days a week on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for two, two-hour windows per day, said Pinkert and Attwood. During each window, a maximum of 10 visitors will be permitted, and tickets will need to be purchased in advance. Staff and guests will all be required to wear masks; “heavy touch” interactive exhibit units have been removed or disabled; and styluses are being implemented on certain exhibits so that touching screens will not be required.
While Pinkert stated that JMM had done a great deal to provide the community with online content since the onset of COVID-19, he made plain his desire to begin providing in-person exhibits again.
“We are a museum, we are a destination, and all the digital in the world isn’t a substitute for being a physical museum,” Pinkert said. “So that’s why we’re headed back towards our strength, which is being an attraction.”
While Pinkert hopes to expand attendance at a later date, he made clear this would depend on COVID-19 staying under control.
The exhibit was originally put together by the Center for Jewish History in New York, Pinkert said. After JMM staff saw the exhibit in 2019, they persuaded the exhibit’s organizers to bring the core of “Jews in Space” to Baltimore, with JMM then making its own additions to the exhibit.
The exhibit can be divided into four basic sections, Pinkert said: Jews in astronomy; Jewish astronauts and cosmonauts; Jews in science fiction; and Maryland in space, which highlights Maryland’s contributions to space exploration.
Meanwhile, the “Are We Alone?” event focused on the philosophical implications of discovering extraterrestrial life, and the impact it would have on Jewish identity.
“Perhaps if we discover life forms that are more advanced than us, what would that do for us as Jews, who sometimes hold that we were chosen?” said Yoggev prior to the event. “What does that do for our concept of chosenness if we can find beings that are more advanced than us on every level?”
“How to be Jewish in Space” will focus on more “practical” questions, Yoggev said. For instance, Yoggev explained, a person in Earth’s orbit would go from sunrise to sunset every 90 minutes. As such, what effect does this have on observing Shabbat, or on praying three times a day?
“If a full day is just about sunrise and sunset, so every seven times 90 minutes you’re going to be observing the Sabbath?” Yoggev asked. “Do you observe the Sabbath for 90 minutes a few times every 24 hour span?”