Tuesday, August 23, 2016

From Austria to America

This blog post is an interview of Florian Huelbig given by Esther Moerdler, the Communications intern.

Every Austrian man, when he completes high school, must serve his nation either through military service or through volunteer work. Florian Huelbig, Flo, chose to spend his year volunteering abroad. He spent part of his time in the Vienna office of Austrian Service Abroad, an NGO that focuses on memorial and service opportunities abroad for these post-high school young men, 6 months in Barcelona and 6 months right here, at MJH.

Do they teach a lot about WWII and the Holocaust at your high school?
They taught a lot about the Second World War and about the humiliation of Jews and the concentration camps. They focused mostly on Jews, but we hardly learned about the genocide of the Roma. I really wanted to learn new things and be an advocate, and make the world better.

What made you choose coming here versus going to the army?
I wanted to do something sustainable after graduating high school. I was always interested in studying the Holocaust and Roma culture. So I went to Barcelona for the first half of the year, where I worked for a Roma organization and the second half is here, working with my second focus.

What have you gotten to do here so far?
My main duties are translating and summarizing audio testimonies for the Collections & Exhibitions department. I also do research and help with the database. I try to help where I can.

What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while being here at the museum?
Now I’ve been measuring artifacts. They’re so interesting and mostly in German, so I can read them easily. It’s interesting and sometimes it’s a little…I’ll hold a bullet and know that this bullet killed people. It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s interesting to see all the things that people have donated to the museum.

Did you come here with other people?
No. I came here with no one.

How has that been?
It’s been really exciting. I’ve enjoyed living alone for the first time and making new friends. It has been super awesome. I’m glad I came here alone. It’s just a proof that I can survive on my own.

How do you like NYC?
It’s great. I really like it so far. Sometimes it’s a little too big and stressed out. I’m more the type to chill a little bit, not the type to stress. It’s NYC; you can’t compare any other city to NYC.

What’s your favorite part of the city?
I think it’s the Meatpacking District because it’s so cool with its many restaurants. It’s not really hipster, it’s just modern and has a lot of young people there. I like the shopping there too. I like Williamsburg as well. It’s cool, you meet interesting people there.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in the city?
So I visited a friend in Brooklyn and after my visit I went to a barber nearby on Bedford Street. It was at like 9 o’clock PM. The barber turned to me after and said, “Don’t cross the street, if you do you’ll get robbed.” I was like, “what?!” and she said, “Trust me trust me, don’t cross the street.” It was crazy. Every city is at some point dangerous, but it was just unexpected. I went to the barber and after I couldn’t cross the street. That had never happened to me before.  

What do you have planned after this?
I’m going after this to South America trip for a few weeks after this. I’m going to Mexico, Lima, Costa Rica, Cuba, and after that Buenos Aires. I have a friend who is doing the same program but in Costa Rica doing service there. This is my first time in South America and first time in America as well. It’s been a whole new experience. Next year I will go to university in Vienna, well in a suburb of Vienna. I’m going to study audio and film. I want to make documentary films. I like the idea of learning from the movie you’re seeing. I’m open for anything though. I’m just excited for the experience.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is coming to New York from, let’s say Austria, what would it be?
If it was someone coming from Austria, which is a pretty small country, they wouldn’t necessarily know about big cities like New York. I think they have to take their time and not be stressed out by the City, just enjoy it.

Any final thoughts?
I’ve really enjoyed my time abroad, especially at the museum. Everyone has been so kind to me. If I had the opportunity to come here again, I’d definitely do it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Getting to know Rachel Zatcoff

Rachel Zatcoff and ensemble. Photo: Justin Scholar.
This blog post is an interview of Rachel Zatcoff (starring as Khanele in the summer production of The Golden Bride) and was given by Esther Moerdler, the Communications intern.

Rachel Zatcoff didn’t know Yiddish before joining the cast of The Golden Bride, but that doesn’t seem to stop her. Having started acting and singing as a child, and later studying voice and opera, Zatcoff’s bubbly energy radiates from the stage as she takes on the character of Khanele, the main character Goldele’s best friend and love interest’s sister,  in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production, which won two Drama Desk awards.

