Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, Facebook!

At five years old, Facebook already has more friends than I do: 200 million "friends" to be exact. Then- Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg began the site in his dorm room in 2004. In other words, when I was in my junior year of college, watching Golden Girls marathons, Zuckerburg was beginning an international company that currently “promises to change how we communicate … [ by] linking peripatetic people across space and time”…at least according to this article in The New York Times. Even the Museum has jumped into the wonderful world of Facebook  The Museum’s page provides “Fans” with updates about exhibits, public programs, Young Friends events, and special offers.

The aforementioned article tells the story of Israeli woman Karen Haber, whose extended family was dispersed during the Holocaust. Facebook has provided an outlet for her to reconnect to cousins from Woodstock to Hong Kong. (We do hope Ms. Haber also used JewishGen ), which makes genealogical research easier with access to millions of records as well as an online community of fellow researchers.) “I’m using Facebook and trying to unite this family,” she says. We say: Good luck… and feel free to friend us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thank you, the Dutch!

Battery Park City is getting a present: a big one. In honor of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's arrival in New York harbor aboard the Dutch vessel, the Halve Maen ("half moon"), the Kingdom of the Netherlands has given money to finance a new pavilion which will be used for public markets, food, information, seating, and shade. Designed by Dutch architect Ben van Berkelwill, the pavilion will be shaped like—what else—a windmill. Located at Peter Minuit Plaza in front of the Staten Island ferry terminal, it will be finished by September, 2009.

As soon as that project is finished, The Battery Conservancy will begin building a carousel at the southern end of Battery Park. Who doesn't love a carousel? Construction will begin this fall and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2010. I guess this is the present we give ourselves to mark the 401st anniversary of Henry Hudson's arrival. This isn't your run of the mill merry-go-round. Instead of riding an array of horses, the SeaGlass carousel will simulate the experience of going under water. Children (and this Museum employee, as it will be a quick jaunt from MJH) will ride in 30 iridescent fish that change colors housed in a spiraling pavilion of glass and steel that looks like a giant shell. The ride will feature music that is synchronized with lights, and ocean film projections.

Something to look forward to in the months and year to come! Thanks to The Battery Park City Broadsheet for this scoop: we continue to look to them for the latest in Lower Manhattan news, including dining and cultural events.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Battery Park Panda Sad About Fare Hikes

After covering the subject of the mysterious, melancholy panda a month ago, New York magazine just posted a picture of their own. Their reaction was one of similar confusion. They ask "Why is the panda sad?" My guess? MTA fare hikes. I know the news has certainly made me want to cry.
The fare hike (from $2 to $2.50) on the subway and buses will take effect on May 31. The service cuts include eliminating 35 bus routes and two subway lines (the Z and W). Off-peak and weekend service will also be cut back. Says the Times, "The authority’s board had hoped for a different outcome."

Not as much as we had, board. Not as much as we...

But, as I try to heed Monty Python's advice and always look on the bright side of life, I shall point out that the Staten Island Ferry will remain free, making it the best transit deal in town. Fortuitously, the Staten Island Ferry is also very close to the Museum.

Photo courtesy of friend of the blog (and colleague) Avrami Groll.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You’re Making Us Blush

One of the best parts of my job here is meeting interesting people. Yesterday, Jamie and I went to the launch of the Pen World Voices Festival where we had a glass of Rioja and stood just a few feet from Salman Rushdie, chair of the World Voices Festival. I admit that we were too shy to say hello, but nevertheless it was pretty neat. We will welcome our own erudite writers as part of the festival on May 3.

Another nice thing that happened the other day is that we got a lovely email from a visitor. While we think the Museum of Jewish Heritage is a special and powerful place, it is nice to hear it from someone who is not as close to the people, programs, and exhibits as we are. Here is an excerpt from the email:

“We live in the community
And my husband and I cherish your presence.
Programs, exhibitions, installations, history, music, food.
Beautiful architecture, beautiful purpose.
Honor, respect, remember.
No way to actually state the experience
Only to tell you that it is a sanctuary.
Where we return often
To participate, to sit
To do, to do nothing….

My parents survived the Holocaust.
My husband and I survived 9/11 (offices at WTC 1 and 2)…

And so
You are a gift to our tradition, our heritage, our lives.
Thank you.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Gallery Educators Join the Museum Family

Today's blog comes to us from Education Assistant Monica Brandwein.

