Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of An Era

We just wanted to wish our chairman, Robert M. Morgenthau, good luck on his retirement from the position of Manhattan D.A. This week marks his last in office after 35 years. It is truly the end of an era. We know him well enough to know that he will not be fully retiring from public service and public life, and we hope he spends some of his new-found spare time here with us.

Click here to hear his “exit interview” on WNYC.
Photo by Melanie Einzig

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decade in Review

Whether you believe that the decade ends in one day or in a year and one day, who can resist the opportunity to review the past 10 years? We’ll leave the big picture stuff to the experts while we focus on the past 10 at MJH.
· 1999: Expansion plans for new wing announced.
· 2000: David G. Marwell joins the staff as our fearless director; we welcome the 100,000th student visitor; Oprah Winfrey interviews Elie Wiesel here for November issue of “O.”
· 2001: Museum begins building its new wing November 26, making it the first new construction project to begin downtown post-9/11.
· 2002: To Life: 36 Stories of Memory and Hope, the Museum’s first publication, is published by Bulfinch; Yahrzeit: September 11 Observed opens.
· 2003: JewishGen becomes an affiliate of the Museum; Robert Morgenthau Wing opens on September 15.
· 2004: Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War is named the grand-prize winner of the Excellence in Exhibition Competition by the AAM.
· 2005: Claude Lanzmann, director of epic film Shoah, joins us to present his film.
· 2006: - The Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim, Poland gives the Museum a global presence; world premiere of Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” for two pianos is performed by Misha and Cipa Dichter.
· 2007: Museum introduces Darfur workshop teaching students about genocide; we open our first bi-lingual exhibition; we celebrate 10 years of serving the public and welcome the 1 millionth visitor.
· 2008: Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust is honored by the AAM.
· 2009: The Keeping History Center opens, integrating state-of-the-art technology and our phenomenal view.
You must have your own highlights of the past 10 years. Post your comments and reminisce with us.
(Photo by David Sundberg, 1999)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Kwanzaa

We wanted to wish all those who are celebrating Kwanzaa this week a meaningful holiday, and also to let you know about a day-long celebration at the African Burial Ground National Memorial downtown. The day will be celebrated with family programs, arts and crafts, music, and dance. The commemoration is free, but reservations are required.

Another great way to learn about African American heritage this week is through a visit to our Museum’s exhibition Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. We’re open all week (except Saturday), including New Year’s Day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Hours

We wanted to wish you all a Chag Sameach (happy holiday), whether your holiday is just beginning or whether you have finally finished the last of the latkes. Please note that we are open regular hours today (10 a.m.-8 p.m.). Tomorrow we will close at 5 p.m. Friday we are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please stop by, or call the box office for tickets (646.437.4202) to hear Josh Nelson and his Kosher Gospel choir.
*Photo: Battery Park City in the winter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Garden of Stones in Snow

The weekend snow inspired me to run to “Timekeeper,” the new virtual exploration of Andy Goldsworthy’s Garden of Stones, to see how the storm was captured on camera. For those of you who haven’t used the spin browser for yourself, you can watch images of the Garden through time lapse photography. So when the snow began at 1:32 on Saturday afternoon, the camera picked up each flake as it alighted on to a stone. As the wind picked up, each hour brought a new layer of white, and at 1 a.m. there were so many flakes that the camera became a shimmering prism through which you could view the Garden. By the time I arrived at work on Monday, the Garden was enveloped in white, yet the boulders themselves were bare. The Garden lay undisturbed in its winter beauty.

If you want to see the Garden Monday through Friday, but can’t swing a visit downtown, be sure to check out the daily photo on the Garden site. I have no doubt that we will be treated to more winter scenes like this one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mah Jongg Memories

We are very happy to announce that the Museum of Jewish Heritage is creating an exhibition exploring the traditions, history, and meanings of the game of mah jongg in Jewish-American culture. Crack, Bam, Dot! Mah Jongg in Jewish-American Life will be on view May 2 through December 2010.

If you are as big a fan of the game as we are, you are probably asking how you can help. Good news! The project team is seeking to interview men and women about their memories and experiences playing or observing the game. They are also looking for photos of people playing mah jongg. The Museum may use the materials in the exhibition or on the exhibition’s website. If you have photos to loan or memories to share, please contact In the meantime, we wish you many happy games in the new year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Czech out this Menorah!

Last night marked the first Hanukkah party hosted by President Obama and the First Lady. There were a lot of stories about how the White House kitchen was koshered for the occasion, the size of the invitation list, was it smaller or larger than in past administrations, and frankly a lot of material that could only be manufactured in the nation’s capital. What interested me, however, was the menorah that was lit at the party. It came from our colleagues at The Jewish Museum in Prague. The menorah was loaned on the basis of a request from First Lady Michelle Obama, who visited Prague’s Jewish Town (the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue and Pinkas Synagogue) in April during an official visit to Prague by President Barack Obama.