How did you get involved in Yiddish theater?
Well, for this particular project my agent submitted me for it. My first audition was here at the theater, I had a call back the week after and they ended up calling me. I had five days between my last day at Phantom [of the Opera] and starting here. So it was a very fast transition.

It must have been a stark contrast?
Yes it was, but a very interesting one for me.

How does it compare for you - coming from Phantom of the Opera and now performing in The Golden Bride?
Because the size of the shows are so different, this [Golden Bride] is such an intimate experience and I’ve really appreciated that coming off of Phantom, which is such a spectacle and such a big show. And I had no experience in Yiddish, zero. I had sung in other languages with my opera experience and training, but never Yiddish. I was excited to take on a new language but it was a huge challenge to do it in twelve days.

So you learned all of this in twelve days? How did you go about taking that on?
I had the script and score for three days before rehearsal, whereas typically in most situations I’ve been in I’ve had it for significantly more time than that. So I would come to the first rehearsal with it pretty much learned which was impossible for me to do. But they had a diction coach for us, which was really helpful. Her name is Edit [Kuper] and she really helped me a lot. The cast, all of the other principles had done the show last year, and they were so supportive and helpful in helping me learn everything, and just being there for me because it was stressful. The creative team too, Zalmen [Mlotek], Bryna [Wasserman] and Merete [Muenter], were just really helpful in pacing out the twelve days and making sure I could get it under my belt.

How do you approach playing a comedic role?
It was a challenge, but a fun one. Good comedy, I think, is all about good timing. That’s something hard to gauge, especially while in rehearsal. Without an audience it is tough. I had no idea when they would laugh, and what they would find funny. You can’t guess that, you can’t play to get laughs and be funny. It’s so different from playing the romantic ingénue, and it’s so much fun. Standing there singing a ballad, I’m so used to that, and this is such a refreshing change.

How does the show speak to you?
I love the coming to America story always. It’s so inspirational. Especially in our world today, which is such a mess. We are so lucky to live in America, as cheesy as that may sound. And I love the sense of family, community, unity, and romantic love. The show is funny; it is really so fun and so exciting to be a part of.

If you could sum up the show in one word, what would it be?
Oh, love. I really would. There is a lot of love in the show; family love, love of culture, romantic love, friendship love, all sorts of love. I guess that would be my word. It is so nice. Yesterday I put a post on social media because I felt so touched by the show. I’ve seen people [in the audience] crying laughing, there are so many emotions that have been so awesome.

How is your character like you or different from you?
Well, she is a lot like me because she’s kind of spunky and most people in my life think I’m quite funny. Well, I don’t think I’m all that funny, but people think I am, so it’s nice to finally get my feet wet with a comedic role. I hadn’t had the chance in my career yet to dive into these types of roles. She’s also passionate; I’d say that I’m passionate…and a little crazy.

Is there anything challenging for you about bringing the show to life?
Well, the language is certainly a challenge. It’s one of those shows where you really have to keep reviewing it. You’re speaking in a foreign language and you really have to know what you’re saying... and what everyone else is saying! And for me, I’m usually playing the ingénue role, the Goldele role, you know? So to be playing the comic relief scenes is really just a blast!
The Second act is physically, emotionally and vocally difficult.  I spend a large chunk of time on stage where it is scene, song, scene, song, and that makes it a huge challenge. But Glenn [Seven Allen] has been a total dream to work with. It has its general bone structure but it’s live theater and because it’s so comedic and so much about timing it shifts from show to show, which makes it a lot of fun.

Who in the show’s cast would you say is most like their character?
Ooh, I’m going to say Adam Shapiro as Kalmen. Just because he’s truly that hilarious in life and he would also totally wear a tutu. And that’s why I think he’s so amazing. He brings so much to himself to the role, and that’s why he has the whole house laughing from the start.