The 32 new Gallery Educators have become a family to me. Since their training began in September, I have made great connections with each of them. Working with the class, either as whole or as individuals, I felt that I was always learning. So when it was time for them to graduate, you could understand how happy and excited I was. It was like seeing my “kids” graduate. Preparations for the event took a lot of time and effort and I wanted to make sure everything would be perfect. I had to make sure everything was ordered and ready for the big day—it almost felt like I was making a bat mitzvah.

On Wednesday, March 18, the day finally the day arrived. The 32 Gallery Educators arrived at 4 p.m. for rehearsal. It was so exciting to see all of them dressed up with big smiles on their faces and a great sense of accomplishment. We pinned white roses on their outfits to symbolize the importance of individual responsibility and action in times of complacency and hatred. The Gallery Educators expressed such honor as the roses were placed on their shirts. At 5 p.m. the doors opened and the family and friends of the class members entered the Events Hall for a special evening and were joined by Museum staff. David Marwell, Director of the Museum, began with opening remarks followed by a musical performance by the Westchester Day School Choir. Then, Ken Goldsmith, Gallery Education Coordinator, presented the new class to Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who conferred the Gallery Educator status. After the conferral of the Gallery Educators there was a reception in honor of the graduates.

During the reception I could not stop smiling. At one point, I caught myself getting a little choked up. It was so amazing to see how the friends and family of the class already had such a love of the Museum; many could not wait to become more involved. The graduates themselves were so anxious to lead their first tours that some took their loved ones into the galleries for a mini-tour. Some of the graduates talked about having a reunion. It was a night that I will truly remember for a very long time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Holocaust Denial and the Catholic Church

When the news of Bishop Williamson's Holocaust denial came to light, my colleagues and I were especially dismayed. However, we have had a wonderful relationship with the Archdiocese here in New York since the Museum of Jewish Heritage first opened. In fact, John Cardinal O’Connor spoke at the dedication and stated that it was his desire that every student from every Catholic school visit the Museum. Since then, thousands of Catholic students and their teachers have come here to learn about our shared heritage and our difficult past.

We are also very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and work with Father Patrick Desbois these past several months. Yesterday was the last day that the exhibition about his research was on view here. On this day, Father Desbois and a delegation of cardinals, bishops, and priests from France, Germany, Africa, and Asia came to the Museum to see the exhibition. Following their tour, Andre Cardinal Vingt-Trois from Paris, Father Desbois, our director Dr. David G. Marwell, and Dr. Bernard Lander from Touro College all offered remarks about the importance of Holocaust education, especially in combating those that would deny the truth. The delegation also got the chance to meet Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, a Ukrainian survivor and one of our trustees. You can read some of David's thoughts on the day on his blog.

I was especially moved by something Cardinal Vingt-Trois said, "Let this be another opportunity to recall -whether the time is right or not- that being a Catholic is radically incompatible with denying the Holocaust..."

We are grateful for their visit and proud to continue working with the dedicated Catholic clergy and educators here and abroad.

Cardinal Vingt-Trois is seen here (second from right) with (l to r) Cardinal Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, Dr. Lander, and Dr. Marwell. Credit: AP Photo/Museum of Jewish Heritage and Touro College, Diane Bondareff

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't PASS OVER the Museum Shop!

As I indicated in yesterday’s post, it’s not too early to start thinking about Passover. This year, the holiday begins Wednesday, April 8 at sundown. If you find yourself in need of a seder plate, kiddish cup, or Haggadah, come visit the Museum Shop.
We are stocked with items to suit a variety of tastes and budgets. One of our favorite (aka Betsy’s favorite) Passover items in the shop is the Ten Plagues Finger Puppets (pictured). Have you ever seen a cuter locust? Maybe they seem cuter when you only have to deal with one and not a swarm. The description says it’s for ages 3 and up so clearly it’s not intended just for children… right? 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tonight, Tonight

Tonight the Upper West Side will come to mid-town’s Palace Theater with a revival of the 1950s classic West Side Story. So why is this opening night different from all other opening nights? (No, it’s not too early for a Passover reference.) This time around, the Puerto-Rican gang, the Sharks, will actually be speaking Spanish. But if the original idea had come to fruition, the Sharks may be speaking another language in the revival: Yiddish.

The script was originally intended to be a Catholic boy falling in love with a Jewish girl. The working title was East Side Story. But after a wave of Puerto Rican immigrants arrived in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s, the story was changed.