According to the museum’s press release, the menorah dates from 1873, and is the work of the Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger; it was originally most likely dedicated to the congregation in Prostějov. Like other Judaica stolen from Jewish communities and sent to Prague by the Nazis, this menorah was miraculously saved and put in the Jewish Museum’s collection.

On Wednesday night, it was lit by the children of Scott Moran, Commander of the U.S. Navy who is stationed in Iraq, and their mom, Allison Buckholtz. No word on dreidel winnings or amount of latkes consumed.

Note: The White House Hanukkah candle-lighting was not open to the press, but official photos were released soon after. This one is taken by Samantha Appleton.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reasons to Love New York, 2009 Edition

Once again, New York Magazine came out with their Reasons to Love New York issue. We enjoyed coming up with our own reasons so much last year, that we thought we would try to come up with some new ones.

From Abby:
Being able to enjoy wine at dinner in a restaurant and not having to worry about driving home.

Purchasing coffee at a cart from a total stranger, yet mysteriously pining for him when he is not there.

The Brooklyn Bridge – utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing.

From Keika:
Even the average New Yorker knows some Yiddish.

From Lisa:
Mom and Pop stores can still survive and even thrive here despite the big chain stores.
Being able to order Uzbekistani food on the Upper West Side

And here are my thoughts:
NY 1, especially Pat Kiernan.
There is so much to do on any given day, even on December 25 if you are Jewish. Yes, you can go to the movies or out for Chinese food, or you could go to a Museum, to a concert, or both.
The gas lights and brownstones on my street remind me of Henry James, Edith Wharton, and all the other great literary works that are set here.
Tell us your reasons for putting up with the high rents, the small spaces, and the cold weather.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Twilight of the Jewish Vampires

Rabbi David Wolpe’s article last week in the Jewish Journal, Five Reasons Vampires Aren’t Jews is as illuminating as it is amusing. I highly recommend reading it, especially if you find Edward's behavior in New Moon as annoying as I do.

In response to Rabbi Wolpe, I’ve compiled some good news for all the Team Jacob fans out there. While in the Twilight saga, werewolves are of an altogether different tribe, I believe they share more in common with Jews.

They are born into the tribe. It is important that the tribe’s history is passed on from generation to generation (L’dor V’dor). They become a (wolf) man at the same time they come of age. That is when they are responsible for their families and their community (much like a bar mitzvah). Finally, the werewolves believe in bashert. Werewolves “imprint” once they meet their soul mate, the person they are meant to be with forever.

Let us know what you think about this important topic...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Hanukkah

As the song says, the weather outside is truly frightful, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying Hanukkah and all the city has to offer. Downtown, we are especially excited about the opening of the ice skating rink at Battery Park City.

If you’d rather stay warm and toasty inside, I can highly recommend my favorite latke recipe. Yes, it is true that they are actually not from a famous Jewish cook, or even from my grandmother (who preferred to make frozen latkes, I don’t know why). Interestingly, these delicious Parmesan, basil potato pancakes are from the kitchen of Giada De Laurentis. Apparently she was a private chef for a Jewish family and created the recipe for them one Hanukkah. While my Hanukkahs are always dairy events (bring on the sour cream!), you can eliminate the Parmesan and still make a tasty dish with the garlic, basil, and onion.

From our kitchens and offices to yours, have a Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

“Is It Getting Hot in Here?”

When I was in high school, I was on the debate team, and the topic my sophomore year was whether sex education should be taught in high school. My partner Mike Nelson and I wrote our briefs using research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a fine institution promoting sexual health. None of that research prepared me for an evening of “Sexually Speaking with Dr. Ruth.”

After a sexceptional, sextraordinary, and sextremely funny introduction by David Marwell, Dr. Ruth was joined by fearless colleagues Jamie Kenney and Peter Mones who posed the questions to her. Readers of the blog will know that we have been soliciting questions to ask the unflappable Dr. Ruth for two months now. Topics ranged from the proposed coed rooms at Columbia dorms to the downside of hooking up. Dr. Ruth, self-described as “old-fashioned and a square,” believes firmly that people need to know and like one another before jumping into bed together.

She also dispensed advice about how busy, overworked, and preoccupied couples can still make time for sex. “Put all of your worries in a box and leave them outside the bedroom. They will still be there when you’re done. No one is going to take them.” There were clinical questions, humorous questions, questions about size, and questions about the effectiveness of toys the names of which I can’t even type without blushing, although Jamie was able to ask the question with nary a titter.

