Friday, October 31, 2008

Hubble Bubble Pardoned From Trouble

It's Halloween and, consequently, one of my favorite days of the year. There are some things that have become inexorably linked to this holiday: candy, costumes, watching It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and, of course, witches.

Modern culture has really taken the witch in interesting places. From the evil Wicked Witch of the West in the original Wizard of Oz to the Not-Really-Wicked-But-Misunderstood Witch of the West Elphaba in the book and play Wicked, it is clear that witches can take on any number of personas. Today, witches can be good, bad, cutesy, goofy, and cunning. But not so long ago, the term "witch" was not taken so lightly.

Here at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, we often talk about scapegoating. If one looks at the history of the witch, this term comes to the fore pretty quickly. In Europe, between approximately 1480 and 1700, between 40,000 and 100,000 women and men were put to death on the charge of witchcraft. Accusations often arose as a result of an unexplained natural phenomenon--such as a failed crop or sick livestock-- or simply out of the malicious desire to seek revenge on another person.

Today, campaigners will petition Justice Secretary Jack Straw to posthumously pardon the 2,400 women and men wrongfully put to death for witchcraft in England and Scotland before the Witchcraft Act put an end to the practice in 1735. (Read full article here.) These campaigners follow the example of Swiss groups who successfully urged the government to pardon Anna Goeldi, the last woman in Europe on record to be put to death for witchcraft in 1782. While such pardons are, of course, entirely symbolic, I think this gesture is an important one. Not only does it officially clear the names of innocent victims, but makes a stand against scapegoating and lets everyone know that this injustice has no place in today's society.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Okay, this time we mean it. The last few programs at the Museum have sold out. We don't want you, our loyal blog readers, to miss out.

Pretend we have the money for a Fandango-like television ad with a catchy tune and some paper-bag puppets that would remind you to buy your tickets ahead of time.

If you didn't make it to last night's Soulfarm and Moshav Band concert, you missed more than a high-energy jamfest, you missed what my colleague, Keika, called "a Museum of Jewish Heritage first," an audience member stage diving into a mosh pit. We don't recommend trying this at home, or at the Museum. Security guards stopped it before anyone could get hurt.

Our next program is the opening performance of our Music in Exile concert and lecture series on November 9. We can't promise (or condone) stage diving, but the music will be extraordinary.

In the meantime, we recommend Nextbook's new pop-culture take on the weekly Torah portion, Blessed Week Ever by Liel Liebovitz.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Discovering Your Roots

Today announced its partnership with two leading organizations committed to the preservation of Jewish heritage – Museum afflilate JewishGen, the world’s premier Jewish genealogy website, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an overseas humanitarian aid organization committed to providing relief for Jews in more than 70 countries.

The Museum first partnered with JewishGen on January 1, 2003. "We did so," said David Marwell at this morning's press conference, "because we knew that the whole of Jewish history is really the aggregate of individual Jewish family histories, and we knew that the Holocaust presented a seemingly insurmountable challenge to the study of Jewish family history. Jewish family trees were literally hacked apart by the Nazis. JewishGen... has always offered a powerful antidote to the challenges and obstacles presented by the tragic history of the last century."

These partnerships will make millions of important Jewish historical documents available on, many of which are online for the first time ever and searchable for free. These unique records, including photographs, immigration records, Holocaust records and memorials, can now be searched alongside other records already accessible on, creating the largest collection of Jewish family history records on the Web with more than 26 million records documenting Jewish life. This is a truly exciting alliance.

You can read more about this exciting new partnership here.

Also, be sure to keep abreast of what is going on in the world of JewishGen by visiting their blog, maintained (in part) our friend on the other side of the cubicle, Avrami.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jew-bilant Jams

Tomorrow night, the gents of Soulfarm and Moshav Band will appear at the Museum in a special one-night-only double-bill as part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days. Tickets are going fast, so be sure to get yours in advance and avoid the "at the door rush."

Below, please enjoy a sneak peak of  the funky, soulful, Jewish jams of Moshav Band...

and the equally soulful, funky, Jewish sounds of Soulfarm. Hope to see you tomorrow night!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The MJH Collection At Your Fingertips...

