Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Behind the Display Cases of the Museum

This week, two members of our Collections and Exhibitions staff, Jennifer Roberts and Rachel Goldstein, take us behind the scenes – and behind the display cases. For more from our C&E staff, you can follow them on Twitter (@MJHREG) where they tweet all about collecting, rotating, and preserving.

Have you ever been to a museum only to discover that your favorite objects were no longer on view? There are many reasons why museums remove items from display. At MJH items are removed most frequently due to a process we call rotation. 


Though our galleries are maintained according to museum standards, it is impossible to avoid exposure to light and changes in temperature and humidity, which over time can adversely affect objects on display. Museums combat this continued risk by frequently rotating objects on view. You’ll find us in the permanent collection every few weeks installing new objects and returning displayed items to storage. Because light and temperature damage accumulate over time and cannot be reversed, we store items in boxes that help protect them from light and in a climate controlled space.
The rotation process involves many steps and the cooperation of the curatorial and registration staff. Our collections curators begin the process by deciding which case in the permanent exhibition to rotate. Using MIMSY, our collections database, they compile a list of potential objects that fit – thematically, aesthetically, and physically – within the chosen case. This list of objects is then sent to our registrars who condition report each object. Condition reporting allows us to document the objects’ current physical state, including any damage, wear and tear, and areas of concern. If it is determined that the objects are suitable for display, we will consult our preparator, who makes recommendations for mounting and display.
While our preparator is busy making mounts for the objects, our curators design case layouts and write label text. Once the text and layouts are finalized, we produce our own labels and make sure everything is accurate, complete, and ready to rotate.

Installation usually occurs during early morning hours prior to the museum opening to the public. Once the case is open and the current objects have been removed, we take the opportunity to clean and dust inside the case. The new objects are installed along with their corresponding labels, and the physical installation is complete. Photos help document the newly rotated case, and our database records are updated to reflect the many changes. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Monkey Around with Us This Fall

While we usually frown on mischief-making exotic animals in the galleries, this fall, we’re thrilled to welcome everyone’s favorite monkey, Curious George as NYC’s Official Family Ambassador.

"With the help of the Official NYC Family Ambassador, Curious George, we are pleased to welcome even more families to discover the endless urban activities in New York City's five boroughs," said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company. "Curious George is a beloved and amiable character known for his adventures, and we look forward to working with him to encourage family travelers to have an enriched vacation experience in New York City." 

At the Museum, we have another connection to George. His creators Margret and H. A. Rey were German-born Jews who fled the Nazis in Paris on their bicycles, carrying their drawings. George even managed to save his creators. When the Reys were stopped and questioned by authorities suspicious of their German accents, they were let go once they showed what they were really doing—writing children’s books. We can’t help but be inspired by George’s narrow escapes and optimistic spunk, and hope our littlest visitors will be, too.

Starting today on nycgo.com/family, Curious George will encourage family travel with editorial content that features family-friendly activities and destinations for visitors as well as New Yorkers to enjoy. The editorial content includes kid-friendly NYC travel materials; guides to NYC's beaches, zoos, aquariums, and museums for children; must-see green spaces such as Central Park and Prospect Park; and more.

NYC & Company is collaborating with 16 cultural institutions throughout all five boroughs, including our Museum, to distribute a Curious George activity sheet that encourages kids and parents to use their five senses to explore each attraction and destination. Participating cultural institutions include the Louis Armstrong House Museum, National Museum of the American Indian–NY, New York Botanical Garden, New York Transit Museum and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. 

The family ambassador program is a joint effort with NYC &CO., NBCUniversal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and PBS KIDS. 

The hit television series Curious George airs daily on PBS KIDS (check local listings). Digital games and activities from the series are also available at pbskids.org/curiousgeorge.

Image courtesy of PBS KIDS and NYC &CO.

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Sign Language Tours at the Museum

This fall, the Museum is pleased to launch the new ASL @ MJH series for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing visitors, which will take place one Wednesday a month at 6 p.m. starting on October 22.

The evenings will begin with light refreshments, followed by free, private gallery tours and programs. These tours will be offered in American Sign Language and led by Museum Educators who are Deaf. Special events for ASL @ MJH will be interpreted by certified ASL interpreters.

Elizabeth Edelstein, our Director of Education, said, “Deaf Museum Educators began studying the Museum’s content this spring, learning how to lead tours of the Core Exhibition in American Sign Language.  We hope that our tours and monthly programs will allow members of the ASL community to fully experience what the Museum has to offer. We very much look forward to working with the ASL community on programming at the Museum.”

The series will start on October 22 with an introduction to the Museum’s exhibitions. On November 19, the tour will examine artifacts related to Jewish heritage. On December 10, there will be a curator’s tour of Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, which will be interpreted by a certified ASL interpreter. 

Future dates and topics will be announced soon. Visit this link for the most up-to-date information. ASL @ MJH is free but pre-registration is required.  To register for October 22, please click here.