Dr. Ruth weaved Torah into her responses about sexuality, and left no one to guess how she felt about circumcised penises. She kept the tone light and informative. Of all the sexual organs and sexual responses discussed last night, the brain was talked about almost as much as orgasms.
For those few questions that Jamie and Peter didn’t get to ask, you should know that Dr. Ruth took all the questions with her for possible inclusion in future books. She just signed three new contracts at the Frankfurt Book Fair and she has a new iPhone App, called the iRuth.

Dr. Ruth signed books last night and left at about 8:30. I left shortly thereafter. I often bring work home, and I have to say that last night my husband didn’t object to my bringing work home at all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

January and February Programs Now on Sale

As winter approaches, we’re happy to give you another reason to come out from the cold. This January and February, we have plenty of public programs to keep you busy and warm. Whether your interests are in film, music, writing, history, or all of the above, you’ll want to check out the schedule and purchase your tickets early (and often).

* The Afro-Semitic Experience will be perfoming a special Martin Luther King Day concert on January 17.

Monday, December 7, 2009

She said, "Yes!"

Two weeks ago we wrote about the L&O (CI) filming and described the range of events that take place in our spaces, and on Thursday our little old board room was the site of another special event: Jeremy Rauch proposed to Rebecca Stern. Because we are discreet and not like those other gossipy blogs, (the couple should be able to tell friends and family themselves) we will offer these highlights:

Jeremy’s childhood friend Yossi Faber and his fiancée Sarah Gross arrived early to stage the room with a gorgeous bouquet of red roses, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, and other festive accoutrements. They hid in our office kitchen while Jeremy and Rebecca, who had just toured the Museum, came to the 4th floor.

Yaffa in Operations arranged the magical event with Jeremy who had looked at our website after his father remarked what a beautiful location this neighborhood happens to be.

The staff could barely contain themselves waiting for the couple to come out. And when they did we all erupted in cheers of Mazel Tov and great applause. Ivy observed that the Museum is now part of their family history. They will bring their children to see where they became engaged, and the Museum will be part of a loving memory for generations. All in all, a rather unusual and happy ending to an ordinary Thursday.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hanukkah Party Time

This post is from Rachel Weiss, Assistant Director for Young Leadership and Donor Relations. I asked her to fill us in on next week's huge Hanukkah party. It is truly not to be missed.

We know that all of you are as excited about Hanukkah being around the corner as we are, and that you are looking forward to all the fun festivities! Well, good news for those of you mulling over your many party options…..we have the BEST Hanukkah Party in town right here at the Museum in our beautiful events hall.

Next week on Thursday, December 10th from 8-12 come join the Young Friends and nearly 500 young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s to celebrate the Festival of Lights at our Young Friends Annual Hanukkah Party! Don’t miss our live DJ, dancing, open bar, delicious hors d’oeuvres, and amazing raffle prizes. (Editor's note: Think Prada and Jimmy Choo bags, Knicks floor tickets, and more) And on top of all that, go home with a great gift bag filled with Hanukkah goodies. If you’re thinking about what to get that special someone for Hanukkah – look no further – bring them to this classy cocktail party for a night on the town (Editor's note: or come to meet a new special someone, you never know). Hope to see you next week!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Public Service Announcement

Ivy received an e-mail yesterday from the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, letting her know that the office “values the cultural community’s commitment to emergency preparedness and response.” Besides offering the compliment, the office was also encouraging cultural partners, their employees, friends, families, and patrons to sign up for Notify NYC. The OEM folks are the smart people who brought you Ready New York, which encourages New Yorkers to have go bags, emergency kits, and household disaster plans, just in case.

Notify NYC provides timely, accurate information that can make a world of difference in an emergency. The system allows the City to deliver important information about emergencies and City services affecting New Yorkers at home, at work, and in the community. The program was piloted in Lower Manhattan and three other communities, and has now expanded citywide. It will come as no surprise that I have been a subscriber since the beginning. Going through my voluminous e-mail over the past few months, I have received notifications about car fires, military flyovers, emergency response exercises, film productions, and road repairs. I did notice that these alerts have come more frequently, especially since the Boeing 747, sometimes called Air Force One, buzzed our little corner of the world in April.

This service provides subscribers with real-time information about emergencies throughout the five boroughs. You can specify the zip codes that interest you most, like your home zip code and your office zip code, as well as the zip code of your mom, sister, boyfriend, bff…essentially the zip codes of people you worry about and who worry about you; you can register for a maximum of five zip codes. Register for free online or by calling 311 to start receiving your e-mails, text messages, or recorded phone calls.

