Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Holocaust on Film

The front of the arts section of the New York Times last Sunday featured a story by A.O. Scott called Never Forget. You're Reminded about the growing "trend" of Holocaust films. Perhaps I am too close to the subject matter of Holocaust remembrance because I work at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, but I was quite perturbed by the article which suggests that the Holocaust is now just another film genre like westerns and that we don't need so many films about the subject.

This is just my personal opinon, but I think there are many important reasons to continue to make films about the Holocaust. One is that survivors are dying every day. While we live in New York where there are many survivors who speak about their experiences to students and a museum devoted to teaching about the Holocaust, these films reach places that do not have either of these resources. And if they inspire people to learn about the Holocaust when they leave the theater, how is that a bad thing?

There are many other strong arguments for continuing to make and watch films about the Holocaust that I could go into, but I'd rather know what you think.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get Out Those 2009 Calendars...Again

A couple days ago, I gave everyone something to look forward to in the year to come. Did you think that was it? Oh no--the Museum of Jewish Heritage has even more programs to keep you busy in 2009...


On the 7th, we will hold a tribute to poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan in a multimedia presentation called Barbez: Force of Light. Spoken word poetry, video, and music (recently released by Tzadik) come together for a truly unique performance.

The following Sunday, the 11th, the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and actress/vocalist Bente Kahan will perform The Legacy Project: Echoes. Dorfman and Kahan, both children of survivors, honor their Eastern European Jewish heritage in this dance/live music/theater piece. This also marks the Museum's first dance performance--as a total ballet nerd, I'm pretty excited.

The last program in January (the 28th) is also musical: a newly discovered piece by renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn. In a very Bill and Ted way to look at history, Mendelssohn is probably best known for being "that guy who wrote the wedding march." Unfortunately, after his death at the age of 38, Mendelssohn's reputation was maligned by the notoriously anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner and his work was later banned by the Nazis. We're so happy to revive this talented composer's music and legacy.

On the 11th, New York Times columnist Randy Cohen will be at the Museum to discuss his unique job: answering questions on ethical dilemmas. This could be your chance to pose your own ethical issue!

Throughout history, images of nature have been infused in Jewish choral music. On the 22nd, join choirs from around the country as they perform songs in Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish, and English for Images of Nature in Jewish Choral Music.

The January/February programs end on the 25th, when a prestigious panel of writers, academics, and artists will come together to discuss photography as a means of provoking compassion or horror with Regarding the Pain of Others. Can images of artocities engender compassion or disent? Or does their ubiquity merely elicit a shudder before they are forgotten?

Tickets are not yet available for these programs, but I will certainly keep you up to date as to when they are. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holocaust by Bullets Now Open

Today marked the opening of the Museum's latest exhibition The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust by Bullets. Between 1941 and 1944, almost 1.5 million Jews were murdered when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Most were shot by mobile killing units consisting of German SS, army, police, and local collaborators. This exhibition presents the evidence, both physical and testimonial, gathered by Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois and his team from Yahad-In Unum. Interviews with Ukrainian bystanders and witnesses, together with photographs, artifacts, and text panels tell the chilling story of men, women, and children who were summarily executed near the places they lived, with their neighbors watching.

Created by the Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris last year, this exhibit is being presented for the first time in the United States and is the first exhibition that focuses on the Holocaust in Ukraine. Father Desbois spoke to a full house last night in Edmond J. Safra Hall. Meeting him at this morning's press breakfast was a real honor. Listening to him speak, you can hear how passionate he is in his mission to speak on behalf of victims whose tragic stories have not left the towns where they lived (and died) over 60 years ago. As he mentioned today, gathering testimony from those who know their fates and saw what happened is a "race against time." Many of the witnesses are elderly and have never told what they witnessed simply because no one had ever asked.

