Friday, February 27, 2009

Downtown PANDAmonium

Have you seen this Panda?
A couple weeks ago, as we ladies of the Communications department took our lunch, we saw a strange sight. Walking along the sidewalk, on the other side of the street near Zaytuna was a panda (more accurately, a person in a panda suit). The panda was walking slowly along carrying a Duane Reade bag. Every now and then s/he would stop and gaze off into traffic, as though waiting at an imaginary bus stop, and then amble a little further along. "Is the panda lost?" we asked. Needless to say, this sighting made our day and we assumed that was the end of it. But no! Last night, Keika, myself, and Josh from Visitor Services saw the panda again! S/he still carried the Duane Reade bag and still looked mildly lost.
The phrase "only in New York" springs forcefully to mind, but there's usually a catch and one can generally figure out what's going on pretty quickly: like that time I saw men on Segways in Gladiator costumes in Central Park. It did not take long to figure out they were giving out free samples of Greek yogurt. (I didn't bother telling them that they were in Roman Gladiator costumes. Besides, they got my attention and that was the whole point.) But this panda does not appear to be selling or promoting anything. Neither does s/he appear to be for the benefit of tourists (like the people who dress up as the Statue of Liberty in Battery Park for vacation pictures). The panda simply wanders. Why? Is s/he enjoying the beautiful gardens and parks of lower Manhattan, or perhaps its many Museums and cultural attractions? Wikipedia assures me that a panda's natural habitat is China, not the Battery, so something is definitely up.
If you have any information about this adorable, seemingly lost little panda, please let us know! Or take a trip downtown and try to spot it yourself this weekend.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Today is a very exciting day. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business when I got an e-mail stating that my Girl Scout Cookies have arrived along with a lovely thank you note and drawing from Ellie, the intrepid scout who sold us the delicious treats. Not that it was a hard sell...

You, too can buy them. Go directly to their website and place an order. All the proceeds go to Girl Scouts of America. Abby jokes that they are made of real Girl Scouts, but I think she's just kidding.

Also, I thought I would share a few fun facts about Girl Scout cookies. Firstly, they are Kosher! They are dairy, but that is a good thing for those who keep Kosher. If you have meat for lunch or dinner, you have to wait a few hours before digging into the cookies. It's natural portion control.

Secondly, if you are a fan of the peanut butter cookies, don't worry. The Girl Scouts issued a statement saying that they have not been affected by the peanut scare.

Thirdly, an informal poll of communications professionals tells me that 3 out of 4 of us have been known to put our Thin Mints in the freezer. The fourth just hasn't tried it yet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nazi Propaganda at the Museum

The New York Times' Ed Rothstein recently reviewed an exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda. The subject is both fascinating and disturbing. In the article, Rothstein relates confronting a black poster emblazoned simply with Hitler's face and name. "It is chilling because we know what that face unleashed."

If you cannot make it down to the USHMM in Washington D.C. to see this exhibition, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has some of the items mentioned in the Times article in its own collection, including a number of propaganda posters, German radios (which were sold cheaply in the Nazi era in order to get the government's hateful message out to as many people as possible), and the children's board game Juden Raus which translates to "Jews out."

Juden Raus is a featured item on the Museum's Meeting Hate with Humanity tour. When I was a Lipper intern and gave tours to high schoolers, I found that this game was the object that struck a chord with the most students. All of them had played lighthearted children's games like Candyland at some point, so they were disturbed to think of children just like them playing a game whose purpose was to evacuate Jews out of a German city and deport them. When I asked them who they thought produced this game, most if not all would answer either "The Nazis" or "Hitler." Learning that the game was produced by an independent German toy company was the moment when many of them realized the depths of the propaganda abounding in the country at the time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Get ready for the best Purim Party in New York

Okay, so I'm admitedly biased, but we're all excited for the Young Friends Purim Party on Thursday, March 5 at the Red Sky Bar on East 29th Street.

Hosted by the Young Friends of the Museum,  the party is an annual favorite. What's that you say? It takes more than a mere party to motivate you? What if I added in costumes (the best of which will win a prize)? A Pour’em for Purim Drink Special Menu...clever huh? ($3 Bud/Bud Light, $4 Cosmos/Appletinis, $5 Cocktails, and special Purim-themed drinks) Dancing? Raffle prizes (including a one night’s stay at the Thompson Hotel LES, Philosophy & Bliss Spa Gift Baskets, a 3-Month Equinox Membership, private lesson with “the Liquid Chef," celebrity Mixologist Junior Merino, and much more)?