You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Teaching Our History

This post comes from Shiri Sandler, the manager of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, which runs the American Service Academies Program. One weekend last month some of the cadets who have participated in the ASAP program went to Greenwich, CT for a weekend of interfaith dialogue. Shiri was asked to give a sermon at Temple Sholom. The following is an excerpt.

When my first cohort of military students heard that my grandmother is a survivor of Auschwitz- Birkenau, they begged me to bring her in to give testimony. I desperately wanted to, not just because we have our students hear testimony to help them focus on the story of the individual, but also because I selfishly wanted them to think of my grandmother when they went to Birkenau. I wanted my students to remember my great grandmother, whose handmade felt flowers hang in the galleries at the Museum in New York, when they saw the place where she was killed. I wanted them to love my grandmother, remember her story, honor her family, because she is a survivor, I’m her grandchild, and who doesn’t want that for their grandma?

My grandmother did come in to give testimony before the students left for Poland. They asked her embarrassing questions about me when I was little but one of them also asked her a question I’d never asked. He asked what drove her to survive. She said to him that she wanted to survive to tell her father, whom she’d been separated from, that she tried to stay with her mother, who went towards death on the ramp at Auschwitz, while she went towards life. I’d never heard her say that before. That was the first of many times that these students reminded me that what I do with them teaches me about myself and my history, too.

If you ask these cadets and midshipmen about the destroyed heritage they have seen, they will tell of synagogues with grass growing in them, of remnants of prayers written on the walls for Jews too poor to buy a prayer book, of headstones righted and cemetery paths swept clean by their hands. This is their inheritance now, too.

From my own perspective, because this is both my work and also deeply personal to me, working with these students is the continuity my grandmother lost. I can’t rebuild her past, but I can help instill it in the minds of my students and make sure that when they have the opportunity to help put an end to an injustice, they remember the sight of the burning Darfuri home from our workshop on Darfur, and what our world community hasn’t done to stop it; they remember the testimony from the Czech Jew who saw her grandfather get taken away; they remember the fact that my grandma wanted to survive to tell her father she tried. This is how we continue our history, our traditions: we teach them.
*Photo: Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom, Shiri Sandler, Jesse Faugstad of West Point, Ellyn Creasey of U.S. Naval Academy, Angela Roush of the Naval Academy, Reverend James Lemler of Christ Church.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hanukkah is Closer than You Think

We know it’s rainy and you are still recovering from the piles of dishes and mounds of food over the weekend, but Hanukkah is fast approaching. What should you do? Why not spend “Cyber Monday” with us and complete all your Hanukkah shopping from home? As an added bonus, the Pickman Museum Shop is happy to offer free domestic shipping on all internet and phone orders (and in-store purchases over $50). That’s right. Send your dreidels to Denver, your menorahs to Michigan, and your cookbooks to Cleveland for no extra gelt (or guilt). Leave the schlepping to us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

If you have been to visit the Keeping History Center, I am sure you have a favorite testimony in “Voices of Liberty” that moved you in some way.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share one that I found very touching.

Andrew Hartmann: “When I got into sixth grade, the walls were plastered with what I know now as pumpkins and turkeys and pilgrim hats. I had no idea what that was. I remembered saying something like, ‘Vat is this?’ When Thanksgiving was explained to me, and I choke up at this every time, I couldn’t believe it. The concept of a national holiday being of a spiritual nature, not connected with any religion, but spiritual nevertheless and not connected with any battles or revolutions or any dictator’s birthday or overthrows. The idea blew my mind and I was only 12 years old. I couldn’t believe it and to this day Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. “

On behalf of the Museum, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. We are truly grateful for all our visitors, supporters, volunteers, staff members, and leadership.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

As Seen on TV

Yesterday was very exciting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage as we welcomed our friends from “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” While we weren’t privy to all of the details, we do know that the crew was especially moved going through our exhibition, and our second floor, with the addition of a computer or two, was transformed into an archive. These pictures illustrate the extreme makeover of our staff lounge. It is remarkable how those brilliant prop masters and set designers were able to make our 2003 lounge into a city agency office. I am particularly enamored of the cluttered desk and ancient files.

Our colleague Rachel reports that Jeff Goldblum was friendly and affable, saying hello to one and all. A student group visiting yesterday, undoubtedly familiar with his work in “Jurassic Park,” enjoyed seeing him on their field trip.

In addition to TV and film work, the various spaces of the Museum are available for private functions, such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah receptions, family reunions, and other important life cycle events. Consider having your next special event at the Museum.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Extended by Popular Demand

I’m happy to report that we have something else to be thankful for this holiday season. One of my favorite exhibitions, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, has been extended. It will now close on February 21.