Due to space constraints, sign language students are not permitted. 

ASL @ MJH is made possible by a generous gift from Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany: Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation and Education.

Image of the Core Exhibition by David Paler.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Celebrating Latin American Jewish Cuisine

Latin American Jewish cuisine is heating up restaurants and kitchens throughout the Americas. On Sunday, September 14 at 2:30 p.m., James Beard nominated cookbook author Jayne Cohen will lead a lively discussion about the mouthwatering food and the journey of the cuisine from early Sephardic influences to the current Jewish food landscape at the Museum. Some of the cuisine’s most influential food mavens will gather to discuss their take on the exciting blend of influences. The panel will feature: chefs Sam Gorenstein and Leticia Moreinos Schwartz; food writer Susan Schmidt; and anthropologist Ruth Behar.
A reception featuring tasty Latin desserts will follow.
To whet your appetite, we thought we'd share the delicious recipe below. Purchase tickets to the event here.

Brazilian Crème Caramel

(Pudim de Leite)

From Leticia Moreinos Schwartz

Almost every cuisine has its version of flan, but what makes the Brazilian take so special is the use of sweetened condensed milk, lending a smooth, silky and velvety texture to the dish. Another difference is that this recipe is prepared in a blender or food processor. I’ve added a bit of heavy cream and extra yolks to expand upon this velvety texture that I like so much.

Beloved by all Brazilians for special occasions, this pudding is perfect for Yom Kippur break-the-fast and other dairy menus, as well as a treat for drop-in guests during the fall holidays. You can prepare the dessert up to 5 days ahead of time and only invert it the day you are serving.


Serves 6 to 8


For the caramel:

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water


For the flan:

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 2/3 cup whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

3 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Equipment: Round cake mold, 8 inches wide and 2 inches deep (or 4 individual ramekins)


To make the caramel: 

  1. Place the sugar and water in a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook the sugar over high heat without stirring, until it turns into an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes.
  2. Pour the caramel into the cake mold and swirl it around making sure the caramel evenly covers the whole bottom of the pan. You don’t want to have any concentrated lumps of caramel in any part of the pan. Be advised that the caramel will continue to cook once it’s off the heat, so work fast.  Set the pan aside.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F.


To make the flan:

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the flan in a blender or (ideally) a food processor, until smooth.
  2. Carefully and slowly pour it into the prepared caramel pan. Transfer the caramel pan to a large roasting pan and fill it with warm water so that it comes half ways up the sides of the pan. Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the center of the oven and bake until the custard is set, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3.  Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Transfer the custard pan to a wire rack. Let it cool at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. It’s important to invert the flan only when it is chilled completely, otherwise it might break.
  4. When ready to serve, run a smooth knife around the inside of the cake pan. Place a large rimmed serving platter on top of the cake pan, and holding the pans together with both hands, quickly invert the flan onto the platter. Hold the pans so for at least 1 minute to make sure all the juices of the caramel fall onto the platter.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Understanding the Power of Artifacts

In preparation for my departure from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I was going through a drawer of photographs. Back in the olden days, the press office sent out prints of our artifacts, before e-mailing a JPG was an option. I asked Erica Blumenfeld, senior registrar and manager of traveling exhibitions, and Jen Roberts, associate registrar, to look at the array of images to see if they needed them for any reason.

One of the photographs was of Heinrich Himmler’s annotated copy of “Mein Kampf.” My first assignment as PR Manager was setting up an appointment for a New York Post reporter to come and examine the artifact and talk about how it came to the Museum (it was donated anonymously). I think it was my second day at work. When I mentioned that this was the first artifact I knew personally, Erica and Jen revealed that the book was the first artifact that they each encountered in their MJH careers as well.

There are 25,000 objects in the collection. Our start dates were separated by 10 years. This seemed beyond coincidence so I asked them to share their experiences.

Erica’s first encounter with “Mein Kampf” took place within her first month here. An author wanted information about the book and Erica had to look for the portions requested. She says at first it was a book and then as she was going through it, its character changed. It wasn’t just any book. It was a charged object that belonged to one of the most despicable human beings who ever lived and it was “a shocking realization to hold in my hands the same object he held in his hands.”

Jen Roberts started at the Museum July 14, 2008 and on July 16 Jen was asked to scan pages of “Mein Kampf.” She asked Erica some technical questions and then she was left alone with the book. She says she felt overwhelmed by the weight of what it meant to work here. It was the first time Jen handled an object, any object, in an official capacity as a Museum employee. “You’re interacting with these items on a very intimate level. As registrars, we are ingrained to have a certain type of reverence for objects. When this book is your first object you understand the seriousness of the subject matter of this Museum.” The pages of the book, which is on display on the second floor, are flipped every few months, so Jen still interacts with the book on a regular basis.

Erica and Jen tweet about matters registrarial. Follow them on Twitter @MJHReg for more behind-the-scenes glimpses of our collection. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Changing of the Guard

After 32 years serving as Museum Chairman, Robert M. Morgenthau took on a new title, that of Chairman Emeritus, when he stepped down as Chairman at the June 19 Annual Meeting of the Board. Bruce C. Ratner has been named the new Museum Chairman.