Holocaust by Bullets will be on display at the Museum until February 16.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jordana Waliszewski: Lipper Superstar

We're always proud of the incredible work of our Lippers. By speaking to middle and high school classrooms, these interns make a real impact in the lives of hundreds of kids throughout the Northeast. For some, hearing the Lipper speak is their first introduction to learning about the Holocaust or Jewish heritage.

One intern who has made an incredible impact on the community both here at the Museum and in her homestate of New Jersey is Jordana Waliszewski, a recent graduate of the International Studies major at Ramapo College. She brings a unique perspective to the program—she is a non-Jewish Pole who grew up 15 kilometers from Auschwitz. Her multiple trips to the death camp as a pre-teen motivated her not only to learn more, but to participate in the Lipper program in order to educate others. “All the other interns had preconceived notions about Polish people,” she said. “I was so happy to show them another side: young people who want to make a change.”

Recently, Jodana's unique story was presented in the Bergen Record. Click here to read the full article.

Jordana's determination to learn from this dark chapter in her country's history is a sentiment reflected in the upcoming film Inheritence, which is part of the PBS Point of View (POV) series. Inheritence is the story of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of mass murderer Amon Goeth, and documents Monika's return to Poland and her connection with Helen Jonas, a survivor who lived as a prisoner under Goeth's roof for nearly two years. While the screening of this film at the Museum is completely sold-out, you can still see it for yourselves on PBS on December 10th at 9 p.m., so set your TiVos. Check here for local listings.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Perfect Storm?

Sometimes it seems that Jamie is the "Page 6" editor of the blog. She tends to blog about fun, gossipy, items while I tend to write about more serious hard-hitting stories. You'll have to forgive me because today is no exception.

I am utterly dismayed to read that by many accounts hate crimes are on the rise since the election. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups and crimes says that hundreds of bias incidents have taken place in the last few weeks (seen here: their map of active hate groups from 2007). Their director calls it a "Perfect Storm" because of the unemployment rate, the election, and the rise in immigration. As someone who works at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, it is hard not to think about another time in history when there was a financial crisis and the disenfranchised were looking for scapegoats.

Luckily, that's why we are here. To remind, to remember, and to educate. Bring family, friends, and especially students to the Museum to take a tour or to hear Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences.

And if you witness a hate crime or evidence of a hate group forming, report it to the police, the ADL, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Young Friends Hanukkah Party: We'd Love You to MaccaBEe There

Hanukkah begins this year on December 21st-- time to start thinking of some plans! I'm sure many of our readers are planning a day with their families, maybe a day with their friends. But maybe you don't have plans or (gasp) aren't planning to do anything at all! Unacceptable!

On Thursday, December 18th (okay, not yet technically Hanukkah, but we like to get a head-start on things over here), join the Young Friends of the Museum as they hold their 8th Annual Hanukkah Celebration at the Museum. In addition to cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a panoramic view of New York Harbor, the evening, co-chaired by Joshua Garay, Jonathan More, and Danielle Sarna, will include entertainment a raffle with a chance to win beautiful Lyric and Iridesse jewelry, premium seats at Knicks and Rangers Games, a Christian Lacroix purse and much more.

Advance tickets are $75 for members and $95 for non-members. As a special holiday offer, Young Friends Membership and a Hanukkah Celebration ticket may be purchased together for $125. All tickets are an additional $10 at the door, so why not go ahead and just purchase them here and now?

For more information, including sponsorship opportunities, contact Rachel, my pal over the cubicle wall.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Japanese Americans During World War II

I'd like to introduce our guest blogger, Keika, who was kind enough to write down her thoughts about a really interesting program she attended over the weekend.

When I was in my high school history class, I used to sink into my chair whenever the topic of Japan in World War II would come up. The Japanese government committed unimaginable atrocities in that period of history. As a second generation Japanese-American, how could I ever be proud of my heritage?

