Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life Lessons In and Out of the Classrooms

This morning we held the press preview of our new exhibition, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. The following are excerpts of Bonnie Gurewitsch (the curator’s) remarks about what makes this exhibition so special. Seen here: Prof. Ernst Borinski.

Please also visit the website about the exhibition.

“For me, this exhibition has been a voyage of discovery.
As I pursued the research into individual stories and the backgrounds of the players in the story, I was fascinated by what I learned.

I discovered that within the poverty and material disadvantages of black life in the south, there was a very rich and positive culture of self-reliance, hard work, strong moral and religious values, and a firm conviction that education was a key to advancement and escape from poverty. These are the same values that generations of children of immigrants grow up with - they are also traditional Jewish values. So I realized that this story is universal, as well as specific.

I was privileged to meet Professors Lore and Donald Rasmussen last summer, a few months before Lore died. She was very frail and it was an effort for her to speak, but I could see in her eyes the spark of independence and creative thinking that led her to teach with what was called "unorthodox" methods. Realizing that her students had grown up with silence regarding their ancestral heritage, she took them on field trips that would show them what their forbears had experienced. Compensating for their limited cultural opportunities, she arranged for some of her students to do student teaching in New York City, opening their eyes to new cultural experiences and bringing them in contact with new teaching methodologies.

This same disregard for conventional methods is evident in the approach of Dr. Viktor Lowenfeld, who trained black artists and art educators to look within themselves for what they needed to express, rather than imitate others. He taught his black students to know and value their African heritage, and validated their use of their history and culture in their art.

Others, such as Professors Georg and Wilma Iggers, became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. Posing as graduate students doing research, the couple investigated conditions in white and black schools in Little Rock, AK and New Orleans, LA. The statistical information that they gathered was used by the NAACP as part of the legal effort to overturn school segregation. In appreciation for Georg's pivotal role in the NAACP, he was invited to join a Black fraternity at Philander Smith College, which honors him to this day. In later years he engaged in similar efforts to create understanding and communication between the two Germanys, which earned him a medal from the German government.

Like the Iggers, some professors became part of the college community. Professor Ernst Borinski never married, and remained at Tougaloo until his death. His students and colleagues became his family, sharing social events, challenges and triumphs. Professor Ernst Manasse also remained committed to North Carolina Central University, never leaving the community that welcomed him and his family, offering professional satisfaction and dearly held friendships.

Jewish scholars came to the United States as refugees, without any material advantages, not knowing the language or the culture to which they were transplanted. They not only worked hard to succeed as teachers, they also contributed to the intellectual life of this country and the world with their academic research and publications. By sharing their lives with students at the black colleges, and by setting high standards for them, they gave their students the tools for success. They educated a generation of black professors, professionals, and community leaders, who in turn have shared their insights, discoveries and talents with the rest of the world.

Annie Ruth Perryman inscribed the flyleaf of her Bible, which is on exhibit, with the words – “Expect miracles.” Having just celebrated the holiday of Passover, we remember the miracle of deliverance from slavery to freedom. Dr. Joyce Ladner, Mrs. Perryman’s daughter, described the strong faith of her parents, “which promised them a hereafter and the hope of a better life to come.” This message resonates strongly for us at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, echoing our motto, “There is hope for your future.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From Gossip Girl to Good Deeds Girl

Jamie and I wanted to congratulate our very own Abby Spilka for receiving an award last night for her work as an outstanding hospice volunteer. Abby is so dedicated and caring in her everyday life and her extracurricular activities, that we are not surprised at all.

If you have seen the movie Jerry Maguire, you will remember the scene where Rod Tidwell refers to Jerry as his “ambassador of kwan [love],” Abby, you are our ambassador of Tikkun Olam.