Since the play was written, the city has seen even more changes. The slum neighborhoods depicted in the show take place around where Lincoln Center stands today (the opening number of the film was actually filmed in front of the buildings that were later demolished to make way for Lincoln Center Plaza). The Museum will be hosting a program on April 19, The World in a City with New York Times greats Joe Berger and Arthur Gelb, that examines the ever-changing demographics of New York and the rich diversity its neighborhoods.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bob and Weave

Muhammed Ali is probably best known for his classic adage “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Today we are familiar with the lithe bobbing, weaving, and defensive techniques employed by professional boxers. But in 18th century England, boxing looked very different from the dance-like grace of today’s rings. In fact, English boxing back then was pretty much just two guys exchanging punches until one fell down. Needless to say, the bigger guy almost always won… that is until Daniel Mendoza hit the scene.
The life of this fascinating character is the jumping off point for next week’s production of The Punishing Blow. Written by New York Times’ columnist Randy Cohen (“The Ethicist”) and directed by and starring Seth Duerr, The Punishing Blow follows "Leslie," a professor who, as punishment, must deliver a lecture about an influential Jew: he chooses Mendoza. It will be presented at the Museum on Wednesday, March 25 at 7 p.m. You can read about it in the latest issue of The Jewish Week and purchase tickets here.
At 5’6” and 160 pounds, Jewish bare-knuckle boxer Mendoza was not a heavyweight. In order to capitalize on his speed and small stature, Mendoza developed a method of “scientific boxing” which included super-complex concepts such as “blocking,” “ducking,” and “trying not to get punched unconscious.” Some criticized this method of being cowardly, though maybe not to Mendoza’s face: he was after all, the English Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795.
But while Mendoza was bright enough to revolutionize the sport, he forgot that wearing one’s hair long makes it easy for an opponent to grab onto you and punch. This is, in fact, how he lost his title to “Gentleman” John Jackson. Holding his long hair with one hand while he pounded his head with the other, Jackson pummeled Mendoza into submission in around ten minutes. Boxers have worn their hair short ever since. This has proven an inadvertent but important contribution to the sport as well.
Nevertheless, Mendoza’s accomplishments far outweigh his losses. Not only did he achieve personal fame and notoriety, but, ever proud of his heritage, he showed England and the world just how wrong they were in their stereotypes of Jews as weak and cowardly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Day

As a Jew of (mostly Russian but some) Irish background, I want to wish you a happy (secular or religious, whatever the case may be) St. Patrick’s Day. I know many of our readers don’t celebrate the holiday, but I’m sure they are still in favor of someone getting rid of snakes. Who likes snakes? (I'm glad I don't do PR for a company of snakes). Of course, that may be just a legend.

Interestingly, while the Jews of Ireland are a wee group, they do exist and are still thriving, albeit in small numbers. We even have an Irish Haggaddah in our collection. For more on Irish Jews, check out the website for Shalom Ireland, a documentary film that is coming to public television at some point.

To trace your own family history, visit JewishGen.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Rwandan Genocide Remembered

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Between the April and June of 1994, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, maimed, and/or raped by Hutu militia groups. Around the world, people are commemorating this devastating loss through testimonials, music, photography, and film.

Premiering at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in London, My Neighbor, My Killer is a film that gives new insight as to how human beings remember, cope with, and heal after tragedy. On Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m., it will make its US debut at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. My Neighbor, My Killer completes director/producer Anne Aghion’s “Rwanda trilogy” which has been filmed over the course of 10 years. Aghion will be available after the film for a Q&A , joined by Lars Waldorf, who ran Human Rights Watch's field office in Rwanda in 2002 and 2003 and covered genocide trials at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2001, and the incredible Jacqueline Murekatate, a Rwandan genocide survivor and co-founder of Miracle Corners of the World. Jacqueline is also a member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau.

Tickets to the screening are still available here. It is sure to be a powerful and insightful afternoon.    

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shooting Bullets

Today's blog comes to us from Director of Communications Abby Spilka. 

Yesterday we welcomed a crew from National Geographic working on a program about the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing squads responsible for the massacre of Jews in their own communities in the Soviet Union. The filmmakers were here a couple of weeks ago to interview our esteemed director David Marwell and to get b-roll footage in the galleries of the The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust By Bullets, on view through March 23. But yesterday was all about the bullets: filmed in close-up, panorama, and against a green screen…

Erica, our registrar, spent the day, and I mean the entire day, positioning bullets on this small turntable that moved on a miniature dolly. The camera man, more about him in a minute, had the production assistants control the movements remotely. Some bullets were standing up. Others were stacked in a heap. We learned from Peter, the producer, that the particularly shredded casings were a result of the bullets melting in the machine gun barrel. According to Peter, the only way the barrel would be that hot is if it were in constant use. Rather than stop and replace the barrels when they got too hot, the killers just kept on reloading.