I am very pleased to announce that the Museum has launched a new site that allows you to view objects and photographs from our collection of almost 25,000 artifacts, some of which have never or rarely been on display. It's kind of like going to your grandmother's house and finding out that she not only has cool heirlooms on display in the living room, but she also has some you've never even seen tucked away in the attic.

You can conduct your own searches by typing in keywords, or if you're not the searching type but prefer to casually meander along, you can take a look at our exhibition highlights. Among these highlights, you will find the sculpture of a dog, photographed above. It was carved by Ansjel Liberman, a Polish Jew who emigrated from Warsaw, Poland to Paris, France in 1923. He and his family sold crafts like this on the streets of Paris in order to earn a living. To learn more about the donor, and what happened to Ansjel and his family, click here.

This site is truly a great resource. Visit often to explore new artifacts and expanded descriptions!

Friday, October 24, 2008

We're the Walk of the Town!

As Simchat Torah came to an end this past Wednesday, so too did the High Holy Days of 2008. So now that you're not prepping for the holidays, observing/celebrating the holidays, or recovering from the holidays,what is there to do? I'll take a page from my mother and suggest you go for a walk.
So where do you walk? City Walks: New York, which is put out by Chronicle Books, has a whole bunch of suggestions. I was recently informed that the Museum is now featured in this volume--I love walking tours, so I'm really excited MJH is part of one! The City Walks series is unique in that the books are geared toward locals but are tourist friendly, so they're perfect for seeing familiar places with new knowledge and fresh eyes. The tour on which the Museum is featured takes you around Lower Manhattan, visiting sites such as the National Museum of the American Indian, Castle Clinton, and Ground Zero among others.

Not from New York? Chronicle Books has a whole series devoted to walking tours that include locations around the globe. So happy trails this weekend, wherever they may be!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everyone's a Critic

While we were out for the holidays, The New York Times ran a review of our Woman of Letters exhibit. We've heard from a lot of friends, colleagues, reporters, family members, etc. who have all wanted to know what we, as the Communications Department, thought about the review. But I am more interested in knowing what YOU think. If you have seen the exhibit, read the review and tell us your thoughts on a special blog we created for visitors. I think the exhibit is a great jumping-off point for interesting conversation, so let's get the discussion going.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We're the Talk of the Town

Adam Gopnik wrote a really evocative article in this week's New Yorker about a special screening of Defiance (click here to watch a trailer) held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage for the descendants of the Bielski partisans. I was there and can tell you it was absolutely thrilling to watch the film with the children, grandchildren, and cousins of the Bielskis. While it was a special one-time-only event, as Jamie has mentioned before, you, too can see a special sneak preview of the film and attend a Q&A session with the incredibly talented director, Ed Zwick on November 23.

The catch is that you have to be a member of the Museum. If you are thinking about membership, I highly recommend it. Members receive invitations to special previews of exhibitions and special events, discount tickets to public programs, a discount at the gift shop, and of course, free admission. It is worth noting as the year draws to a close that membership donations are also 100 percent tax deductible (within the limits of the law).

We're off tomorrow and Wednesday for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, so we'll see you back on the blog on Thursday.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Apple A Day...

A couple days ago, Betsy sent me this story from It tells the incredible love story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat (pictured). As a teenager, Mr. Rosenblat was a prisoner in a German concentration camp. Roma lived with her family by posing as Christians in the same town. One day, the two saw one another through the barbed wire fence. Roma was filled emotion and did the only thing she could think to do--the threw one of the apples she was carrying over the fence. So began a 60+ year romance.
I don't want to give away the details, so I suggest you read it for yourselves. Let's just say, while a happy ending in no way minimizes the pain endured by anyone in such horrific times, it is uplifting to see good people find one another.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mama Mia! That's a Spicy New Museum!