Some of that burden was lifted this weekend when I learned about another aspect of WWII history – the Japanese-American experience. This past Saturday, I had the rare opportunity to attend a program organized by the Japanese American Citizen’s League (New York Division). The program brought together Japanese immigrants (first generation Japanese) and Japanese-Americans (second to third generation) in the tri-state area for a screening of a documentary, which aired in 1994, called “Japanese American Soldiers: For Whom Did They Fight For?” and a panel discussion including Japanese-American veterans who fought in WWII and victims of the Japanese internment camps.

I learned that although most Japanese-Americans were forced into camps in the early 1940s, many second generation Japanese-Americans enlisted in the U.S. Army and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). I know that it must have been difficult for them to fight when they knew that their families were being forcibly interned in camps by their own nation, yet they fought with loyalty and courage. I read in a New York Times article that the 442nd RCT suffered some of the greatest casualties during WWII, but they also became one of the most decorated units, totaling in about 18,000 individual awards. Another interesting thing I learned from the documentary is that scouts from the 522nd battalion (a part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team) were among the first Allied troops to liberate Dachau concentration camp (80% of the prisoners of whom were Jewish). For many years, this was not public knowledge.

This documentary made me think of one of the Museum of Jewish Heritage's past special exhibitions, Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War , which is now a traveling exhibition. Although both are from very different cultures, Japanese American and Jewish American soldiers share something – both fought for a nation that they loved and were proud of. I realized how important it is for each of us to learn about and be proud of our heritage and to learn about the shared history of different cultures.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Next year in... the Museum!

"So how far out do you guys plan all the fabulous programs that go on in Edmond J. Safra Hall?" I imagine you all ask this question daily. (Okay, I'm sure you don't. Humor me.) The truth is it takes months of planning to get everything together for you. The result is, of course, thought-provoking and artistically diverse presentations, such as yesterday's sold-out Rosenblatt Forum or last week's classical concerts, Music in Exile.

We are currently working on the production of our January-February calendar right now. I figured the first people to hear about some upcoming programs should be our loyal blog readers. Here are some of the programs you can expect in 2009*...

Public Programs that further explore themes and context of the ongoing Woman of Letters exhibit with a series of French films curated by Prof. Dudley Andrew of Yale. Films include David Golder, Les Jeux Interdits, Lacombe, Lucien, and Monsieur Klein. Special guests will present the context of these compelling movies and follow-up with post-screening Q&A sessions.

A program entitled Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders will be held in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Author Eric Etheridge and Freedom Riders Al Gordon, Joan Pleune, and Hezekia Watkins will discuss the spring and summer of 1961 and the hundreds of people (many Jewish) who converged on Jackson, Mississippi to challenge state segregation laws. This event will also include performances by Neshama Carlebach and the Green Pastures Baptist Choir.
In February, the Yuval Ron Ensemble will present The Lost Soul of Spain: Music and Dance of the Sephardic Jews. Featuring Hebrew and Ladino songs from Morocco, Andalusia, Bosnia, and Israel, this concert will be performed for the King of Morocco at the 2009 International Sacred Music of Fez. So the Museum presentation is actually a rare opportunity to see this before the King does! See: we treat you like royalty!

*More details will, of course, follow as the dates draw nearer!

Friday, November 14, 2008

When a Bestseller Comes Too Late

There is an interesting story on NPR called The Making of a Posthumous Bestseller. It focuses on Stieg Larsson's mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, which has created a lot of buzz, but too late for the author to enjoy his success. While NPR is most interested in how the publisher faces the challenges of promoting the work of an author who is no longer alive, the story puts me in mind of Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française.

We learned this week at a Salon discussion with Olivier Philipponat, one of Irène's biographers, that she planned on working on Suite Française from 1941 through 1945. For those who have read her posthumous work, I am sure that like me you had many questions about how it would continue and end (even if you have read the notes and outlines in her manuscript which is on display at the museum both physically and digitally).

One question that came up at the Salon talk was why there were no Jews in Suite Française. While I had assumed that it was because Irène and her family were the only Jews in Issy, where she was writing, and that she wrote in great detail about what she saw, Olivier Philipponat suggested that it would be too dangerous to write about Jews in that time and that no one would publish a work about Jews in war-time France.