Mazel Tov!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Things To Do In New York

Every now and then, a new term pops up that just tickles me pink. My new favorite made-up word? Staycation: a stay-at-home vacation, usually for the purpose of saving money. Though first reported use of this term dates back to 2005 (according to Wikipedia, anyway), it has really taken off since the recession. Fortunately for New Yorkers, we are surrounded by some of the world’s greatest attractions, so staycations have some really fabulous potential. Here’s something exciting for your pennywise staycationers (or jet setting vacationers): for the first time since September 11, 2001, the Statue of Liberty’s crown will re-open to the public. The anticipated date of the re-opening is July 4 (I wonder why…) though that is not set firmly in stone just yet. We will definitely keep you posted, however, since lovely Lady Liberty is our neighbor. So while you’re in the area, you can always visit us as well.
Another stay/vacation idea for all you Gossip Girl fans out there: a Gossip Girl walking tour. "On Location Film Tours," a private company here in New York, has begun offering private tours of many of the real-life locations where the show has filmed. Our own gossip girl (…fan) Betsy, however, informs me that she questions some of the locations listed in the linked article, as she believes Lily and Bart’s wedding was filmed at the Ukrainian Institute, and she definitely knows of a school in Brooklyn Heights where the show frequently films. I am woefully out of the loop and don’t even know who Lily or Bart are, but since they are on Gossip Girl, I can only assume they are beautiful and rich. The Gossip Girl tour takes place uptown; if you have a hankering to see what the rest of the city has to offer, CityWalks has some great suggestions including a Lower Manhattan walking tour that includes the Museum.
So what about you? What are some of your favorite staycation spots, in New York or elsewhere?  

Monday, April 27, 2009

A "Sacred Mission" to Remember

Yesterday, over 2,000 people came together at Congregation Emanu-El for the Annual Gathering of Remembrance, New York’s largest Holocaust commemoration. It’s appropriate that in this weekend, Religion and Ethics posted an interview (conducted at the Museum), linked here, with Father Patrick Desbois, whose work and research was the basis for the exhibition Holocaust by Bullets, which closed about a month ago.

Father Desbois has ensured that the millions of Jews who were murdered in Ukraine by the Nazis will not be forgotten: he has made it his life’s work to interview those who witnessed these horrific events, either as bystanders or collaborators, and locate the mass graves. He carries out this arduous task for several reasons: to learn the truth, to refute Holocaust deniers, and to find the bodies so that they may be paid respect and offered prayers and dignity in death.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Summer Reading

Here is a little something to read as you soak up the sun this weekend.

It is a wonderful preview in the Wall Street Journal of Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, our new exhibit which opens next week at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Intrepid reporter, Lucette Lagnado, who is also the author of the vivid memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, interviewed several of the people whose stories are told in the exhibit. I think she really captured the close relationships and unique bonds between the black students and Jewish professors that lasted a lifetime.

Seen here: Prof. Lore Rasmussen with her students picking cotton on a field trip. Read the article for more information about Prof. Rasmussen's innovative teaching style.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Would Shakespeare Tweet

The communications department of the Museum is having an ongoing conversation about Twitter. Should we or shouldn't we tweet? What sorts of things would you as readers want to know and how often do you want to hear from us?

I think it is fitting on William Shakespeare's birthday that we pose these questions to you, our fair readers. I keep thinking about a Valentine's Day card my husband bought me that had a picture of Shakespeare trying to write on a conversation heart. The bubble over his head says "Drat," as he throws out yet another heart after running out of space. The caption says "Shakespeare's first failed career, candy heart writer."

Which brings me to my last question. Is it possible to write something meaningful in 140 characters? If you have not read Maureen Dowd's op-ed about the subject, it is a hoot. It is aptly named "To Tweet or Not to Tweet." Let us know what you think. Feel free to be wordy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In addition to welcoming Holocaust survivors, artifact donors, students, and visitors to the galleries yesterday, the Museum of Jewish Heritage also hosted an important press conference and ceremony regarding a stolen painting.