If you could play any other role in The Golden Bride, who would it be?
Ooh, anyone? I’d say…The mother, Regina’s [Gibson] role. It is so incredibly powerful, particularly because Regina is so amazing, but also because it’s one of those moments in a show when the whole audience gasps. That this little piece is written into this show that has such a huge impact. She (Regina) always brings herself into the role so deeply that it’s moving to the audience, and moving to me standing there on stage watching her.

What is the last thing you do before you step on stage?
I usually look up. I know this is strange to say but I usually just put my head up, look up, and remember where I am. Remember where I am as Rachel, in my life, and then just bring myself to the show and get excited to tell the story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

4 Things to Do on the 4th of July

This blog post is written by Esther Moerdler, the Museum’s Communications Intern.

Did you know that New York City was the original capital of America? Here are four exciting ways to celebrate Independence Day in historic Lower Manhattan:

1. The Golden Bride

Due to popular demand, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene brings The Golden Bride back to the Museum of Jewish Heritage this summer. Kick off your day by visiting the Museum, open 10 A.M. to 5:45 P.M., watch the return of this Drama Desk nominated show, then grab a hot dog and enjoy stunning views of Liberty Island at a post-show BBQ reception. 
$55 includes show & reception – use code BBQ55.
Click To Buy Tickets or call 212-213-2120 x206.

2. Seaport District NYC Festival of Independence

On the east side of the island, check out South Street Seaport’s annual two-day art, music, fashion, and culinary festival from July 3 – July 4, 1 P.M. – 9 P.M. Get prepared for a Smogasburg of food, music curated by Noisey, and some IMPACT!(ful) art at Parson’s School of Design’s exhibit.

3. July 4th Celebration at Federal Hall
Visit the place where the 1st Continental Congress met, George Washington was sworn into office, and Bill of Rights was written. This July 3rd and 4th Federal Hall will be hosting programming from 10 AM – 3:40 PM, ranging from meet and greets with George Washington to readings of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a great opportunity to watch history come to life.

4. July 4th at Fraunces Tavern Museum
For a more historical look at July 4th look no further than the Fraunces Tavern Museum. 54 Pearl Street was once home to the Departments of Foreign Affairs, War and Treasury, not to mention the site of Washington’s farewell to his officers. Take a leap into America’s colonial past this July 4th by visiting the museum or experiencing one of its renowned walking tours.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Chiune Sugihara, Righteous Among the Nations

Pictured (left to right): Madoka Sughirar -grand-daughter of Chiune Sugihara, Advisory Committee Sugihara UNESCO Memory of the World Project, Yaotsu Town, Prefecture Erica Blumenfeld Yukio Rimbara-Chairman Advisory Committee, Sugihara UNESCO Memory of the World Project, Yaotsu Town, Prefecture Masanori Kaneko-Mayor of Yaotsu Town Masaru Nakayama-Chief of Town Promotion Officer Yaotsu Town, Prefecture
This blog post is written by Erica Blumenfeld, the Museum’s Interim Director of Collections and Exhibitions.

During World War II, Chiune Sugihara was Japan’s consul to Lithuania. He issued transit visas to several thousand Jews so that they could leave Lithuania. In 1984, Yad Vashem recognized Chiune Sugihara as Righteous Among the Nations.

In the town of Yaotsu, the birthplace of Sugihara, there is a Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum. Now the community is applying to have the Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum designated part of the UNESCO Memory of the World program and to recognize Sugihara for the brave work he did saving people from the Holocaust. 

A few weeks ago, I had the honor and pleasure to meet with representatives from Yaotsu, including Sugihara’s granddaughter, Madoka Sugihara, and the mayor, Masonori Kaneko.