We can only wonder about what she would have written and how she would have revised had she lived through 1945 and beyond. Luckily, we will have more insight into her writing and her life in coming years. Philipponat's book will be translated into English, as will many of Irène's earlier works. In the meantime, be sure to visit the exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and listen to her daughter, Denise Epstein, via podcast on our site.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten

We were saddened this morning to read of the passing of the Reverend Abraham L. Woods Jr., a leader of the Civil Rights movement. A friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. (and one of the men standing behind him during his "I Had A Dream" speech), Rev. Woods fought for equality his entire life: from organizing voter registration drives in Alabama in the 1950s to protesting continued segregation of country clubs as late as the 1990s. He only just retired as the Birmingham chapter president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 2006 at 78 years old.

One of his 18 grandchildren shared with The New York Times  that Rev. Woods was moved to see America elect its first African American president saying, “If I could wake up Martin, Coretta, Rosa...I would tell them that my son Barack made it.”

Historically, the participation of the Jewish community in the Civil Rights movement has been significant. In March of next year, the Museum will examine the relationship between the black and Jewish communities in  From Swastika to Jim Crow. This exhibit will tell the story of how Jewish academics, fleeing persecution in Europe in the 1930s, found positions at the historically black colleges and universities in the Jim Crow south.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Music in Exile: Reviewed!

Today, you will find a review of the Museum's ongoing classical music series Music in Exile in The New York Times. (We may have mentioned it once or twice...) We're very pleased with Allan Kozinn's review. The series runs through Thursday, so if you haven't, come down and tell us what you think.

Remembering Veterans, The Next Day

The following is from special guest blogger Abby Spilka.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. When our exhibition Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War was open to the public, we invited veterans to visit the Museum for free on Veterans Day. The exhibition was open from Nov. 11, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2006, and during those years we welcomed a few hundred veterans on Nov. 11. Yesterday, a veteran came to the Museum and asked if admission was free for him for the day.

I was distracted by a few different projects when this question was posed to me. Technically, the answer was no. I explained that it hadn't been free since we closed Ours To Fight For almost two years ago. While this is relevant history, it was not helpful or friendly information for the visitor. I will discuss the possibility of making Veterans Day free for veterans in perpetuity, especially as we continue to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the course of my life I strive to be an empathetic person, but I failed in that role yesterday. I could have been more considerate, I could have spoken to the man myself. Most of all I regret that I did not take the time to thank him for his service to the country or for visiting MJH on this day of remembrance.
I vow to do better.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Father the Spy

"I know less about my father in many respects than you know about your fifth-grade teacher," says Robin Oggins in a recent New York Times article. He is not speaking in poetically angsty or Freudian terms. Robin's father, Isaiah "Cy" Oggins (pictured), was a Soviet spy whose missions took him from Paris, to Berlin and Manchuria to Moscow. Ultimately, his loyalty to Communism was betrayed; he was sentenced to 8 years in an arctic gulag and murdered in 1947.

Cy's story is now the subject of The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service by Andrew Meier, who worked with Robin Oggins to uncover the long-hidden truth about what really happened. Robin was ambivalent at first "When you've got what other people might regard as a secret you kind of evaluate: do you want to find out the truth at the expense of having the secret out there, or do you want to put the lid back on it as it has been all these years?" But his historian's nature as well as his longing to learn more about his father, urged him forward.