At a repatriation ceremony, officials turned over a 17th century painting, which was looted by the Nazis in 1937, to its rightful owners. “Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe,” belonged to the late Jewish art dealer Max Stern who was forced to sell it. Thanks to the diligence of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office, the small Dutch painting from 1632 has now been returned to Mr. Stern's estate.

As our director, Dr. David Marwell said, it was fitting that the ceremony took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day because "we take some small measure of satisfaction to witness on this day and in this place a small act that, within its context, sets things straight."

You can read more about the painting's fascinating history and journey in the New York Times.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Remember, never forget... There is hope for your future

Today is Yom HaShoah, known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Because so many do not know when their friends and families perished during the Holocaust, a special day has been set aside to fulfill the sacred Jewish obligation to remember. Every year, in observance of this important day, the Museum invites artifact donors, including survivors and their children, to come to the galleries and talk about their objects and experiences. When asked why they do it, they often say it is because they want the next generation to hear from survivors, since they are the last to be able to hear these stories first-hand. Today, our speakers were able to reach over 300 students and visitors.

This is one of our busiest days of the year and, for me, also one of the most rewarding. I always look forward to hearing speakers tell their stories, even though many of them are powerfully heartbreaking. I am inspired by their ability to share their past tragedies in order to educate others and help end genocide. Our volunteers’ generosity of spirit, not just today but every day, is boundless. We thank them for helping to ensure that we will “Remember…never forget.”

This coming Sunday, April 26, the Museum will co-sponsor the Annual Gathering of Remembrance, New York's oldest and largest Holocaust commemoration ceremony, at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on 5th Avenue. If you are among the 2,000 people who plan to attend, please be advised that the Greek Independence Day Parade will be taking place on Fifth Avenue on the same afternoon (roughly 1-5 PM). It will run 18 blocks, from 61st to 79th Sts. Below are instructions and recommendations for getting to the Temple.

Travel by Car:
Note that there will be no through traffic on 5th Avenue between 61st and 79th Streets, or on 65th and 66th Sts. (the streets south and north of the Temple). If you are arriving by car, please avoid 5th Avenue and side streets between 61st and 79th. For people arriving from the west side, the 79th St. transverse will be open. If you are being dropped off, you should be dropped off at the corner of Madison Avenue and 65th or 66th Streets. You will be able to walk down the street and enter on 5th Avenue.

Travel by Subway:
Exit the Lexington Ave Line 4/5/6 subway and walk to Madison Avenue (avoiding 5th Ave), then turn on 65th St to access the Temple's 5th Avenue entrance. At this time, we don't know about the Broadway Local R/W 5th Avenue stop.

Travel by Bus:
Buses will not be running down 5th Avenue.

Check for up-to-date transit information.

(Pictured: Thea Gottesmann speaks to students about a dress she made from a tablecloth, given to her by American G.I.s, upon her liberation from Mauthausen.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Golden Globes of the Web

I’m very happy to congratulate our colleagues in the Collections and Exhibitions and Education departments on their Museums and the Web 2009 Best of the Web Award. Our Online Collection won in the category of Research site.

That all sounds very technical, but trust me, it is very user friendly. The site is so easy to use and a very cool experience. You can search through a vast array of artifacts from our collection by type of object, key word, place, family name etc. I’m sure there are also other search options I haven’t even discovered yet. It’s a great way to extend your trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

At any awards ceremony, you should graciously acknowledge your peers, so click here to see some innovative things that other museums are doing online.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lenny Bruce: Live* at the Museum

On Wednesday, May 6, the Museum will present Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce. Actor Steve Cuiffo channels controversial comedian Lenny Bruce, performing a selection of Bruce’s most biting satires in this fantastic one-man show last seen at Joe’s Pub. I was recently able to talk to Cuiffo about his performance, Lenny Bruce, and the upcoming production.

Jamie Kenney (JK): When did you first encounter the work of Lenny Bruce?