Mr. Morgenthau has served as Chairman of the Board since 1982, one year after Mayor Koch created a Task Force to determine what kind of Holocaust memorial was needed in New York City.

Mr. Morgenthau said, “I’m so honored to have been part of the Museum’s creation and its ongoing vitality, and look forward to remaining involved for many years to come. I’m also thrilled that the Board has elected Bruce Ratner as Chairman. Bruce has long been a friend to me and the Museum. And most important, his vision for the Museum as an institution that teaches about 20th- and 21st-century Jewish history and the Holocaust in a way that is meaningful to a larger community is critical to the Museum’s commitment to the principles of education and social justice within the Jewish community and beyond.”

Under Mr. Morgenthau’s leadership, the Museum has experienced incredible growth and reach over three decades. The original building opened to the public in 1997, and the wing that bears his name opened in 2003, tripling the square feet of the institution and increasing the innovative programming offered.

Of his many accomplishments, there is one that shines as a tribute to an entire generation. His was the vision behind the award-winning exhibition Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War.
Just as Holocaust survivors did not begin to tell their stories until decades after the war ended, veterans, too, were unable to articulate fully the memories that dwelled deep within.

As with survivors, these memories become more precious as they become more scarce, and these experiences needed to be documented. The result was an extraordinary archive of memory, courage, and history. Mr. Morgenthau, a Navy veteran himself, wanted the world to know that Jews, on the battlefront and on the home front, came together to “rid the world of a monstrous evil.”

While Mr. Morgenthau became the voice for his generation of veterans, he was also the voice of resolute determination for New York City. At the reopening of the Museum after the September 11 attacks, he announced that construction would begin on the new wing in a matter of weeks, and in a single moment demonstrated not only his commitment to the future, but his unequaled leadership in a time of complete uncertainty.

The role of Chairman Emeritus was created for Mr. Morgenthau to recognize his long-standing and invaluable service to, and lasting impact on, the Museum. Museum Director Dr. David G. Marwell said, “Robert Morgenthau had a clear vision for the Museum from the very start and helped shape it into an important educational institution, and a vital place of memory. It was Bob’s belief that the Museum should not only relate the tragic history of the Holocaust, but should also celebrate Jewish life by exploring its variety and richness. He succeeded in creating an institution that has earned its place in the cultural landscape of New York City and its reputation as a crucial stop for all who believe that we must understand the past in order to navigate the future.”

Mr. Ratner said, “The Museum of Jewish Heritage, the building and the programs, will long stand as a monument to how the Morgenthau family has worked endlessly on behalf of the Jewish people — before and after the Holocaust. I strongly believe that Bob’s sense of justice and the power of the law are derived directly from his involvement with these issues.”

Mr. Ratner, who has served on the Board of Trustees since 1996, co-chaired the Building Committee with Peter Kalikow, and his firm, Forest City Ratner (FCR), provided pro bono construction project management for the Museum’s expansion in 2003. As the Chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1992 until 2001, he drew on his background as a developer and created a vibrant cultural district in the neighborhood of the immensely popular arts institution. Given the economic and construction boom currently taking place in Lower Manhattan with the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, 1 World Trade Center, and the development of Brookfield Place, this neighborhood is undergoing its own rebirth, and Mr. Ratner’s understanding of how culture drives the economy will only enhance the image of the Museum in this redesigned downtown.

As Executive Chairman of FCR, one of the largest urban real estate developers in the country, he has, over the last 25 years, developed 44 ground-up projects in the New York City area. He is the majority owner and developer of Barclays Center Arena, home of the Brooklyn Nets, the first major professional sports team to call Brooklyn home since the Dodgers left in 1957.

Mr. Ratner has been a forthright and generous supporter of the Museum, funding general operations and special exhibitions including Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933–1941, and was the co-honoree at the 2008 Heritage Dinner, when he announced from the stage, “The Museum is the most important philanthropy with which I am involved.” Mr. Ratner grew up in a Jewish home, the son of immigrants, whose family bore the scars of the Holocaust. After the war, Bruce’s mother committed herself to resettling survivors, finding homes for them and helping to create community for these newcomers. “Some of the survivors looked at my parents as their family, the kids were like our cousins. My mother most of all would remind us to Never Forget,” recalls Mr. Ratner.

Mr. Ratner currently serves on a number of boards, including Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University School of Law. He is the father of two daughters, Lizzy, a writer, and Rebbie, a filmmaker, has one grandson, Elias, and is married to Dr. Pamela Lipkin.

ABOVE LEFT: Museum Director Dr. David G. Marwell, Robert M. Morgenthau, and Trustee Judah Gribetz. ABOVE RIGHT: Bruce Ratner accepts the Heritage Award at the 2008 Heritage Dinner.
Photos by Melanie Einzig.