We’re especially excited to be able to offer a special Martin Luther King Day concert featuring the Afro-Semitic Experience on January 17. Ticket holders are invited to take a tour of the exhibit at 1 p.m. or visit the exhibit at their own leisure on that day. Check our website soon for tickets and more information.

Speaking of giving thanks, I just wanted to thank Jamie for her service to the Communications department over the past 2 ½ years. She has been a dedicated colleague and a good friend. We wish her the best of luck as she moves across the hall to the Education department where she will be coordinating our internship programs. Mazel Tov!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our Very Own Shop Around the Corner (of the Lobby)

Do you love the Museum? Do you have a penchant for retail? Well you’re in luck; the Pickman Museum Shop is looking for volunteers!

Working in four-hour shifts, volunteers will assist in the day-to-day operations of the shop as well as support visual merchandising, marketing, and special events. The shop complements the Museum’s exhibition and program schedule by providing an assortment of related titles and objects, offering visitors a wide range of material to enhance each Museum visit. Volunteers are entitled to a 25% discount in the shop, as well as free admission to MJH and other museums with their spiffy MJH ID.

For more information, please contact Tammy Chiu or call her at 646.437.4367.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service, Now Open!

We’re very pleased to announce that our new exhibition, The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service is now open. You’ve seen the film trailer, and perhaps read about it on the New York Times website or seen it on New York 1, but now you can come to the Museum in person and be inspired by three generations of a remarkable family devoted to public service.

Photo: Our Director Dr. David G. Marwell with Robert M. Morgenthau, and Museum Trustee Judah Gribetz at the opening of the exhibition. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Generation to Generation

Joanna Kliger, a member of our Young Friends board, gave a stirring speech at last week’s Generation to Generation Dinner. Three generations of Joanna’s family attended, including her grandmother and her dad. Below is an excerpt of Joanna’s speech:

When she was 14, my grandmother was living in the Budapest ghetto and, on a snowy day in 1944, all women were told to report to the train station to be sent to work camps – camps that were thought to be a better quality of life than the ghetto. When they arrived, something changed. They ordered all girls 13 and younger to go back to the ghetto, everyone else had to board the trains. Mothers were forced to abandon their infants there at the station. The other citizens of Budapest went on about their business, walking by this active inhumanity because of hatred, because of fear, because of pure ignorance. My grandmother amidst all of the chaos chose to lie about her age so that instead of boarding the train, she could save one of the infants by taking the child back with her to the ghetto. My grandmother’s decision on that day to put someone else’s needs above her own is the reason that she survived. It is incredible to think that one choice, one split-second action led to survival, to marrying my grandfather – another survivor of the Holocaust, to children, grandchildren, and a rich family history.

A few years ago I went to Budapest with my grandma. We visited the apartment where she grew up, the area that became the ghetto, and that same train station where she changed the course of her life and that of my family. And I understood that knowing your own family’s stories isn't enough. All of us – our lives, our families – are caught up in this terrible wave of history. And if we never learn – and can't understand what happened – then how can we understand ourselves?

It was in Budapest that I realized that actually being where history took place was quite different than hearing the story. And that’s why, upon returning, I decided to become a member of the Young Friends: because the Museum does for so many people what Budapest did for me – it gives remembrance a concrete form. By supporting and raising awareness of the Museum, the Young Friends pursues its goal to spread knowledge of the Holocaust to those who need it most: our youth.

Because it is one thing to say that an event like the Holocaust must never happen again, but it is quite another to make an imprint on the lives of others to ensure that they know why an event like this must not ever take place again.

*Photo: Joanna with her grandmother. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q&A with translator and author Peter Balakian

Peter Balakian, the translator of his great-uncle's memoir Armenian Golgotha will be speaking at the Museum on December 2. He was kind enough to let us reprint an excerpt of an interview he did with his publisher. It's a fascinating subject and an important book, so we hope you will join us to hear more about it in person.

Q: Bishop Grigoris Balakian is your great uncle. How did you come to find out about him and his memoir?
Peter Balakian: Growing up, I knew he was a bishop in the Armenian church. He was spoken of occasionally by my father and aunts. Although they mentioned some books he wrote about the Armenian church, no one ever mentioned this great memoir. And what’s odd is that both my aunts were literary critics and my father was also a serious student of history, but they didn’t mention this book. I know the subject of the fate of the Armenians in 1915 traumatized them, and so all was silence when it came to this subject. I wrote about my discovery of my great uncle in a chapter of my own memoir, Black Dog of Fate. So my memoir led to my finding his memoir. It’s become a sort of dialogue both within the family and about this history.