Steve Cuiffo (SC): I was working on a play with the Foundry Theater called Major Bang or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb—an homage to Dr. Strangelove. Originally it was a one person show; my writing partner and I were exploring how different people in history used this format. As this was going on, I was given a box set of Lenny Bruce called Let the Buyer Beware . I had a vague, passing knowledge of Lenny Bruce, having seen the Dustin Hoffman movie [Lenny], but when I started listening to him it was not what I was expecting. In his earlier routines, Lenny would do send-ups of popular movies, playing all the characters and we loved that as a format. We thought “What if Lenny came back from the dead and talked about the war on terror?” [In preparing to perform as Bruce,] I realized you can’t separate what’s going on in his mind and what comes out of his mouth. We did a two-month run and every day I listened to Lenny Bruce to keep up the timing and voice. I became immersed.

JK: What most attracted you to Lenny Bruce at that point? What about his material are you most drawn to now?

SC: He’s still so relevant. As an artist, Lenny Bruce went through a tremendous change. There’s a great variety: from mimickery early in his career to social satire later on. I’m more drawn to his later material, which is much more serious. We think of him as a comedian, but he expressed very well-thought out ideas and serious material. This is, for me, the really interesting stuff: humor and satire. But I can still listen to routines from the Arthur Godfrey Show that are crazy and hysterical. Those performances are fun to watch.

JK: What have you learned through Bruce’s personal files that you hadn’t known about him before, or wouldn’t have guessed otherwise? How does it inform your performance?

SC: During any kind of study, the main part of preparing for the performance is listening to the recordings. I’ve been able to hear full sets—towards the end of his life he recorded his own full sets. It’s really interesting and I’m able to observe how he warms up; as a performer, it’s useful to see and hear the full arc. With secondary documents like movies and books there are so many different ways in which people can spin history, so many things you can focus on. But the recordings are the primary source, and he reveals a lot of himself.

JK: How do you think Bruce's Jewish culture creeps into his act?

SC: It doesn’t creep: it’s in the blood and bones of who he was. He used a lot of Yiddish—he was speaking the way his mother spoke when he was growing up, which very much formed his identity. He talks about it a lot, what it was like to be a Jew in the army and so forth.

JK: How do you go about preparing to portray such an iconic character?

SC: It’s been a process. It’s been amazing: I’m going on three years of working on this material. The enjoyment I get out of this is being precise. I really want to get every “umm” and “uh” and “pause.” Sometimes I transcribe it to get every beat. It’s like a game to me. In precision the ideas are expressed at their fullest. Hearing the material live, as a modern day audience, is an interesting performance—the meaning is tied to the delivery.

JK: What do you think will most surprise a younger audience that may not be very familiar with the comedian?

SC: A lot of my friends who were my age came up to me after the show and asked if I updated the material when I hadn’t changed a word. [Bruce] really is timeless. I think that will be surprising to a lot of people: the relevance of his material today. Lenny spoke of general terms of hypocrisy—he’d talk about politicians in general rather than make a joke about a specific person.

JK: What can we expect from your performance at the Museum of Jewish Heritage?

SC: I’ll be performing his later material—1963 to 1966. This is the kind of stuff that’s a little bit more philosophical with some bits and routines incorporated. I’m going to begin with Lenny Bruce on comedy—what kind of comedy he likes, why he likes it—so the audience will have a frame of reference to see how he fits in to the history of comedy. And then I’ll perform him talking about getting arrested in San Francisco for saying a bad word as well as some of his religious humor. Some comedy, some philosophizing: I think it’s his most interesting material. I try to give a trajectory of him as a character. It’s not just a hodgepodge; it is structured, leading one thing to the other so you have a picture at the end, maybe of who this guy. Maybe someone will want to learn something more about him.

Tickets to this one-night-only performance are available online or by calling the Museum box office at 646.437.4202.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New York Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Week

Next week is Immigrant Heritage Week in New York City. From April 17 through 23, this unique celebration will honor the vibrant immigrant cultures, heritage, and communities found in every corner of the City. Since the stories we tell here at the Museum often include immigration, we are getting involved by co-sponsoring a public program. New York Times Metro reporter Joe Berger will discuss his book The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the "New" New York  which brings to life the sights, smells, tastes, and people of the globe in an intimate look at New York City’s vibrant neighborhoods on Sunday, April 19 at 2:30.