They were visiting museums in the United States that hold visas signed by Sugihara in their collections. Copies of these documents will be used to complete the application process for the UNESCO Memory of the World. We were able to show this delegation the nine visas in the collection of the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

While at the Museum, the group from Yaotsu met with a docent and school group that were visiting our Rescuer’s Gallery and learning first-hand about the gift of life that Chiune Sugihara gave to the people he saved by the stamp of his office.  This was an unforgettable experience for both the students and the delegation from Yaotsu.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jordana Reisman Stone – Commemoration Speech for Annual Gathering of Remembrance, 5/1/2016

Photo by Melanie Einzig
Good afternoon. My name is Jordana Stone.  I am honored to be here today, speaking to this room of Holocaust survivors and their families.  All 4 of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors; but sadly, none of them are alive today.   I do not have a clear recollection of when I first learned about the horror and tragedy of my grandparents’ young lives in Europe.  I recall hearing terrifying stories throughout my childhood, of the catastrophic events that shaped their lives.

I regret that I never spoke directly to my nana about her life story.  Growing up, I was very close with her.  She was the best babysitter, always playing games with us, singing, and cooking.  We had so much fun together.  She often cried as she told me that I looked like her father, or how she missed her childhood cat, Tune.  I never asked her to tell me more because I did not want to make her cry.  I learned about her past from my mother and aunt, and in even more detail watching her video testimony.  My mother told me that Nana thought I was too young to hear the stories, and by the time I was old enough, she was sick with Alzheimer’s disease and unable to tell them.  

My Nana, Henny Durmashkin Gurko, came from a musical family in Vilna, Poland.  Her father was the director of the Great Synagogue's choir.  Her sister and brother were pianists, her brother was the only Jew and youngest conductor of the Vilna Symphony Orchestra, and she herself was a singer.  When her family was taken to the Vilna ghetto, her brother convinced workers who were able to leave, to smuggle in a piano, piece by piece, over the course of many days, and put it back together inside the ghetto.  He established an orchestra and choir within the ghetto, where my nana sang.  Originally they played for other Jews in the ghetto, but eventually the Nazis learned of their great orchestra and came to listen.  After the ghetto was liquidated, my nana’s family was separated.  She and her sister were sent to a series of concentration camps, and ended up at Dachau where they lived for two years before they were liberated by the American army.  They later learned that their brother was killed just hours before liberation.  They were the only two family members to survive.

After they were liberated, she and her sister went to St. Otilien DP camp, and became members of the Ex-Concentration Camp Orchestra.  They traveled to many DP camps to entertain Holocaust survivors.  One of my nana’s proudest moments was when the Ex-Concentration camp orchestra was conducted by Leonard Bernstein, while he was on a tour of Europe.  In 1949, she met my grandfather on the boat coming to America. They eventually settled in New Jersey where they had three children, my mother, her sister, and her brother, and 6 grandchildren.  For all of us, music, piano playing and singing, are still a great part of our family traditions.

For the past ten years I worked as a math teacher at a high school in Harlem. I heard that my math students were learning about the Holocaust and World War II in history class, and reading Elie Wiesel’s Night in English class.  I helped their English teacher to bring 3rd generation speakers into our school to tell their grandparents’ stories.  My students were spellbound and in shock as they listened to the horrific stories.  Afterwards, during a question and answer period, my students asked simple questions like “Why didn’t the Jews just run away, or revolt against the Germans?” To me, their questions showed that they had never thought about the events of the Holocaust on a personal level, or thought about the victims as individuals, even though they had studied it before.  When it came time for the 3g speakers to leave, the students continued to ask questions, so I offered to stay and answer them.  I told them that I was Jewish and that all four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors.  I also shared the story with them about when my nana, her sister Fanny, and their mother were on line at a concentration camp. At the head of the line stood a Nazi guard who decided who would live and who would die.  Nana and her sister rubbed rouge on their mother’s cheeks, to make her look younger and healthier, but at the end of the line their mother was torn from them, and they never saw her again. As I spoke, I began to cry. My students were stunned into silence.

That unforgettable day reaffirmed to me the importance of knowing and telling my grandparents’ stories.  It showed me how crucial it is for students to hear personal Holocaust Survivor’s stories from current and future generations.  My students had been learning about the Holocaust in history class throughout their education, but I know that day of learning the stories from living people had a lasting impact for many of them as it did for me.   Several of them even went on to become volunteers at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.  These stories have so much more power, beyond what books alone can teach, when they are heard first hand.