There were hundreds of bullets, probably thousands between what was in the prep room and on display in the exhibition. Each one is a powerful metaphor for the quick and methodical destructive work of the mobile killing force. And each one represents a life taken from us.

Erica and I were e-mailing this morning about the day spent creating aesthetic displays of bullets. To us, they were a stack of bullets. But with the help of good lighting and Gordy, the expert camera man, something evil and grotesque was transformed into something beautiful and then transformed back. We agreed we felt uncomfortable interacting with the objects in that way. Especially Erica, who, as the registrar, was the only person in the room designated to touch them. Jennifer helped with the gun, but that’s a story for another day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now Hear This

We know that you are aware of Meryl Streep's 15 Academy Award nominations, but did you know that in the midst of all her superb acting, she found the time to record an award-winning audio guide with violinist extraordinaire Itzhak Perlman for the Museum of Jewish Heritage?

We just wanted to let you know about a special discount for the month of March. Through March 31, audio guides of the Museum’s Core Exhibition are half price ($2.50) for non-members and free for members.

While we also have Spanish, Japanese, and Russian versions of our acclaimed audio tour, only the English version is narrated by Ms. Streep and Maestro Perlman. Although we have no "Doubt" Meryl could do a convincing Spanish, Japanese, or Russian accent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance for Students

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day in English) is a day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Annually held on the 27th day of Nissan, this year Yom HaShoah will fall on April 21.

We are often asked - by teachers, families, rabbis, and others - if the Museum has any ideas or curricula for Holocaust remembrance. We do. It is called Zachor: A Holocaust Commemoration Kit, and was designed to help middle and high school students and teachers create their own relevant, meaningful, and age-appropriate Shoah remembrance ceremony. Zachor, to remember, is a sacred Jewish obligation. Through the process of Holocaust commemoration, Jews recount its history, explore its meanings, remember its victims, celebrate its heroes, and learn lessons of tolerance, resilience, and hope for the future.

The kit provides guidelines for a moving emotional experience and an educational context for learning, reflection, and action. Materials include tips for planning a Holocaust commemoration and examples of the elements that make a meaningful event; a history of Holocaust Remembrance Day; songs, prayers, and poems; and statements of remembrance. Six candles for use in the ceremony are included in the kit as well as discussion questions and activities for the classroom.

For more information about Zachor, or other Holocaust education curriculum, please contact the Education Staff.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Arts Champion Remembered

The Museum family fondly remembers Schuyler Chapin, impresario, arts manager, and champion of the city's cultural landscape. We are grateful that Mr. Chapin, as a representative of the Mayor's office, was among those present on October 5, 2001 at the reopening of the Museum of Jewish Heritage after the 9/11 attacks.

Along with former Governor George Pataki, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Museum's steadfast leadership including Chairman Robert M. Morgenthau and director Dr. David G. Marwell, Mr. Chapin believed strongly that the Museum should and must reopen in the wake of September 11th. We are most appreciative of his demonstrable support of our institution at this critical moment in our history.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Look Ma! I'm on TV (kinda)!

I am very pleased to announce that the Museum of Jewish Heritage now has its very own YouTube page. There you will find a number of public programs, lectures, and even general information about the Museum. So whether you missed a program, want to see something again, or share with a friend, take a look! Become a subscriber and receive updates about new content. Rate and comment on your favorite videos. We'd love to hear your feedback. Happy watching!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Day for the Greats

Friend of the Museum Kirk Douglas, who appeared in Edmond J. Safra Hall in September of 2007 to discuss his memoir Let's Face It is set to star in a one-man show at the age of 92. After meeting Mr. Douglas when he came to the Museum, it is not surprising to hear he still wants to perform; he is incredibly enthusiastic and completely dedicated to his craft. When we met him, he was charming, gracious, and kind. He kissed our hands and even signed a book for Betsy's grandma!

We weren't the only ones star-struck that day; actor John Turturro is a big fan (he even showed Douglas a list of his favorite actors he'd written as a kid with Douglas at the top) and came to the Museum just to meet him. After Turturro visited, however, he decided to come back a couple months later to present a screening of The Truce, in which he plays Primo Levi. (He says that it is the work he is most proud of: a quick look at Turturro's career will show you that really says something.)

We wish Mr. Douglas success in this new project.