Q: How has your uncle come to life for you?
PB: I had no idea my uncle was such a dynamic leader and prominent intellectual of his generation. Armenian Golgotha brings to life the extraordinary creativity, wit, humanity and compassion this young Armenian clergyman exhibited in the face of overwhelming odds. His ability to negotiate with Turkish perpetrators and still provide sustenance to his emaciated group of fellow deportees is remarkable. And throughout the story he remains humble and focused on helping others. As a clergyman, he’s anguished both by the human suffering he is witnessing and by the destruction of his culture, the culture of which he is a guardian and protector.

Q: What kind of contribution does Armenian Golgotha make to our understanding of the Armenian Genocide?
PB: It’s an essential text. There is no text about the Genocide that’s as rich, layered and complex as this. It brings us closer to the century’s first genocide than any other first-person account that I know of. Balakian was one of the famous 250 Armenian cultural leaders who were arrested on the night of April 14, 1915 at the very start of the genocide. He survived nearly four years on deportation marches and witnessed things that few survivors have described.

Q:What does Balakian’s memoir show us about this event as an act of genocide?
PB: Readers will find that Armenian Golgotha corroborates what most of the scholarship has shown. The deportations and massacres of the Armenians were planned by the central government; he shows us how the Turkish government used surveillance, created blacklists to arrest the cultural leaders, created killing squads, created false provocations in order to arrest Armenians, and so on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!” *

This special Veterans Day post is from Abby, but on behalf of the whole staff of the Museum, we thank all those who are serving our country.

On Saturday, a perfectly crisp autumn day made for ceremonial splendor, my husband and I attended the commissioning of the USS New York.

As you may have read, the USS New York contains 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center in its hull. Its motto is “Strength Forged Through Sacrifice. Never Forget.” Many speakers, and there were many, spoke reverently of the souls lost on Sept. 11 and how their spirits are embedded in this ship. What you may not remember is that the steel was melted in a foundry in Amite, LA and the ship was built at Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans, part of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilders. The head of NGS said, “This ship was born of two separate tragedies that bonded us: Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina.” Working on this ship aided in the personal recoveries of the men and women in Louisiana, many of them displaced by Katrina. Building this ship gave them a purpose.

“Man our ship and bring her to life.” It is tradition to proclaim these words at a commissioning, and Dorothy England, the Sponsor of the USS New York, performed her duty admirably (that one’s for you, Betsy): A proud “Aye, aye ma’am!” was the response from the Executive Officer and before we knew it, 363 men and women “manned” their stations and the US Naval Band North East played “Anchors Aweigh.” It was a very emotional moment. I sat next to the mother of one of the crew and she shared with me that a year ago at this time her son was a golf pro. He joined the Navy, and after he finished basic training, Commander Curt Jones called him and talked for an hour. That was the job interview and clearly it worked out just fine for her son, Ben. The commander’s uncle was sitting a few seats over from me.

Commander Jones, a native of Binghamton, graduated from MIT in 1989 with a BA in philosophy and received his commission through the Navy ROTC. He received a master’s degree in National Security Affairs at Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, CA. He spoke lovingly about his crew, but what I found so moving was his understanding of how his ship is a symbol for the people of New York and New Orleans, and what Sept. 11 means, especially to New Yorkers. As we say at my house—he gets it. When he got his commission, he received a copy of a letter written by Fire Captain Gormley on Sept. 15, 2001, and in it he named the 12 men from Engine 40/Ladder 35 who were listed as missing, and therefore not yet relieved of duty. Commander Jones read the letter aloud on Saturday, and as he read the names of those firefighters you could hear a pin drop.

Following the speeches, we toured the ship and talked with the very young crew. Thinking of this ship and its crew gives me a new perspective on Veterans Day, a day when we think of grizzled men telling stories of camaraderie and courage while fighting on foreign shores. It is hard to imagine this young crew of the USS New York assembling in 40 or 50 years to reminisce about the commissioning of their ship and all they have seen. But it is my fervent wish that they return to this city again and again —all 363 of them— safe and sound and out of harm’s way. Of course, unlike veterans of previous generations, their experiences will be archived on their blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

*Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley read this Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem on Saturday. Come to think of it, he might have it memorized. He is the Assistant Secretary of the Navy after all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Marking Kristallnacht

Yesterday, on Kristallnacht, we hosted a very moving ceremony that culminated in the return of a 16th century bible to the Jewish community in Vienna. The bible had been stolen on Kristallnacht 71 years ago.

Witnessing this act of justice was an apt way of commemorating the day. Click here for our Director’s introductory remarks and here for the New York Times story about the event.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yasher Koach, Yankees!

About a week ago, a particular conductor made my morning commute a little brighter. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I want you to know that I’ve looked into my crystal ball and it has told me that the Yankees are going to win the World Series in game six. So that’s plenty of time to plan the parade for Friday. Just remember, you heard it here first.”

