Monday, August 31, 2009

To Life

Today, the Museum launched a new webpage dedicated to Andy Goldsworthy’s Garden of Stones that is full of photos of the Garden over the past six years. You can see pictures from the tree-planting ceremony, or read about the artist and the process of creating the Garden. The website looks great and, for those of us familiar with how it has changed over the years, it’s a great stroll down memory lane. When I first came to the Museum as an intern in August 2004, the Garden was not yet one year old. The saplings were practically sticks—some did not even have a single leaf. When I compare that mental image to seeing the leafy, thriving trees I see every morning I am awestruck. 
The Memorial Garden is a contemplative space dedicated to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and honoring those who survived. Eighteen boulders, each sprouting a single dwarf oak sapling planted by a Holocaust survivor, represent the tenacity and fragility of life. (Even the number of boulders is significant: in Hebrew, the word for 18 is chai, which also means “life.”) Garden of Stones demonstrates how elements of nature can survive in seemingly impossible places. Meant to be revisited and experienced differently over time as the garden matures, the Garden is visible from almost every floor of the Museum.

Friday, August 28, 2009

One Mitzvah Brings Another

As I am originally from Boston, my family is especially saddened by the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He almost seemed like a member of the family. In the few days since his passing, I thought about what it was I most admired about him-- it is that, despite the fact he came from such a privileged background, he tirelessly spent his career working for those who were downtrodden and marginalized. He was what we call a true mensch. What I couldn’t figure out was what made us feel like we knew him.

In reading a lovely story, one on CNN about his personal interest in Soviet Jewry, especially in the plight of one little girl in one family, I figured it out. He really got to know individuals and listen to them and care about their lives. He always remembered that political issues were really about real people. On JTA, there is a really nice article about his commitment to Jewish issues and to justice, a core Jewish value.

I think a fitting tribute to him is that Jessica Katz, the little Soviet girl that he saved, has now in turn dedicated her life to public service. As CNN says “She says she has no choice but to look after those less fortunate than she is, because Kennedy proved to her how much it means, and that it can work.” This puts me in mind of one of the first things I learned in synagogue as a child,“mitzvah goreret mitzvah” One good deed brings another. Though Senator Kennedy is no longer with us, his legacy will live on through the good deeds of the many people whose lives he has touched. May his memory be a blessing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Loving Memory of Ken Goldsmith

Editor's note: this post is from Abby, but it echoes the sentiments of the whole staff.

Our friend and colleague Ken Goldsmith, beloved Gallery Education Coordinator, passed away August 25 at the age of 71. Always a radiant presence with a smile, a kind word, or a theatrical flourish, Ken was a peerless educator. He trained more than 275 Gallery Educators during his tenure, who in turn have taught an average 36,000 students a year. One could argue that Ken was personally responsible for educating more than half-a-million students, and nearly a third of all Museum visitors. He was equally at ease whether touring sticky-fingered children or heads of state. His wisdom, wise counsel, and genuine appreciation for acts of kindness distinguished him as an excellent colleague and true friend. Ken served the Museum proudly for 11 years.

In another life, Ken was a chaplain, so when he said that he felt his was not a job, but a calling, he knew what he was talking about. What else do you call it when a man as knowledgeable, as passionate, as devoted as Ken, returned day after day to a sacred space to spread the gospel? His demeanor? One of patience and forgiveness. In his daily exchanges, he was a man of peace, and conveyed to others his deep love and respect.

Ken’s dedication to his students was legendary. He led one of the only education programs where the teacher and students continue to interact long beyond classes, beyond practicums, beyond graduation, but years into docent-hood. What a spectacular learning environment the Gallery Education program became under his tutelage. He knew and genuinely cared about each and every Gallery Educator. From their names and the health of all their family members to their former professions and personal hobbies and interests. Ken would know who had just become a grandmother or whose grandchild was just bar mitzvahed. And the relationship was entirely reciprocal. If you have ever attended a Gallery Educator graduation, or a volunteer recognition event, you know that his students cared just as deeply about Ken.

There is a reason that when new employees were taken on a tour of the Museum, they were guided by Ken. Regardless of your role at the Museum, you are ready to talk to the public once you’ve had Ken’s tour, “The Ken Experience” as we affectionately call it. He shared knowledge of the artifacts as if they were his own personal treasures, and he inspired that reverence in us.