Andrew Meier will discuss this incredible story on Wednesday, December 3 at the Museum.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Overheard at the Concert

Yesterday afternoon, the Music in Exile series opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The ARC ensemble was so good that one audience member was overheard saying that the concert was "like listening to a Picasso painting." A local reporter said that after the concert she ran out and bought the ensemble's Grammy nominated album, On the Threshold of Hope: The Chamber Music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and has listened to it already. But don't take our word for it. The series continues through Thursday. Hope to see you there.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

A beautiful story comes to us today from the Cincinnati Enquirer about a rare klezmer violin. This violin- with an inlaid, mother of pearl star of David-is one of the few of its kind that survived the Holocaust and one of 16 restored by Tel Aviv violin master Amnon Weinstein. These instruments will will be heard for the first time in the United States and for one of the first times since the war in a program to commemorate 70 years since Kristallnacht in Ohio. As a Museum, we are obviously very aware of the power an object has to convey all too human stories. The things we keep, especially those we intend to survive ourselves, give us a glimpse into the life of the owner: his or her values, traditions, culture, and personality. To quote a great film: we are just passing through history, but this is history.

This moving story made me think of the Museum's upcoming classical music series Music in Exile. These concerts and lectures explore the works and context of composers who fled Germany during the 1930s and those who stayed behind, resisted the Third Reich and became "internal exiles." As with the klezmer violins, many of the performances at the Museum will be the first of these works in modern times. To be able to bring back these incredible works and to remember those who suffered and struggled to create art in a time of such sorrow is truly an honor. The series will begin this Sunday, November 9 at 2:30 p.m. and continues until Thursday, November 13. For more information on the series, the performers, and tickets, click the link above.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is it Just Us?

Now that the election is over, we have time to catch up on other news. There is a very moving story in the Telegraph about Hélène Berr, whose rediscovered journal is now an international besteller (we'll be having the NYC book launch here on November 19, which will include a discussion with her niece. Join us!). I think it is wonderful to have such a compelling and well-written narrative of occupied France available, but I can't help but be a little put off by the moniker of "the French Anne Frank," as some people are calling her (not the publishers, read more about her on their site).

The reasons why Anne Frank and Hélène Berr's accounts are so important and moving are that they were unique individuals, not prototypes. Their thoughts, along with survivor testimony, helps us to understand that six million is more than just a number. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, brothers, and friends were lost. Shouldn't we stop using Anne Frank as an adjective and a marketing tool?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Interview with Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan is an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions. A fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy and Middle East Analyst for CBS News, Aslan is the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War, which will be released in April 2009. Aslan was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about Jews living in Islamic lands. He will appear at the Museum's annual Rosenblatt Forum on Sunday, November 16th.

Jamie Kenney (JK): In 1945, there were approximately 800,000 Jews living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 7,000. What do you predict the future holds for these communities?

Reza Aslan (RA): It depends on whether you are talking about the Arab world or the Middle East. The largest Jewish community in the Middle East lives in Iran and quite comfortable, as a matter of fact. Most Iranian Jews would say their national and religious identities coexist in a comfortable way. The future demographics in that region in regard to Jewish populations, however, will look more like Israel and Palestine: there’s this polarity right now and until that conflict can be settled in a way that seems just to both sides, it’s hard to see how these things will improve. It’s the elephant in the room that has to be dealt with. But to see these two communities as intrinsically at odds as a result of centuries old religious hatred is false. It’s historically inaccurate. What we see as Anti-Semitism in the Arab world is borrowed from Europe. It’s a result of the same processes of nationalism that has led to conflict and war that we have seen between ethnic and cultural groups around the world. What is happening between Jews and Muslims is part of the same phenomenon between India and Pakistan, in the former Yugoslavia, and between Pakistan and Bangladesh. It’s a conflict of identity more so than religion… [though] religion is part of one’s identity, so it’s inseparable.

JK: What should Muslims and Jews know about one another?

RA: They are the same people. They come from the same people, they have the so many historical, mythical, cultural, and religious commonalities. What we think of as Islam today was so much openly absorbed from Judaism—unapologetically. So many of those commonalities have been brushed aside and replaced with conflicting conceptions of nationalism and this 20th century identity formation.
JK: Your book No god but God talks about Islamic Reformation--young people worldwide “reinterpreting” Islam. Does this offer new opportunities for Muslims and Jews?