Young Friends Members get the best deal, of course with $35 tickets. Non-member tickets are $40. For $85, you can get a ticket to the program AND a year of Young Friend Membership, which in and of itself is a $50 value. If you can, buy your tickets now, since all tickets purchased at the door will cost an additional $5.

All proceeds go to benefit Museum programs.
For more information contact Rachel Weiss at 646.437.4321 or

Monday, February 23, 2009

Better than the Funnies

I look forward to reading the New York Times Book Review section every week. You never know what will end up there. This week, two articles especially sparked my interest. One was a write-up of a new book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jamie and I are both Jane Austen purists (I even have a Jane Austen action figure on my desk), but even we are excited to find out how zombies will shake up Mr. Darcy's polite society.

The second article was a review of Johanna Reiss' new book. Reiss, who is most well known for her beloved children's book entitled, The Upstairs Room, was hidden in Holland during the War. Her new book, A Hidden Life, is a dark and fascinating biography about how her war time experiences haunted her husband. Ms. Reiss will be speaking about this book on Sunday, March 8 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The event is free with suggested donation. I doubt you will get that kind of offer from the zombies.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Reader and the Oscar Race

Last week, Slate published an article that has had a lot of us (certainly around the office) talking. The title of the article was an unequivocal plea: Don't Give an Oscar to The Reader. Its subtitle was equally provocative, stating "We don't need another "redemptive" Holocaust movie."

Rather than comment on this article myself, I direct you to Museum director David Marwell's blog; he speaks more eloquently and with deeper insight on the subject than I could.

Everyone enjoy your Oscar weekend! And I feel it bears mentioning that while we do not play favorites here at MJH, many of us are indeed rooting for The Reader and the divine Ms. Winslet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Celebrities: They're Just Like Us! (A Call to Action)

"I was going to begin this column with a 13-year-old Chadian boy crippled by a bullet in his left knee," begins Nicholas Kristof in today's New York Times op-ed, "but my hunch is that you might be more interested in hearing about another person on the river bank beside the boy: George Clooney."

Kristof's piece is both informative and bitterly sardonic. He highlights the tragic events that haven taken place in Darfur over the past six years (longer, he notes, than WWII raged in Europe) and the expected warrant for Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir from the International Criminal Court, but implies that many readers would prefer to read "the juicy truth about all of Mr. Clooney’s wild romances and motorcycle accidents." (Clooney - like Angelina Jolie and other celebrities- is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, though he is travelling with Kristof in an unofficial capacity.)

This is no easy subject to absorb much less continue to read about; indeed, Kristof himself sarcastically refers to his op-ed as "another hand-wringing column about Darfur." But the fact remains: approximately 400,000 people have died in this genocide. Refugees - men, women, and children - are still in danger in their own homes and in camps across the region (approximately the size of France). Maimonides wrote "Anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates the command: And you shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." It is vital to remain educated about what is going on and ways that we can help. "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." -Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Much Better than an Oscar

I know there has been a lot of backlash against what some feel is an overabundance of films about the Holocaust. However, today a story on Bloomberg announced that Wilm Hosenfeld, the German officer portrayed in the film The Pianist, has been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews during the war. I have to believe that the film helped raise awareness of his humanity during the war and inspired the committee to look into his other actions. They found that in addition to Wladyslaw Szpilman (the pianist), he saved at least one other Jew and that he consistently rebelled against Nazi policies.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The New Neighbor Is So Sweet (and Savory)...

Today, around 3:30, the Communications staff was collectively hit with a craving for sweets. No one was surprised. Normally, we would head down to the Heritage Cafe on the second floor and get either a tartlet, or a muffin or, if we were being health-conscious, a fruit cup. But alas, the Cafe closes at 3:30 (except on Wednesdays, when it is open until 7 p.m. and Fridays when it closes at 2:30).

Fortunately, there’s a new, delicious neighbor in Battery Park City. Inatteso Pizza Bar, located at 28 West Street not a block from the Museum just opened a cafe two doors down. Since we had been to the pizza bar and loved it, our expectations were high: I am pleased to say we were not disappointed. The coffee and lattes were delicious and the pastries were divine. Lisa got a sfogliatelle frolla that tasted like summertime at my grandparents house (think Krisy Kreme times a billion with sweet ricotta filling). I have bought, but not yet tasted, a Nutella brownie. They also had sandwiches, soups, cakes, bagels, and other goodies. I think I can speak for the group when I say we highly recommend Inatteso's cafe for the late-coming Museum-goer.

