Tuesday, November 29, 2016

RUTH GRUBER

Ruth Gruber discussing her book, Witness, with her niece, Dava Sobel, at a public program at the Museum on April 25, 2007 
Photo: Melanie Einzig

Ruth Gruber z”l passed away on November 17, 2016 at the age of 105. Ruth was an integral part of Jewish history in the 20th century and a beloved friend of the Museum. A trailblazing photojournalist and a fearless humanitarian, her life and work are inextricably bound with the rescue and survival of the Jewish people. While there are many articles detailing her life and extraordinary work, we want to highlight Ruth’s special relationship to the Museum.

In January 2007, the Museum showcased an exhibition featuring her work, From the Heart: The Photojournalism of Ruth Gruber. Ruth had backstage access to Jewish history: she escorted war refugees from Europe to America; visited DP camps; detailed the plight of the Exodus 1947; described the establishment of the State of Israel; and documented Israel’s ingathering of refugees from Europe, Iraq, Yemen, and Ethiopia. Emissary for Harold Ickes and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and Golda Meier, Ruth was both a witness to history and a human rights advocate. A selection from the exhibition is permanently on view on the Museum’s first floor; entry is free.

Ruth was a devoted supporter of the Museum. She served as the guest speaker at the Spring Women’s Luncheon, an annual fundraiser, in three separate years – 1995, 1998, and 2003. In 2007, Ruth gave a talk about her memoir, Witness, which included photographs and stories that not only chronicled her daring adventures, but provided new insights into some of the most dramatic events of the last century.

One of the stories was her top secret assignment for FDR where she accompanied 1,000 refugees to America — the only Jewish refugees allowed in this country at the time — and brought them to Fort Ontario, Oswego, NY. This chapter of her life, also the subject of her much-lauded book Haven, was made into a CBS miniseries starring Natasha Richardson as Ruth.

In 2012, the Museum was honored to present a screening of Ahead of Time: The Extraordinary Journey of Ruth Gruber, a documentary about her groundbreaking work in the 1930s and 1940s. Ruth was captivating as she participated in a post-screening discussion. The executive producers of this documentary included her dear friend and Museum Trustee Patti Kenner, and Doris Schechter, the restaurateur behind My Most Favorite Food, whose family had been among the Oswego refugees.

The Talmud says “Saving a single life is like saving an entire world.” Humanitarian, journalist, and activist Ruth Gruber saved the world a thousand times over.



Monday, November 7, 2016

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice and Munich ’72 and Beyond


The documentaries Olympic Pride, American Prejudice and Munich ’72 and Beyond both follow the stories of several Olympic athletes that have impacted the world. The athletes in both films were subject to prejudices, and what happened to them while at their separate Olympic games are important parts of history. The stories told in these documentaries have the ability to teach important lessons of strength and perseverance to people today.

The film Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, written and directed by Deborah Riley Draper and narrated and executive produced by Blair Underwood, recounts the story of 18 African American athletes at the Olympic Summer Games of 1936 held in Berlin, Germany. This film covers the stories of the 17 lesser known teammates of Jesse Owens, which included two women athletes. The film was just selected for consideration as a potential Oscar nominee.

These 18 athletes defied Adolf Hitler, Jim Crow segregation, and were representing a country that viewed them as inferior human beings. This past September all 18 of the Olympic athletes were recognized at the White House by President Obama, 80 years after their heroic summer in Berlin.
Director Riley Draper said, “Our film can change hearts and minds in the same way the black athletes did in 1936. We shed light on an 80 year-old act of bias and ignited a movement to ensure their story and legacy lives on.”

Whether or not you are familiar with the story of these Olympians, watching the film and hearing the recounted stories and experiences of these athletes will shed new insights on an incredible story of strength and perseverance. Munich ’72 and Beyond, directed by Stephen Crisman and executive produced by Michael Cascio, tells the story of the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972.

The event known as the “Munich Massacre” was the first act of modern terrorism and became a historical turning point for not only for the Olympics, but for terrorism. In the documentary, family members, eyewitnesses, law enforcement, Olympic officials, Israelis, and Palestinians are all interviewed to recount the horrific crime that was committed in the summer of 1972.
The documentary uncovers negligence and misconduct of those involved with the case.  The families discuss the four-decades-long battle that went into creating a public memorial to recognize, remember, and tell the story of the loved ones who tragically lost their lives at the Olympic games of 1972.

Both documentaries will be screened at the Museum: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice on November 13 at 2 P.M. and Munich ’72 and Beyond on November 16 at 7 P.M. Admission is free and advance registration is recommended.


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.