And speaking of the “new New York,” I’m not sure if it was done intentionally (it probably was), but this week’s issue of New York Magazine appropriately highlights how immigration adds to the city’s dynamic with an article titled “Arrivals.” Dozens of well-known figures (Diane Von Furstenberg, Lorne Michaels, Wynton Marsalis, and Connie Chung to name a few) are interviewed on what brought them to the city in the first place, when they came, what they thought then, and how they feel now. Some of those featured are immigrants in the true sense: they came from another country and settled in America. But more are “immigrants” from places throughout the United States. This trend is reflected in our very Museum—while we shall not dismiss the undeniable charisma and charm of the native New Yorkers among us, many staff members are either from another state (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Florida), upstate (Westchester, Orange, Ulster), or another country (Germany, China, Israel, Dominican Republic). We noble transplants continue the tradition of “outsiders” who are drawn to this incredible city and, by coming, add to what makes it so unique.

So to all the New Yorkers out there: where are you from? Feel free to share your story in the comments below.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Museum in Skokie

Growing up in the early 1980s, when the town of Skokie, Illinois was mentioned, it conjured up images of neo-Nazis fighting for the right to march in a city where many Holocaust survivors lived. The incident was a lightening rod for heated debate. Many legal minds, community leaders, and concerned citizens argued about what the First Amendment protected and what it didn't. The case drew lots of attention and eventually made it to the Supreme Court. While the neo-Nazis ultimately won the right to march, they marched near Skokie, not in it, and the rallies were not well attended.

I'm happy to report that now the town of Skokie will be associated with something much more positive- a new Holocaust museum that will ensure that neo-Nazis and those who hold similar beliefs will never have the last word and that local school children will learn about the Holocaust in a thoughtful and comprehensive way.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center will open to the public on April 19, in time for Yom HaShoah. We wish our colleagues there a meaningful and succesful opening. If you are closer to New York, please join us for our Holocaust commemoration events at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's Passover Online, Too

In observance of Passover, the Museum will close at 3 o’clock today and April 14, and will be closed April 9, 10, 15, and 16. But, just because we’re closed, having our seder feasts (or, in my case, pani Pasquali) it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn more about Jewish heritage before your next visit.

Our online collection allows you to examine a number of objects from our permanent collection. Our featured item this week is a Hagadah published by the Hersh Hungarian Grape Products Company in 1954. A Hagadah, for those of you not familiar with Passover traditions, is a book that tells the story of the liberation from slavery and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, as well as specifying how the seder meal should be performed. To find more objects related to the holiday, simply type “Passover” into the search engine on the page’s top right corner, a number of items will pop up for you to explore, including this stained matzo cover. I point it out because a similar item caught my co-worker Lisa’s attention the other day in the gallery. As she put it, “I liked that it was stained because it shows that it was used and was present for so many special occasions.” Abby agreed, saying that displaying well-loved, familiar objects like this are part of what makes the Museum of Jewish Heritage so special.

Happy Passover, everyone!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In the News: Schindler's List Found

The Associated Foreign Press is reporting that Oskar Schindler’s original list of 801 Jews that he was personally responsible for saving has been found in a Sydney library. The librarians had no idea that it was there in a file with other source materials author Thomas Keneally used to write the novel upon which the film is based. It is a powerful artifact that I would like to see in person someday. While by all accounts Schindler was a very flawed man, he is a good example of an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing.

One of the most moving sections of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in my opinion, is the Rescuers' Gallery which honors those who saved Jews during the Holocaust, including Schindler. Having talked to a few rescuers, the one thing that the individuals have in common, whether they saved one individual, one family, or were involved in underground resistance, is that they just thought it was the right thing to do. The ones I have met or have heard speak didn’t think of themselves as heroes at all.