(Pictured: Lisa and Betsy gaze longingly at Inatteso's delicious baked goods.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bridges to Community

This blog is from staff member Shiri Sandler.

Two weeks ago, I wasn’t anyone’s “sister from the North.” I didn’t smile at strangers or try to speak a language I don’t know to small children. I definitely didn’t borrow the horse of a man I met two days previous to go cantering up a hill towards a cemetery. But in Nicaragua, as the men and women of Jinocuao called us their “brothers and sisters from the North” day after day, it quickly went from being something that made me wince uncomfortably to a phrase that made me grin in ways you simply don’t in New York. An enormous, cheek splitting grin is not the way to communicate with people who don’t speak my language here. But in Jinocuao, when I didn’t speak Spanish and I needed to tell the 14 year old girl next to me who is the woman of her house that I appreciate her slowing down in her own work to teach me how to strip a mountain of dried corn of its kernels, the only way is to smile hugely and say “gracias.”

At the beginning of February, I spent a week in Nicaragua with a group of alumni from my college through a group called Bridges to Community. We spent five nights in the community of Jinocuao, which is near the Honduran border, working with local families to help Bridges establish construction, health, and environmental micro-finance projects. Bridges works in towns like Jinocuao one across Nicaragua to help the communities establish basic self-sufficiencies and standards of living.

There is a lot of poverty in Nicaragua; malnutrition, disease, homelessness, and unemployment are very real problems. However, in our time in Jinocuao, these weren’t what we felt. The families we worked with welcomed us with open arms into their homes, fields, kitchens, and children’s lives. They showed us the joys of their lives and wanted to learn about all aspects of ours, including politics, music, careers, and our families. Their goal in working with us wasn’t to have us build for them or do projects for them, but to work side by side to learn from us and to teach us. They taught us about their lives, their work, and their history.

After a hot day laying irrigation in a tomato field supplied by the only motorized pump in the village, we joined a large family in the dirt yard in front of their home. Three generations sat in plastic chairs around their patriarch, lit just as much by the moon as by the light bulbs. Don Valentin, the father, brother, and grandfather of the assembled and the owner of the field, told the story of the murder of his brother in his own home during the Nicaraguan Civil War of the 1980’s. In my job at MJH, I hear a lot of atrocity testimony. I’ve never heard someone point to the door five feet away from me and describe what she heard the murderers say when they knocked on it.

It is easy to look at a village like Jinocuao and see only the poverty and the terrible history. It’s just as easy, especially after a week in the villagers’ open arms, to see only the smiles, the kindnesses, and the family love. Life there, like anywhere, is complicated by the people, land, and opportunities. Relationships in an isolated place are complicated; the land has been stripped by American economic development and there is no work. However, the family relationships are so important that one hard working 24 year-old told us that he can’t bear to stay too long where there is work because he knows his grandmother is alone in Jinocuao. The land, which has dried and lost nutrients after decades of exploitation, is heartbreakingly beautiful and the people are proud of it. There may not be work, but half the members of the council working with Bridges were girls in their teens.

After the work, the laying irrigation and making fuel for manure-powered bio-digesters, we experienced the other side of Jinocuao. I borrowed a horse from a man I barely knew, called hello to a woman whose garden I’d worked in the day before, and cantered up a hill to join children in a game of soccer. And it was beautiful.

Miep Gies, helper of Anne Frank, celebrates her 100th birthday

This story was sent to us from our friends at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Miep Gies, the last surviving and best known helper of Anne Frank and the people in hiding with her in an Amsterdam canal side house, will be 100 years old on 15 February 2009. She will be celebrating the day quietly with family and friends. Miep is in reasonably good health, and remains deeply involved with the remembrance of Anne Frank and spreading the message of her story. She still receives letters from all over the world with questions about her relationship with Anne Frank and her role as a helper. “I’m not a hero’, she has said, “It wasn’t something I planned in advance, I simply did what I could to help.”
Hermine (Miep) Gies-Santrouschitz was born in Vienna on February 15, 1909 and came to the Netherlands when she was 11 years old. Starting in 1933, she worked as Otto Frank’s secretary for Opekta, his trading company in gelling agents for making jam. When Otto approached her in the spring of 1942 to help him and his family go into hiding, Miep did not hesitate. For two years, together with the other helpers, she made sure that the people in hiding (Otto Frank, his wife Edith and daughters Margot and Anne, Hermann and Auguste Van Pels and son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer) were supplied with food and other essentials. Her husband, Jan Gies arranged for the ration coupons and like Miep visited the secret annex regularly. By helping, they were putting their own lives at risk.