From now on, I think it would make sense if I started all my blogs like so... "I was reading the New York Times the other day and I came across this article." Call me predictable, but it's proven a decent source of blogspiration.
Anyway, this particular article discusses the recently passed Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian-American heritage as well as the newly opened Italian American Museum, which really excites this Italian American girl (don't let my uber-Irish-sounding name fool you). Located in the heart of Little Italy, the new Museum is dedicated to exploring the rich cultural heritage of Italy and Italian Americans by presenting the individual and collective struggles and achievements of Italians and their heirs to the American way of life. By collecting, preserving, and interpreting tangible objects and reminiscences, the Italian American Museum displays notable contributions of Italians and Italian Americans to American culture.

A Museum dedicated to telling the story of a people through personal objects: sound familiar at all?

While each of these two cultures is distinct and unique, there are many similarities to be found between Jews and Italians, particularly when it comes to the Jewish American and Italian American experiences. Both groups saw their biggest wave of immigration in the same years (1880-1920) and settled largely on the Lower East Side of New York, albeit in different neighborhoods. Both faced discrimination based on religion and the perception of less recent immigrants that Jews and Italians were racially inferior. Both groups worked side by side in the same factories, particularly in making garments. And, of course, both Jews and Italians have left an indelible mark in this country's history--their vibrant and irrepresible cultures have enriched American culture for centuries.

We're happy to welcome another cultural museum in Downtown Manhattan. I can't wait to visit.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Announced: November-December Programs Now On Sale

You read it here first, the full November-December public program schedule for the Museum of Jewish Heritage was just announced. In addition to the wonderful Music in Exile concert and lecture series that we are co-presenting with the Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada, we have 12 other fascinating programs coming up in November and December.

I am especially excited about Fabrik, a puppet-drama (see photo: it's very moving and not at all creepy, think Julie Taymor) that got amazing reviews in its last incarnation (December 7); the annual Rosenblatt Forum which will discuss Jews in Arab Lands (November 16); and meeting Diane Ackerman who will be talking about her new book The Zookeeper's Wife (December 10), but that's just me. Check out the full schedule and buy your tickets early. Several of the programs are sure to be very popular.

We are closed tomorrow and Wednesday for Sukkot, but we'll be back on the blogosphere on Thursday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Missed "A Daughter's Discovery"? No You Didn't!

As many of you know, Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française opened on September 24th and was inaugurated, in a sense, with a discussion between Némirovsky's daughter, Denise Epstein and Suite Française translator Sandra Smith called A Daughter's Discovery. The women spoke to a packed house about the family's life before the war, Némirovsky's arrest, Denise and her sister Elisabeth's life in hiding, and life after the war.

If you were unable to make this fabulous discussion, whether for want of a ticket or for want of living in New York (international and cross-country readers, I'm looking at you!), you can now listen to the program online via podcast! The event is broken up into five parts for easy listening. On our podcasts page (linked above), you will also find other past programs, including Vladimir Feltsman's acclaimed version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Babi Yar Remembered: Yevtushenko and Shostakovich in Word and Song which premiered at the Museum in 2006.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You...

We've been noticing a proliferation of Holocaust movies lately. I'm thinking it's time of year--the serious epic films always come out in time for Oscar season. All of them look pretty interesting, so I thought it might be a good time to take a look.
Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which comes out November 14, tells the story of eight year old Bruno, the son of a Nazi commandant, and Shmuel, a concentration camp prisoner.The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by John Boyne, which sold over 3 million copies world-wide. Reviews haven't quite come out yet on this side of the pond, but the British press has proclaimed it "incredible", "powerful", and predicted that "it will emerge as one of the best films of 2008." I guess we'll have a chance to weigh in come November.
Based on the true story of the Bielski family partisan group, Defiance follows three brothers who take refuge during the Holocaust in the woods they have known since childhood. As whispers of their daring actions spread, they begin to attract men and women to the hidden forest compound, helping to keep faith alive when all humanity appears to be lost. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell star. The film will be released in theaters December 12, but if you want to see it early, you can come to a members-only screening at the Museum on Sunday, November 23 at 1 p.m. "But Jamie! How can I come to the members-only screening? I'm not a member!" You can become a member! Just contact my good friend Joe over in Membership! It's definitely a great investment--there are lots of exclusive events, previews, and benefits that you can take advantage of as an MJH member.
Inglorious Bastards, by Quentin Tarantino is not coming out until June 2009, but I thought it worthy of mentioning since it already has a lot of buzz around it (due in no small part to the fact that Brad Pitt's involvement in the film moved the entire Pitt-Jolie famille and half the world's paparazzi population to Europe). Inglorious Bastards follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. Brutal killings? In a Tarantino movie? Get outta town! (Okay, not so surprising, but casting Mike Meyers and The Office's B.J. Novak in a WWII film did certainly raise my eyebrow.)
So-- something to do over the next few months!
The blog will be back on Friday. The Museum and its offices are closed tomorrow in observance of Yom Kippur.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anne Frank's universal message