Yesterday morning, the same conductor made another announcement: “Last week I told you that the Yankees would win and look at that! My crystal ball never lies. Everyone enjoy the parade! And now, for tonight’s winning lotto numbers… oops! It just fell and broke. Sorry.”

Lotto win or no, it was good news*. If you could not be at this “prophesied” parade this morning (which began on Battery Place just a block or so from the Museum), take a look at some photos of MJH staff members cheering on their team. We thought the sign was a nice touch!

*I have been asked to issue the following disclaimer: This blog does not reflect the opinions of all MJH employees… especially certain Red Sox fans whose names may or may not be Betsy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Sephardic Soul at Symphony Space on Saturday

This tip is from Lisa, who loves a good world-music concert.

With the weather getting grayer and chillier, being transported by the lush Mediterranean mix of Sephardic music performed by one of the genres finest singers is a nice way to spend an evening. The acclaimed Israeli artist Yasmin Levy will give a concert this Saturday night, November 7, at Symphony Space in Manhattan.

A champion of Ladino, Yasmin Levy draws from the rich and evocative Judeo-Spanish heritage, performing classics and new works inspired by this tradition. Much of this tradition was discovered by her father, the musicologist Yitzhak Levy. It’s fitting how these tunes remain passed from one family member to another as they were hundreds of years ago.

For more information and tickets, click here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Best of the Best

You may be a little tired of listening to us kvell about the Keeping History Center, so here is a non-biased opinion. This week’s issue of Time Out New York said the Keeping History Center is one of 5 must-see exhibits opening this month. According to them, it’s a Museum Bonanza, so stop by and see us, Jane Austen, FDR, Eero Saarinen, and more.
*Photo courtesy of C&G Partners

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More about the Morgenthaus Now Online

We’re thrilled to launch the new spiffy website for The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service, which opens to the public on November 16. Be sure to check out the film trailer, artifact exploration, and information about organizations looking for volunteers. There is also a family tree and much more. As one of the themes of the exhibition is public service, we’re very interested in what you are doing to help your community. Let us know and we may use your quote in the online exhibition.
*Photo: New York Cares volunteers

Monday, November 2, 2009

Within OUR Walls: Idan Raichel Performs at MJH

Due to popular demand, the Museum has added a third Idan Raichel concert on Wednesday, November 11 at 9:30 p.m. , which is a good thing, since the November 10th and first November 11th show are sold out. This late show provides fans one more chance to see Idan and his band of international performers bring their one-of-a-kind sound to Edmond J. Safra Hall.

Tickets are available by clicking here or by calling the Museum box office at 646.437.4202. Order ASAP as they’re going fast.

To tide you over, please enjoy some music of his latest album Within My Walls.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"...she looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf."

Yesterday, the Museum book club met to discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society. Unanimously recommended, TGLAPPPS explored the joy of reading and discovering new books. Thanks to the Museum, I have made my own recent literary discovery.

Clarice Lispector, a Ukrainian-born Jew who escaped her homeland with her family as a baby, is a legendary figure in Brazil, renowned for her unique writing style, her beauty, and peculiarity. Though she is considered the second most prolific national author of the 20th century in Brazil, she is largely unknown to English-speaking readers. Author Benjamin Moser will discuss his intriguing biography, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, on Sunday, November 8 at 2:30 p.m. Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly online audio report, recently spoke with Moser. You can listen to the interview here.

Many of Lispector’s works have been translated into English, so I’m excited to check some of them out of my local library.  Maybe one will be a good book club recommendation…

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The History We Keep

Here are some lovely photos of yesterday's Community Preview of the Keeping History Center, our new interactive visitor experience. We hope you will join us when the Center opens to the public on November 6.

Captions: Top to bottom: Stuyvesant student Wu Chi Tang Zoe; P.S. 234 students: Courtney Lyan; Stella Schneeberg; Viktoria Cegielski; Stuyvesant students Elizabeth Litvitskiy and Mithi Hossain

Photo credit: Melanie Einzig

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Top (Kosher) Chef

At a Museum dedicated to heritage, there are few things the staff here loves more than food. In the Communications department alone, countless conversations have revolved around favorite meals, baking tips, and what to eat for lunch. So we were happy to discover a contest that spoke to both our interest in food and in Jewish heritage (and puns): the Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off!

Do you enjoy watching Top Chef, but think there is way too much pork involved? Are you famous for a particular, tantalizingly delicious kosher recipe? Do you smile coyly when people compliment said dish? Do you never let on that it’s actually quite simple and prepared in one hour or less? Does that recipe include Manischewitz Ready To Serve broth? If so, send it in! Five rising chefs will be sent to New York for a live Cook-Off showdown. Enter through January 31, 2010; finalists will be chosen in February leading up to the March finale in New York City.