Immediately after the arrest of the people in hiding, on August 4, 1944, Miep took Anne’s diary and other writings into safekeeping. When Otto returned from Auschwitz after the war, the only one of the eight people in hiding to do so, Miep gave Anne’s diary to him. Today, The Diary of Anne Frank has been translated into 70 different languages and is one of the most read books in the world.

As the diary became better known, Miep’s brave role in the story received world wide attention. She received many honors, among them the Yad Vashem medal and the Bundesverdienst Kreuz, a Knighthood from the German government. In 1995 she was Knighted in the Netherlands (Ridder in de Orde van Oranje Nassau).
The Anne Frank House maintains close contact with Miep Gies to this day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Checking in with our experts at MJH..."

The Museum was contacted by New York's Channel 7 News today to lend some insight on an issue that has received a lot of attention in recent weeks, particularly from the world-wide Jewish community.

English Bishop Richard Williamson was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained as a bishop without papal permission. This January, Pope Benedict XVI revoked the excommunication. So what makes this a problematic issue in regard to Catholic-Jewish relations? Williamson is a Holocaust denier. In fact, on the day his excommunication was lifted, he gave an interview to Swedish television saying "I believe there were no gas chambers ... I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps ... but none of them by gas chambers."
Pope Benedict spoke today with American Jewish leaders at the Vatican and issued strong and unequivocal condemnations of Holocaust denial, and reiterated the church's commitment to "profoundly and irrevocably... reject all anti-Semitism." The Pope plans to travel to Israel in May, marking the first visit to the Jewish state by a Pope since John Paul II's historic trip in 2000.
A piece on this story will appear tonight at 6 p.m. on ABC's Eyewitness News with N.J. Burkett and Museum Director David Marwell in the MJH galleries. So be sure to set your TiVos/DVRs/VCRs... or just watch it at 6 (imagine).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Think Outside the (Matzo) Box*

As I have mentioned in the past, one thing that always brings the Museum of Jewish Heritage staff together is food. Having grown up Catholic, my employment at the Museum also began my discovery of a plethora of fabulous Jewish foods I'd never really tried before. One of my very favorites: matzo brei. I first heard about it in a meeting last year around Passover. Staff members took a brief sidebar to share whether they prefer sweet or savory, who in their family makes it well, and the varying degrees of how sick they get of it after Passover.

After the meeting, I furtively Googled "matzabrei." "Do you mean matzo brei?" Google asked. Yes; yes I did.

Since then, I've had sweet, I've had savory, I've had it multiple days in a row, and I'm still not sick of it. I am counting down the days I get to have it again.  So you can imagine that I am looking forward to our April 1 program Manischewitz: The Matzo Family with cookbook author and TV host Joan Nathan and Laura Manischewitz Alpern. An added perk to this program is that audience members will receive a complimentary box of matzo! Think of all the matzo brei!

This program has got me to thinking: what else can one make with matzo? An internet search yielded a couple of good ideas, but I put it to you, the readers: what recipes can you make with matzo? Do you have a particularly great one for matzo brei? We'd love to hear from you: post your recipes in the comments below and share in the unleavened goodness. 

*Once again, Betsy's puns inspire me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dancing with the Stars

We're happy to report that this season's Dancing with the Stars lineup has been announced. We're even happier to be able to say that we saw Jewel, who is one of the contestents, a few years ago on our stage in Edmond J. Safra Hall. If you, too, were at the Heritage Dinner in May 2006 you can say you saw her when.

Speaking of lineups, tickets are now on sale for our March and April public programs. Buy early and often. You never know which artists will end up on a reality show and be too busy to tour....

Monday, February 9, 2009

"And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."

By now, we've heard a lot about US Airways Flight 1549. On January 15, the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger successfully managed this dangerous and difficult task; all of the 155 passengers survived. Many here at the Museum, which has a gorgeous view of the Hudson River, were able to see the ferries and other boats rush up the river to help the aircraft. To quote a colleague that day, "New Yorkers can get a bad rap, but we always come together to help each other."