While Schindler died virtually penniless and unknown, thanks to the many survivors he saved, his story is remembered. Seen here: Schindler (second from right) with survivors.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Remember, Reflect, Respond

Jacqueline Murekatete is an extraordinary woman. We have mentioned her before on this blog, but hers is an amazing and inspiring story, so you’ll forgive me for going on.

Internationally recognized for her work as a youth leader and humanitarian, Jacqueline was born in Rwanda in 1984. She was not yet ten when she lost her immediate and extended family in the 1994 genocide. After moving from a Rwandan orphanage to live with her uncle in New York, Jacqueline built a life for herself-- she attended NYU, and began speaking out for victims and survivors of genocide.

In the past five years, she has conducted hundreds of presentations nationwide, from schools and universities, to conferences, to the United Nations General Assembly. In spite of her busy schedule, she makes time for us: we are very proud to have her on the Speakers Bureau here at the Museum.

In April 2007, she founded Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, which aims to help genocide survivors rebuild their lives. Tomorrow, this organization will present Remember, Reflect, Respond: A Gathering to Commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. The event will take place at the Church Center for the United Nations from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The program will include a moment of silence, a reading of selected survivor testimonies, remarks from survivors of the 1994 genocide as well as reflections and multi-faith prayers from Rabbi Dan Ain of New Shul Synagogue and Reverend Kathleen Stone of the Church Center for the United Nations.

(Pictured: Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why is this Cookie Different from All Other Cookies?

I assume that many of you will also be spending some time this weekend getting ready for Passover. Before you make out your grocery shopping list, might I suggest Payard’s fantastic recipe for flourless chocolate cookies?

I found this recipe last year in New York Magazine. My guests couldn’t believe they were kosher for Passover (and it wasn’t just the four cups of wine talking). They are so good, that I would think about making them year round.

For those of you who don’t bake, Payard also sells chocolate matzoh, flourless chocolate cake, and the aforementioned magic cookies, but their kitchen isn’t kosher for Passover. (They do sell chocolates that are certified kosher.)
Another reason to bake them at home, other than the cost, is that calories don’t count if you just eat the broken ones.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bon Voyage a Notre Petit Livre

While the Museum’s popular exhibit Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française will continue to be on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage until August 30, a few pieces which were in our galleries up until the end of March can be found (starting tomorrow) at the New York Public Library in its new exhibit Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation.

Between Collaboration and Resistance documents the tumultuous, often dangerous challenges faced by writers and other public intellectuals in Nazi-controlled France. Personal correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, books, and posters—most displayed for the first time in the United States—illustrate the contrasting, sometimes complex response from writers such as Gide, Sartre, and Céline to the country's defeat and the Vichy regime.

Irène’s identity card, ration card, and the original manuscript will augment this important story and we bid them a bittersweet bon voyage. They began their journey at IMEC, the literary archive that houses Irène Némirovsky’s papers in Normandy, arrived in Battery Park City in the fall, and will be on view on 42nd Street until July 25.

You can still see these powerful objects on the Museum’s Woman of Letters website and at the Museum itself, more than 70 artifacts, two films, and a digital copy of Némirovsky’s 220 page manuscript are still on view. We hope you’ll be able to come to (the now blossoming) Battery Park City and see it all for yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Genocide Prevention Month

While we get ready to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important to think about the fact that during the month of April we also mark significant anniversaries for 5 other tragedies: in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia.

My colleagues and I recently met with dedicated representatives from the Genocide Prevention Project to discuss their work to raise awareness about genocide and mass atrocities. Although we all believe it is of vital importance to remember and to learn about genocide all year round, they have declared April to be Genocide Prevention Month to honor those who perished and those who survived, and to draw more attention to the genocide in Darfur. We wish them luck in this important endeavor.

Visit their website to learn more.

Join us for Holocaust Remembrance Day events.