RA: By definition, if you are taking away authority from where it has rested for centuries, you are promoting innovation. But because there isn’t a single centralize authority, you have a cacophony of voices, and some are going to be louder than others. There’s no value judgment in this, it’s inevitable. How one figures out which voices are going to dominate and what the future may hold depends not just on the actions of young Muslims themselves, but the social context in which they live. Right now, for instance, the war on terror has really taken away the voice of the more moderate movements within the Muslim world. It’s hard to talk about democracy when democracy means chaos and hypocrisy. Western powers have a far greater role to play in the future of Islam, but not in the way they have had. The west has no role in Islam’s internal changes, but it has a role in the platform and addressing its grievances.

JK: You work with a great group called Abraham’s Vision; could you talk a little bit about that?

RA: So many groups try to bring Muslims and Jews together, particularly with young people. [These groups] try to create a sense of unity and cooperation. What is unique about what we do is take these people and put them in intentionally uncomfortable situations. Rather than go to Jerusalem we go to Bosnia, to show where these kinds of conflicts and sentiments can lead. It’s incredibly moving for these kids. The second part of this is the community programs where we do after school-programs [across the country] at Jewish schools to teach about Islam and Muslim schools to teach about Judaism. It's a great program.

JK: What issues will you address at the Rosenblatt Forum?

RA: Part of what I am going to talk about is to delve a little bit deeper into the historical relationship and even the mythic relationship between these two people. What we have been witnessing in the past half century is an exception to the historical rule, and there is a hope that as the political situation becomes clearer and people become more comfortable with it those relationships can revert to a place of cooperation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Don't think about an Elephant or a Donkey

Our staff is trying to focus on work today and not on the election. It's no easy task. We voted (have you?) and now all we can do is wait for the results.

In the meantime, here are some things to look forward to after the election, regardless of the outcome.

Kate Winslet is starring in the film version of The Reader, a fantastic book by Bernhard Schlink about a former SS guard who is on trial for war crimes. It is a case of art imitating art as Winslet had a guest appearance on the show Extras as herself. In the episode she was doing a WWII film so that she could win an Oscar. We wish her luck in that pursuit. The film opens December 10.

On a related note, we will be showing a documentary about a real woman who had to come to terms with her family's history. Inheritance is the story of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of Nazi leader Amon Goeth. We will screen it on December 1. Monika, the director, and Helen Jonas, a Holocaust survivor who was enslaved under Goeth's roof, will discuss the film after the screening. And the best part is that the screening is free (reservations strongly suggested). Now that is something both parties can get behind.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Indignant Jellyfish

To keep our lovely blog readers abreast of what's going on with the staff, I thought I would let you know about our Book and Film Club picks for this month. Please feel free to read and watch and "join" us through blog comments.

The Book Club (which meets on November 13) is reading Indignation, the latest book from Philip Roth. It is the story of Marcus Messner, a straight-A kosher butcher's son from Newark, New Jersey. The threat of Marcus being drafted to Korea looms large over the lives of the Messners: so much so that Marcus' father goes literally insane with worry, driving his son to Ohio to escape his controlling grasp. At the conservative Winesburg College, Marcus encounters people and experiences unlike those of his Jewish community in New Jersey. From the provocative Olivia Hutton, to the tradition-oriented Dean of Students, the characters (and Marcus' perception of them) paint a very vivid picture of a specific time and place in America.

The Film Club will meet on November 25 has picked Jellyfish for this month's movie of choice.Jellyfish got rave reviews at the 2007 Israeli Film Festival. It follows the story of three women in Tel Aviv: Batya, a waitress at weddings and a mute child who seemingly emerges out of the sea; Keren, a bride whose wedding Batya worked at; and Joy, a Filipino domestic, who stuggles to communicate with her employer.

Read or seen either of them? Let us know what you think. If you haven't, it's not too late! Read, watch, and give us your opinion!