Last night, Captain Sullenberger appeared on 60 Minutes. In the segment below, he and his family read from the boxes of thank you letters he's received. Their favorite comes from a the son of a Holocaust survivor, whose apartment overlooked the site of the landing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

In the News: In Search of War Criminals

The New York Times and many other media outlets, reported this week that Aribert Heim, an infamous Nazi doctor, had been secretly hiding in Cairo until his death in 1992. He was top on the Wiesenthal Center's list of most wanted Nazi criminals.

Our director, David G. Marwell, has served as the Chief of Investigative Research at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Special Investigations, where he conducted historical research in support of prosecution of Nazi war criminals living in the United States. He also played a major role in the Justice Department’s investigations of Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele. Because of his background, he was asked by Channel 7 Eyewitness News to weigh in on the discovery of Aribert Heim's whereabouts. Watch the interview here.

On a side note, apparently the Wiesenthal Center's director is skeptical that Heim is dead because they haven't found a body or a grave as of yet.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Emerge, Jewish Artists!

Heads up to performers, artists, performance artists, singers, dancers, comedians and anyone else who likes to be on stage! This summer, the Museum will hold its annual New York's Best Emerging Jewish Artists. While we don't have our official performer guidelines just yet, if you want a chance to be part of this year's show, now would be an excellent time for you up-and-coming Jewish artists to start emerging by putting together samples of your work/audition tapes/etc.

Traditionally, most of our featured artists have been comedians and musicians. However, we have had a great many performers whose presentations have been as unique as their talents--storytellers, fashion designers, poets, even beatboxers.One of my favorite acts was from the second year of the show. Human beatbox Yuri Lane gave an amazing performance. He was played in by DJ Diwon and I think it took the audience a moment to realize that once Yuri started, Diwon had stopped playing and everything they were hearing was coming from Yuri.

We're always looking for original new acts, so think about how you want to wow us! We'll be posting more information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When you don't want a Tall Skim Latte

Have you ever been ready to do some work at a coffee shop and couldn't get a table or couldn't concentrate because of the cell phone conversations around you? Or perhaps you didn't want to spend $6 on a coffee drink.

If this sounds familiar, I learned something today that may be of interest to you. The Museum of Jewish Heritage has free wireless connection throughout the building. You can twitter or blog about your experience at the Museum from the lobby, or bring your computer up to our cafe to do some work (and have a reasonably priced cup of coffee). The Heritage Cafe is open to the public and has fabulous views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Do you need an added incentive? We know what you mean if you ask for a small, medium, or large.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There will be time, there will be time...*

Museum visitors have been enjoyed our special exhibitions Woman of Letters and Holocaust by Bullets since September and November respectively. Reviews and articles on these exhibits have appeared from New York to the San Francisco Chronicle and everywhere in between. We have been thrilled at the visitor response we have received on these fascinating stories.

And so, it is with great pleasure that I announce that both exhibitions will be extended. Holocaust by Bullets will be on view through March 23. Woman of Letters has been extended to August 30, 2009.

So if you haven't seen it yet, there's still time! If you've already seen it, bring a friend and come down for another look.

Also, I know we have spoken a lot about Felix Mendelssohn lately, but we would be remiss if we did not mention him today: it is his 200th birthday! Music from the world premiere of his recently discovered work (performed last week at the Museum of Jewish Heritage) was featured on public radio this morning, click here to listen: Museum recordings can be found on "Hour 2." I also discovered that, in spite of being born in 1809, he has an extensive page, usually reserved for actors and directors. Apparently his music has been featured in 397 films since 1913. Who'd have guessed?

*I'd like to thank T.S. Elliot for the title of this post...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Marking Black History Month

It is a fitting tribute to Black History Month that our first February post is a tribute to Lore Rasmussen, a German Jewish refugee who was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Prof. Rasmussen recently passed away. Read more about her on JTA. She, along, with more than 50 other Jewish refugee scholars came to this country in the 1930s and 40s and found jobs in historically Black colleges.

Her story, along with many other inspiring professors and dedicated and accomplished students will be featured in our spring exhibition, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. It is a fascinating and hopeful story that explores the encounter between these scholars and their students, and their impact on each other, the Civil Rights Movement, and on American Society.

My recommendation is to bring a kleenex when you visit. Just watching the PBS film about the subject moved me (and some of my colleagues) to tears. The story is just so uplifting. Many of the students went on to have amazing careers in law, art, teaching etc. Notable students include Dr. Joceyln Elders, the former Surgeon General, artist John Biggers, and Dr. Joyce Ladner, the first female president of Howard University. Check back soon to learn more about all these extraordinary individuals.