We'd also like to take a moment to remember one of the greats whom we have recently lost: Horton Foote, the brilliant playwright and screenwriter, died on Wednesday. He leaves a legacy of over 60 plays and films,  including The Young Man from Atlanta, which won a Pulitzer in 1995 and  the Academy award-winning screenplay for Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Horton was able to do justice to adaptations of works by some of the greatest American writers of the 20th century--Lee, Faulkner, and Steinbeck--capturing the essence of their works' message while endowing them with cinematic appeal. To Kill a Mockingbird examines race relations and the fairness of the American legal system, both of which relate to the Museum's upcoming exhibits Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow and Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Justice in Sudan

The International Criminal Court has ordered the arrest of Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for atrocities committed in Darfur. While it is comforting to know that it is indeed true that the whole world is watching, and that eventually, he will most likely be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, it also sounds like there are still no easy answers about how to stop the inhumane conditions in Sudan.

Critics are afraid that Bashir's arrest will make peace talks more difficult and that it will incite more violence against Darfuri people. Also, after the warrant for Bashir's arrest, several humanitiarian organizations are being forced to leave the country, leaving upwards of 2 million people without essentials like clean water, food, and medical treatment.

Read more in the New York Times today. As always, we encourage you to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage's Social Action page for more background and for ideas about how to help.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New York's Best Emerging Audition Guidelines

As we promised a couple weeks ago, we now have the official guidelines for artist entries for the Fourth Annual New York's Best Emerging Jewish Artists.

The Goal: The winners will be showcased in a dynamic evening of cutting-edge comedy, music, storytelling, and film in the Museum's 375-seat theater on Wednesday, June 17. Up to four winners will be notified by phone by May 13 and will receive $250 for the performance.

How to Achieve This Goal: If you're a filmmaker, musician, singer, comedian, poet, spoken word artist, or dancer, send performance samples by April 13 to the lovely Sarah Wolff at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, NY, NY 10280. Inquiries may be sent to swolff@mjhnyc.org with Emerging Artist in the subject line. Submit a maximum of two (2), five to ten minute samples in DVD or CD format – cued to play or including a cue time – that best represents the work that would be performed if selected. We can't return submissions, so please don't send originals. Samples must be labeled individually with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and title. Include a brief description of the work along with artist bios and/or photos, if possible. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The Rub: To be eligible, performers must be at least 18 years old by May 1; submit materials informed by Jewish themes or identity; and be based in the New York tri-state area. Finalists may be required to audition at the Museum for the judging committee. Submissions must be post-marked or received no later than 5 p.m. on April 13.

What You May Have to Look Forward To: Let's just say previous guests who have appeared in Edmond J. Safra Hall include Judy Gold, Lewis Black, John Turturro, Idan Raichel, Ivri Lider, John Zorn, Nicholas Kristof, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andy Goldsworthy, Lou Reed, Judd Hirsch, and many others. I hope you're not easily blinded by the bright lights of paparazzi flashes...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We Can Do It

As we get closer to our Feminism and Faith program on March 11, I’ve been thinking a lot about Women’s History Month. We have a lot to celebrate, but a recent article in the New York Times about how women still earn less than men across the board reiterates that there is still a lot of work to be done in the workplace, as well as in the home, and in religious institutions.

Of special note: we are happy to announce that the March 11 program has a new moderator. Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement will lead the discussion. She should have some very interesting things to say.

What are you doing to mark the month? Of course a trip to a museum is a great way to commemorate. A friendly reminder, we have extended our exhibit about an extraordinary woman. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française will now be open until August 30. I am also a big fan of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, especially The Dinner Party, a permanent installation by Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party was first created in the 1970s, it is “a massive ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history.” Which brings me to our informal poll. If you could have dinner with one woman from history, who would it be? Please post your answers.

I’d also like to take a moment to give thanks for the smart, funny, compassionate, and all-around wonderful women that I get to work with every day. You make every day interesting and inspiring.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Change in Program

Due to the inclement weather, the screening of Spell Your Name with director Sergey Bukovsky scheduled for tonight will instead take place tomorrow, March 3 at 1 p.m. According to weather.com today's wind and snow will give way to sunny skies: not that all you tough New Yorkers are deterred by little flurries...

10,000(+) Strong for Blog from Battery Place

So what are we celebrating, you ask? (Not that one needs an excuse to revel in Peanuts-y goodness.) Last week, this blog, which began in August of 2008 reached over 10,000 hits! (We're actually at 10, 826 hits at the time of those post.)  Betsy and I have a lot of fun writing and we wish to thank all of you for making Blog from Battery Place a success. Tell your friends, continue to comment, and keep reading!