There is a beautiful story on JTA today about a Cambodian woman who survived the Khmer Rouge mass murders. She has since dedicated her life to documenting the genocide.

She first read Anne Frank's diary when she was 19. After studying in the Netherlands and visiting Holocaust memorials and death camps, she asked permission to translate the diary into Khemer, because it resonated so much with her. She hopes it will inspire other Cambodians to keep journals about their lives, which can help the healing process.

The book will soon be available in Laos also.

On a related note, we will be hosting the New York book launch for The Journal of Hélène Berr, another very moving diary written by a young girl during the Holocaust. The book is about a young woman who lived in occupied France during the war. Like Anne Frank, she did not live to see the end of the war. Ms. Berr's niece and translator will join us on November 19 for the public program. Check back soon for more information .

Monday, October 6, 2008

"And I think to myself: what a wonderful world..."

The Museum understands that part of tikkun olam (repair of the world) means making sure there's a world left to repair in the coming generations. At the end of September, MJH participated in the NYC Energy Curtailment Program during a peak hour of energy usage for the city. What this means is that we were entirely reliant upon the Museum's generator power to save as much energy as possible; our system operated flawlessly. As a result, the City will access the amount of energy saved and will compensate the winning organization with monetary compensation. We're not sure whether we have "won" this year (as we did last year... not that we brag...) but regardless of the end result, we're happy to do our part in keeping New York (and the planet) beautiful.
Pictured above, you will see the Museum's solar panel system which further illustrates our commitment to environmental tikkun olam. I have been fortunate enough to have been up to our roof to see these blue beauties (made of recycled computer chips) up close. Not only do they help provide the Museum with renewable energy (about 44,000 kWh/year), but it makes for what director David Marwell calls "the most beautiful roof in New York." While we cannot run exclusively on solar power, we're very proud to be among the institutions which support this technology as it continues to grow and improve. We hope to lead by example.

Friday, October 3, 2008

She's Back! The Intrepid Returns

After two years and an expensive makeover (she doesn't look a day over 50), our neighbor, the Intrepid has returned to Pier 86. On board for this trip were some veterans who had served on the Intrepid when it was still an active ship (she was commissioned in 1943). As you can imagine, we had a great view of her journey from Staten Island, as evidenced by a photo Abby took (seen here) which reminds me a little of one of the calmer Winslow Homer paintings.

The ship will reopen to the public on November 8. Read more about her on their museum's website. And while you're downtown, those who are interested in WWII history should be sure to stop by the nearby Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What We're Reading Now- While Skipping out on Book Club

As many of you know, we have a Museum of Jewish Heritage staff book club. Unfortunately in the midst of the hustle and bustle leading up to the Woman of Letters opening, Jamie and I did not get a chance to read this month's book, which is David Sedaris' When You are Engulfed in Flames. I hear that it is very funny.

However, if you are looking for something more serious, I highly recommend Father Patrick Desbois' book The Holocaust By Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews. I picked it up to prepare for the exhibit we will be opening in November about the fate of the Ukrainian Jews. I couldn't put it down. It is a really haunting account that I just couldn't get off my mind. Read more about Father Desbois in an article in the New York Times.

If you are interested in reading along next month, we will be reading Philip Roth's Indignation.