And, as a personal favor to any hopefuls reading the blog, if anyone wants to do a couple of test runs before sending their recipes to Manischewitz, I offer my services as an official “Delicious Dish Taste Tester. ”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can Do!

Next month, Downtown visitors are invited to stop by the World Financial Center complex to view the 17th Annual Canstruction Competition. Canstruction is a food charity that brings together teams of architects, engineers, and students for a design competition. The teams make giant sculptures from full cans of food. This year’s 30 plus entries will be displayed from November 12 to November 23. The sculptures will then be dismantled and donated to City Harvest.

All visitors are encouraged to bring their own canned goods to donate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chatting with Hannah Sara Rigler

Today's blog comes to us from Abby, who had a lovely talk with a member of the Museum family.
I am so excited to share this story with you. One of our beloved Gallery Educators, Hannah Sara Rigler, was on her way to the Museum on Thursday with her husband, the Hon. William Rigler, when they had an interesting encounter on an Access-a-Ride bus.
Sandy Blum and her father were also riding the bus, although they were heading to the Intrepid, when she recognized Hannah. “I transcribed a diary of yours in 1976,” she said. Sandy was working at Brooklyn College at the time, and Hannah was working with the Center for Holocaust Studies there. (CHS merged with the Museum in 1991.) The diary, which Hannah donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, was written by Willy Fisher, one of the British POWs who saved her life. Hannah had been on a death march following the evacuation of Stuthoff concentration camp in 1944 and left the line in search of food for her mother and sister when a local boy cried out that she was trying to escape. To draw her pursuers away from the line—she was convinced she would be killed and didn’t want her mother to see it happen— she ran. Miraculously, she eluded her pursuers and hid in a barn when she was discovered by Stan Wells, part of the band of British POWS who hid her. Together they protected her for three weeks. The diary, which describes the discovery of Hannah Sara and what happened when the area was liberated by the Soviet Army in February 1945, lives on the Museum’s second floor. You should know, the POWs were declared Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1988.
Sandy told Hannah that the diary made a tremendous impact on her, to which Hannah replied, “You know, I wrote a book.” As the Access-a-Ride bus dropped off Hannah and her husband, Sandy jumped off the bus, and ran into the Pickman Museum Shop where Warren happily sold her a copy of 10 British Prisoners-of-War Saved My Life. But before Sandy leapt back on to the bus, she and Hannah exchanged phone numbers.
Hannah and her husband came into my office to tell me the story and to opine on other matters of the day. For instance, she knows Daniel Lubetsky, one of our speakers on Nov. 17, because she was close to his father Roman Lubetsky z’l. And she is the only person I know who calls mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson Billy. (She’s known his father a long time, too.) And, she sends Christmas cards to Andy Goldsworthy’s mom. They met when Hannah and her husband planted a tree in the Garden of Stones with Andy. “I taught her the word naches. I told her when you have pride in your children you have naches. And she wrote back that she was still shepping naches for Andy.” And then that led to a discussion of Yiddish and how there seems to be a Yiddish expression for everything, including things you probably don’t need to express.
In our day-to-day lives, it is easy to get caught up in the administravia. But, I have to say, mornings like this one make it all worthwhile.
Pictured: Hannah Sara Rigler and her husband, William Rigler, plant a tree in the Garden of Stones.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

18 Jewish Americans Included in "Only In America" Hall of Fame

A while back, we blogged about the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia taking votes on the first 18 luminaries inducted into its Only in America Gallery. Recently, the results of this vote were revealed.

And they are...

Isaac Bashevis Singer
Barbra Streisand
Irving Berlin
Leonard Bernstein (pictured... can you tell he was one of my votes?)
Steven Spielberg
Estee Lauder
Sandy Koufax
Albert Einstein
Jonas Salk
Rose Schneiderman
Louis Brandeis
Mordecai Kaplan
Isaac Leeser
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Isaac Mayer Wise
Emma Lazarus
Henrietta Szold
Golda Meir (She immigrated from Kiev to Milwaukee in 1906, and lived there for 15 years before leaving for Palestine)

As museum director and CEO Michael Rosenzweig points out, it is interesting to note that many of these people were born outside of the United States, emphasizing the importance of the immigrant narrative in American Jewry. The gallery will be part of the museum's core exhibition when it opens on Independence Mall in 2010. And don’t worry, if one of your favorites didn’t make the “Top 18”, the museum says it will choose a different group of 18 Jewish Americans to be featured in the exhibit in the future.