After that experience, I joined the Young Friends of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where I found many other people like me, who saw the importance of remembering the Holocaust and discussing it.  They felt, like me, that it is our duty to honor our grandparents’ legacy and tell our families’ histories.  I will make sure that my daughter, Leah Henny, who I named after my nana, will know her family history and the importance of sharing our story. My baby Leah is already so musical; as soon as she hears music, she stops what she is doing and starts dancing. I want to promise all the survivors here today, and those who are not with us, your stories will never be forgotten, and your important legacy will live on.  Thank you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fashion Has No Age Limit

The fashion industry is often portrayed as a youth-orientated world run by the youngest innovators and icons. Photographer Ari Seth Cohen showcases another perspective capturing ladies aged sixty and over. His blog, Advanced Style, has attracted a large following of viewers who are fascinated by the eccentric and unique personalities. In 2014, seven of the women regularly featured were profiled for the documentary of the same name, which is available on Netflix, iTunes, and DVD.

As a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, it is unassigned homework to read articles and watch documentaries about anything going on in the industry, so I was I attracted to this documentary when I saw it on Netflix. While watching it, I was immediately inspired. The women proved that fashion doesn’t have an age limit and that getting older is not something you should be scared of, but something you should embrace. They emphasized the importance of being unique and standing out from the crowd. Fashion isn’t just about following the trends and looking like everyone else; it’s about being individual and expressing yourself with clothes.

One of the women who especially caught my attention was Tziporah Salamon, a NYC style icon. Over many years, Tziporah, nicknamed “Tzippy”, has built an impressive collection of vintage clothing, costume jewelry, and accessories. She views fashion as an art form and expresses herself every day, never leaving the house without a complete outfit. She has a strong presence on social media, with 2,000 friends on Facebook and over 19,000 on Instagram. Her website, tziporahsalamon.com, features hundreds of pictures showcasing her unique style.

Tziporah embraces her heritage and celebrates the lives of her parents, recognizing their hard work and strength. Her parents were Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust and fled to Israel where she was born. They later relocated to New York City. Her parents worked in the garment industry – her father as a tailor and her mother as a dressmaker.

Recognizing that she had a story and talent that other people were interested in, she started hosting live events such as “Tziporah’s Stories (With Clothes!)” and “Art of Dressing”. During these events, she stresses style and individuality while teaching fashion as an art form.

Tziporah will perform her autobiographical, one-woman show, The Fabric of My Life, at the Museum on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 P.M., telling the story of her life with pictures and, of course, clothing. Admission is $15, $12 for students with valid ID, and free for members.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A School Play

Courtesy of the Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at The Breman Museum
Last year, I bought a ticket to my cousin’s upcoming play Parade at Syracuse University. I had never heard of it and, judging by the title, it sounded cheerful and fun, just like a parade would be. As it turns out, I could not be more wrong. To give you a very brief synopsis, Parade depicts the historical events about the murder of a thirteen-year-old girl and the subsequent trial, and ultimate lynching, of a Jewish man named Leo Frank who was accused of her murder.

I was fascinated by this true story so I went home to do some research. There are so many significant and scandalous elements that are part of this history – child labor laws, the Ku Klux Klan, racial prejudices, yellow journalism, anti-Semitism – the list goes on and on. It’s no surprise that the media so heavily covered this story at the time and why it is still of tremendous interest today. I can’t help but think what Netflix would have done with this story if it had been around to make Leo Frank the subject of “Making a Murderer.”

Fast forward to January 2016 and I had just started working at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I learned that one of my first tasks was to start promoting an upcoming exhibition, Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited. Thanks to my cousin, I was prepared.  Coincidence, luck, fate, call it what you will. If you get an opportunity to see your cousin’s play, you should go. You never know what you might learn.

To learn more about the exhibition, visit our website:

If you would like to learn how the history of Leo Frank was transformed into the Tony-winning musical Parade, watch this video: