Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beyond the Classroom

The Museum got a spot of attention today in my homestate of Connecticut. The Westport Minuteman featured an article about Bridgeport educator Lisa Farrell who, inspired by the Anti-Defamation League's(ADL) "Echos and Reflections" curriculum, incorporated Holocaust education into her Language Arts classes which culminated in a trip the Museum. After studying the Holocaust all semester in class, the 32 eighth grade students visited the Museum, touring both the Core Exhibition and Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust . They were also able to meet with Lyubov Abramowicz, a member of the Museum Speaker's Bureau. This amazing woman spoke to the class about her own experiences as a resistance fighter in the Slonim ghetto and the Voroshilov Brigade.

Lisa Farrell goes on to say that the visit to the Museum allowed her students to "piece together everything they had studied." "The important learning," she says, "the things students will take away with them and remember long after they've left [school] are lessons like these."

Looking back at some of these posts, I thought a story like this was a refreshing juxtaposition to a disturbing article Betsy had blogged about a while ago about schoolbooks instilling intolerance in children. It is an honor to see that passionate, thoughtful educators and their students have made MJH a part of their dedication to learning and to making a positive change in the world.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shared Heritage

This past Friday, the HSAPs put on the program's annual "Heritage Presentation." This project provides a venue for the students to share their heritage, cultures, and traditions with each other and with the MJH staff. I have experienced two of these presentations and each time it has truly been a memorable experience. While we work closely with the students all summer, the Heritage Presentation brings to light a side of the interns we may not normally see. It also shows the indelible mark the Museum itself has left upon them-- so many times, students tell me 'I didn't think about my heritage as much until I became an HSAP' which, of course, gets me all verklempt.

This year's project, however, was unlike any of past years. Using the Museum's "Living Museum" model, the HSAPs curated their own Museum exhibition called Museum of Culture – A Tribute to Our Ancestors. Inspired by the way MJH presents Jewish history and culture through personal narratives and objects, HSAPs brought items from home that reflect their own cultures. Articles of traditional clothing, jewelry, books, and culturally significant family heirlooms were all displayed complete with informative and interesting text explaining the item. HSAPs were on hand to conduct tours of their exhibition, which also included a slide presentation of the students entitled "Cultural Supernova." After our tours, the staff was treated to storytelling, dancing, and singing performed by the interns. After proving to us how talented they are, the students let us know how compassionate they are by sharing their upcoming community service project, which will take place at Women in Need (WIN), a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Our HSAPs will go to the center to spend the day with children who have found a home at WIN, bringing with them donated school supplies. More to come on that story as it develops!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Open House for Discussion

As some of you may have read, last month the Spertus Museum in Chicago quickly closed Imaginary Coordinates, an exhibition that according to their website was "inspired by antique maps of the Holy Land in Spertus' collection. The exhibition juxtaposes these maps with modern and contemporary maps of this region, all of which assert boundaries." Apparently the exhibit caused an negative reaction from some of their donors and visitors -- hence the decision to close the exhibit early.
No one on our staff had the chance to see the exhibit, so we can't comment on what was presented or how it was conveyed. What interests us most are the questions that are being posed about the role of museums, especially Jewish museums in the community and in the arts world. Marilyn Henry wrote a comprehensive article for the Jerusalem Post about this subject in which she calls museums The Most Welcoming Jewish Spaces in the US for their ability to foster honest dialogue.

We're all for provocative subject matters and conversations, as long as they are respectfully thought out. As our director, David Marwell, says in the article "We have principles in the choices of what we do. It does you no good to alienate and distract."

The article also mentions our upcoming exhibit about the enigmatic Russian-Jewish writer Irène Némirovsky, which in other hands could potentially ruffle a couple of feathers. However, by approaching the topic with the utmost care for historical context, we are confident it will be a good jumping off point for many interesting in-depth discussions about the writer's complex life and time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Never Too Late to Remember

There is a very interesting article in The New York Times today about a new memorial to the victims of slavery. This "bench on the side of a road" is located in South Carolina, where 40 percent of slaves debarked from their ships. Toni Morrison, the wonderful writer, has spearheaded this project which will eventually include 10 benches in spots that have a significant connection to African American history. The design was chosen for its "simplicity and accessibility."

In a way, this bench project reminds me of the Museum's Garden of Stones for its sheer beauty, juxtaposition to nature, and ability to inspire contemplation.

I just hope that there will be an educational initative that goes along with the memorial. The best thing that a memorial can do is encourage visitors to learn more. If you are interested, a good place to start is the online exhibit of Slavery in New York, an amazing exhibit that took place at the New York Historical Society. I personally learned so much from this exhibit which tried to "rediscover the collective and personal experiences of Africans and African-Americans in New York City."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Take 'em downtown...

Generally speaking, people don't get too excited when their neighborhood is the scene of a crime. Residents are usually even less enthusiastic when this is the second such incident in the span of a month. The one exception, however, is when that crime scene is of the fabricated variety and featured on Law and Order.

Yes, Battery Park is once again hosting a Law and Order shoot, this time the Special Victims Unit will have to crack the case. We're not exactly sure what the episode will be about or when it will air (the Museum is sadly not hosting any part of this one) but we'll certainly keep you all posted. Betsy and I sought in vain to find the cast in action on our lunch break: we were a bit early, so we were only able to see the hardworking crews just beginning to set up. Our dreams of meeting Christopher Meloni or Mariska Hargitay were crushed, so it seemed only fair that we comfort ourselves with frozen yogurt from Flurt. Stabler and Benson would approve.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beyond Tolerance

There is a very interesting article on called, A Textbook Case of Intolerance. According to the writer, Anne Applebaum, text books and standardized tests in Saudi Arabia say that:

"Jews conspire to gain sole control of the world," that the Christian crusades never ended, and that on Judgment Day "the rocks or the trees" will call out to Muslims to kill Jews."

I haven't seen the text books and tests myself and hope that the study the reporter was writing about isn't correct. That said, like Ms. Applebaum, the Museum believes that what you learn as a young student will have an impact on who you become as an adult.

One of my favorite educational initiatives here at the Museum is called The Interfaith Living Museum. In a nutshell, it brings together Jewish school students with Islamic school students for a three month program during which they visit each others' schools, go to a mosque and a synagogue together, and get to know about each other's culture and heritage. The culmination of the project is a museum exhibition that the kids put together in which they display family artifacts related to their heritage. It is a wonderful and uplifting event (I was teary all night) that really does create a space for dialogue.

My colleague, Paul Radensky, who was instrumental in developing the program said it best: “The two faiths have a lot in common. We want to build mutual understanding and mutual respect between Muslims and Jews. It makes sense to start young.”

Forgive the long post, but I really can't say enough great things about this program. But don't take my word for it, read more about the students at the Islamic Leadership School and the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan who took part in the program in a Jewish Week article written by the very astute Doug Chandler. Or click here for more information about educational opportunities at the Museum.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This week, the Museum's Heritage Café obtained its liquor license. So in addition to the regular menu items, diners can now enjoy Baron Herzog wines, Amstel Light, and Samuel Adams. I think this is a particularly nice option for Wednesday evenings, when there are often performances, concerts, lectures, and screenings in Edmond J. Safra Hall. So before attending one of our public programs, you can share a glass of wine overlooking New York Harbor and the Garden of Stones with friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spare Time

The summer tends to be a little quieter for us which gives us the opportunity to plan ahead for the fall and sometimes to take a staff outing. Last night the Communications Department went bowling and for sushi.

As you may suspect, we should stick to figuring out where to advertise, which reporters to approach, and how to market our exhibitions and programs. Professional bowlers we are not, especially me.

I grew up in the Boston area where they only had candlepin bowling, which uses very small balls without holes in them (and smaller pins). I had no idea until I went to college that there was another kind of bowling. They even had candlepin bowling on local television stations on Saturday mornings. But it was great fun. And the sushi was excellent.

All in all, the Museum is a great place to work for many reasons including the always interesting challenges, and the very passionate people who work here. If you or someone you know is looking for a job, be sure to check our job opportunities page on a regular basis.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Overheard in the Galleries

As a staff member, one of the best parts about visiting the Museum galleries (when I am able to leave my desk) is being able to actually see and hear people's reactions to the exhibitions. One section I have found draws a very strong response, particularly from younger visitors, is Jews on the World Stage. The video montage of Jewish entertainers, writers, and artists is a highlight of the third floor.

I happened to be in the gallery the other day while a group of grade-schoolers was sitting watching the montage, in which the work of Steven Spielberg is represented by a clip from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Upon seeing lovable alien appear on the screen, a boy turned to me and excitedly squealed "E.T. was Jewish?"

It took everything I had to keep from laughing.

Friday, July 18, 2008

JDub 5th Anniversary Concert This Sunday

We are all about hip young Jewish aritsts here at the Museum (Exhibit A and Exhibit B). So when Betsy discovered that JDub Records was holding a 5th anniversary concert in Brooklyn this Sunday, July 20, we thought it was definitely worth mentioning.

The evening will take place at Prospect Park Brandshell (9th St & PPW entrace). Doors open at 4 p.m. and there is a $3 suggested donation, which is a really great deal. Hosted by Michael Showalter, the concert will begin with the Afro pop/Cantorial blues of Sway Machinery at 5 followed by Sephardic indie rock from Deleon at 6, Israeli hip-hop act Soulico with Sagol 59, Axum, and Onili at 7, and Yiddish-Gypsy folk rock from Golem at 8. Special guests include Jon Langford of the Mekons, Hungry March Band, and more.

So if you are looking for something to do this Sunday, definitely head on over to Brooklyn; it should be a great evening.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bilingual Broadway and Lower Manhattan

This seems to be a very good trend. When West Side Story returns to Broadway this February, it will be a bilingual production, in English and Spanish. Lest you think that this is just a ploy to sell more tickets, Arthur Laurents, the writer of the book of the musical and the director of the upcoming version, is very enthusiastic. He thinks it will ring more true.

I think it will introduce a new audience to a wonderful work about the dangers of intolerance and prejudice (a theme at the heart of what we do here, see our Meeting Hate with Humanity tour), and perhaps to a love of theater and the performing arts. Read the full article in the New York Times.

We have had great success here at the Museum with Sosúa, our first bilingual exhibition. Countless Spanish speakers have walked through our doors for the first time and learned about our shared history. We wish the Broadway production the same kind of luck. I also hope they make tickets affordable enough for students to attend.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The (High School) Apprentice-- You're Hired!

Every July, the Museum offices welcome some new faces for the summer: the High School Apprenticeship Program interns (HSAPs for short). From February to May, these students--who are chosen from New York City public schools--learn about Jewish heritage and the Holocaust through a series of bi-weekly after-school seminars. From July to mid-August, they not only give tours to young people visiting the Museum, but also work in a number of departments in one-week rotations.

I am the Communications department mentor (which we call "departmentor") and work with a student a week on a variety of tasks. Not only is it great to have someone there to help complete department projects, but it's also a lot of fun working one-on-one with the interns. They are all genuinely curious to learn and eager to take on new jobs and responsibilities. The students, who are from a variety of different backgrounds, all bring something unique to the table and it's great to watch them realize their potential as well as learn new skills. I'm continually impressed by what these teens are capable of.

(Pictured: This week's Communications HSAP, Shannon.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Daniel Pearl World Music Days Lineup Announced

Soulfarm and the Moshav Band team up for this year's Daniel Pearl Memorial concert on October 29, bringing together two of America's most popular Jewish contemporary bands. Inspired by their Jewish roots, these dynamic musicians will offer up their unique blends of rock, reggae, folk, funk, and soul for a great cause.

Daniel Pearl World Music Days was created in response to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl at the hands of extremists in Karachi, Pakistan. Danny’s family and friends came together to work towards a more humane world, forming the Daniel Pearl Foundation, whose mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue.

Last year the Museum presented three concerts of Idan Raichel and Friends in Songs for Peace: The Acoustic Series for the Daniel Pearl World Music Days, which take place all over the world. The concerts were great musically, and I'll admit that it was pretty nice for the female staff to see Idan around the Museum all that month....

Thanks to our co-sponsor for the upcoming concert: the Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Program, established to raise awareness of the Holocaust and to help prevent genocide. And more thanks goes out to Golden Land Concerts & Connections, Inc. for arranging everything with the artists.

If you are interested in learning more about Daniel Pearl, I highly recommend A Mighty Heart, a drama about his life and his wife's search for him, and At Home in the World, a collection of Daniel's essays for the Wall Street Journal.

Check back soon for tickets, which should be available on or around August 11.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Darfur-A Step in the Right Direction?

You may have read in The New York Times or elsewhere that the president of Sudan is being brought up on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Clearly something needs to be done to stop the genocide, but critics are saying this will delay the peace process. Last week 7 peacekeepers in the area were killed. It is becoming increasingly difficult for aid workers to do their difficult jobs. Many have been pulled out for their own safety.

As you can imagine, we at the Museum feel especially responsible for speaking out against genocide, wherever it is happening in the world.

Our Museum Director, David G. Marwell says on our website page devoted to social action:

“Visitors to our Core Exhibition are greeted by the biblical phrases ‘Remember, Never Forget’ and ‘There is Hope for your Future.' “They reflect ancient wisdom, and they guide us as an institution of education and memory. They explain why we must be vigilant and speak out about Human Rights violations — such as the situation in Darfur. Although it was unique and unprecedented, the Holocaust, when carefully studied, can reveal important universal lessons which can help to guide us as individuals and as a nation. It is our responsibility as an institution to educate all who walk through our doors — to teach about the past in the hope of improving the present and securing the future.”

Tell us what you think should and can be done.

And feel free to pass on this page to teachers and parents who may want to bring students to the Museum to learn about Darfur. We will continue to have special workshops for middle and high school students to help them make sense of the crisis.
At this point we have educated more than 1,300 students. You can read some of the letters they have written to children in Darfur. Our social action web page also has links to look up email and mailing addresses for your government officials and sample letters to get you started.
Thanks to Richard Levine for this beautiful image. One of his images is in our permanent collection as a reminder that genocide is still going on.

Religion and Politics in the News

With the election approaching, many people are thinking about what role faith should have in public life. Here is an article written by Jordana Horn, an always insightful religion reporter at the Wall Street Journal , that was inspired by Can there be a Prophetic Spirit in America Today?, a recent discussion at the Museum between Cornel West and Susannah Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter. Tell us your thoughts on the subject.

And while you're at it, come back to the Museum on September 17th for an in depth discussion of Religion and the 2008 election. It will be moderated by the Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn who is the founder and co-moderator of the Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith blog. Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism will also participate along with others to be announced. Thanks to the Interfaith Alliance and On Faith for co-sponsoring this event. Check back soon for more information.

Friday, July 11, 2008

MJH: A HopStop and a Jump Away

If you have spent any amount of time in New York City, you probably know that public transportation has a tendency to make some changes on the weekends. Subway trains skip stops, make extra stops, or just plain stop. This can make it challenging to get down to Lower Manhattan and its beautiful parks, waterside views, and (of course) museums.

Fortunately, there is, a site that gives subway, bus, or walking directions to anywhere in the City. The best part is that HopStop takes all changes into account, so you won't end up in Queens when you meant to go to South Ferry. In addition to directions, you can also see how long it will take and alternate routes. Needless to say, my life has gotten much easier since discovering this site; I use it several times a week. I hope this helps you spend less time figuring out what train to take and more time actually enjoying your weekend.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Emerging Artists Take the Stage

A presentation of young up-and-comers with talents that range from from music to fashion design, New York's Best Emerging Jewish Artists has been a crowd (and staff) favorite at the Museum for the past three years. Emerging has continually raised the bar for the next show; 2008 did not disappoint.

The evening began with klezmer/punk band Luminescent Orchestrii. While the audience didn't take up bassist Benjy on his suggestion to waltz in the aisles, one person in the crowd did give the band the English translation of a Yiddish song they had performed. (The group was happy to hear it: they had never been able to figure it out on their own.) Comedian Catie Lazarus served as the evening's emcee. She took the stage (and several of the many microphones) and gave some insights on parents, the Upper East Side, and eyebrow waxing. The show concluded with a fashion show by designer Levi Okunov, who draws inspiration from the Chassdic community in Brooklyn, where he grew up. The melding of styles-- hipster and Chassid--was as heartfelt and true as it was creative. (I particularly love the third coat from the right in the picture above.)

Audience members, including many of the Young Friends of the Museum (who co-sponsor the event annually) stayed to enjoy the after-party in the third floor reception area. The torrential downpour ended in enough time for everyone to enjoy the view of New York Harbor. It was a great end to a memorable evening.

Check out more of the evening's featured artists: Or Matias, Eve Lederman, and Pearl Gluck.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What We're Reading Now

The Museum staff book club is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , a fantastic, funny, heartbreaking, Pulitzer prize-winning book by Junot Diaz. I can't say enough nice things about the book, which is written in such an original voice. It’s of particular interest to us because it is about Dominican culture, which we have all learned more about by working on our Sosúa exhibition.

It even turns out that the author attended our Sosúa exhibit opening, although he arrived late and was very laid back and cool, so we had no idea. Read along with us and tell us what you think….

In the meantime, check out the author on the Colbert Report.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Addition to Sosúa Exhibition

As we're getting ready to close Sosúa: A Refuge for Jews in the Dominican Republic on August 5, we were fortunate enough to include a new artifact. Yesterday we installed the telephone switchboard from the DORSA administration building in Sosúa. This switchboard linked telephones in Sosúa and connected the community to the outside world via Puerto Plata.

While the switchboard was intended to be displayed in the exhibition earlier, there was some hold-up in getting it here because of conservation concerns. The tropical climate of the Dominican Republic is great for days on the beach, but proves challenging in preserving documents and artifacts. We're so glad we were able to get this piece cleaned up and on display.

To visit the Museum's Sosúa website, click here.

Dating Advice

A charming young man who took a young woman to see Spirit of Sepharad, a popular concert at the Museum last month, didn’t think to reserve tickets ahead of time. He arrived at the Museum to find out it was sold out.

Frantic, he approached a member of our staff. “You have to help me,” he said. “I’m on a first date. This is going to make me look bad.” We hear all sorts of stories when tickets are scarce, but this was a new one. The gentleman looked so earnest that the Museum staff member, took pity on him and said, “I’ll see what I can do, but you should always plan ahead for a first date.”

The story had a happy ending. The couple managed to get into the concert by putting their names on a wait list. Sometimes we get tickets turned back in by patrons, artists, etc. The moral of the story is to buy tickets ahead!

Monday, July 7, 2008

As Seen on TV

The Museum will be featured on an upcoming episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Chris Noth (Sex and the City's "Mr. Big") and Julianne Nicholson filmed a scene in the Museum’s reception area. (And here we thought breaking Carrie's heart was a full-time gig.)
Based on the set, our guess is that the episode is about a non-profit up to something less than philanthropic. It was very odd to see the fourth floor transformed but the whole staff is excited to see how it will look on-screen. As soon as we are made aware of an air-date we'll be sure to post it.

Fabulous views

The Museum is a great place to see artist Olafur Eliasson’s spectacular Waterfalls art project which runs through mid-October. The best view of the Governor Island waterfall is from the 3rd floor, next to Daring to Resist: Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust (extended through September 1). Better yet, come to the Museum this Wednesday night for the Third Annual New York's Best Emerging Jewish Artists and grab a drink on our terrace during the free afterparty.