Ken was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and attended NYU. Following the death of his mother, Ken transferred to Boston University to be closer to his only sibling, Edward, and when Eddie moved to New York City, Ken decided to return to the city to be with him. Ken worked as a theatrical publicist for many years. Among his clients was French mime Marcel Marceau. With the rise of the AIDS epidemic in New York during the 1980s he became director of volunteers at the Spellman Center at St. Claire’s Hospital. At the Spellman Center he counseled those working directly with AIDS patients and ran the first National AIDS Hotline. He joined the Museum of Jewish Heritage as Coordinator of Gallery Education in 1998.

Ken is survived by his brother, Edward, his loving Museum family, and countless friends. If you have memories of Ken that you would like to share, please comment on this blog. We will share them with Ken’s brother.

Photo: Ken with our Deputy Director Ivy Barksy’s son Harry, Nov. 1999

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Buried Treasure on Governors Island

Recently, while reading the Battery Park Broadsheet, their Events Calendar section continually made me say “Oooh! That sounds fun!” I soon realized that many of these ooh-worthy items took place on Governors Island. Located half of a mile from the tip of Manhattan, Governors Island is truly one of New York’s hidden treasures. Open this season until October 11 from Friday to Sunday, the island is accessible by the (free) Governors Island Ferry at the Battery Maritime Building, just east of the Staten Island ferry terminal. (There are also ferries from Brooklyn on Saturdays and Sundays: information is listed in the link above.)

Activities on this neighboring isle cover a number of different interests. Touch the history of Governors Island with an amazing archaeological site, open to the public daily through Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. The island is the oldest European settlement in New York (it is recognized as the birthplace of the state) and was inhabited even earlier by American Indians, so you could wind up finding something quite remarkable. Admission is free.

If you’re more interested in the natural world, try birding on Governors Island every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. convening at Fort Jay. Learn the foundations of birding and how you can apply this new skill at home. A limited supply of binoculars will be available to borrow or you can use your own. Children can even earn an official Governors Island Junior Ranger Badge upon completion! (Please note that this program is based on the availability of the volunteer so do call the park at 212-825-3045 or ask a Park Ranger if the program will be offered on the day of your visit.) This program is also free.

But if culture and the arts are more up your alley, and you just can’t get enough of museums, you may want to check out the Children's Museum of the Arts. Every weekend through October, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Museum teaching artists will lead workshops in painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation and much more! Each weekend has a different theme, new projects, and new experiences. Other CMA programs on Governors Island include Dress Up Theater, Art Kit Rentals (which are filled with watercolors, brushes, colored pencils, Craypas, and other art materials which visitors can borrow and take around the island for a couple hours), Music Time (musician Tom Burnett will lead participants in drumming, stories, and singing), and more. Admission is (can you guess by now?) free.

For a complete list of events on Governors Island, visit their website here. Of course, while you are downtown visiting Governors Island, please note that the Museum of Jewish Heritage is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Maritime Building. Make a whole day of it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Au revoir, Irène!

In one week, Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française will close. 
Creating and presenting this groundbreaking exhibition has been a remarkable experience—not only has it received international attention in the press, but everyone who has seen Némirovsky’s original Suite Française manuscript cannot help but be in awe of it. To quote our director, David Marwell, “Even in our contemporary world, with its unlimited supply of sensory opportunities, the experience of being in the presence of an original artifact, especially one as powerful as this, cannot be matched in any medium. I was moved by how this notebook communicated an entire story. I thought at that time, that this manuscript must be part of an exhibition at our Museum, but only if we could also exhibit the valise in which it had rested for more than fifty years before Denise opened and read it for the first time. Together, they would tell an impossibly poignant story about memory and forgetting, about mothers and daughters, about legacy and loss.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

"How did YOU feel when you watched the film?"

Jordana Horn’s article on the Inglourious Basterds preview held at the Museum can be found in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. In it, she discusses the different reactions from audience members, which ranged from “unfortunately happy” to “wickedly entertained” to completely unsatisfied. She also examines the film’s premise from a theological perspective.

We know we’ve thrown a lot of Inglourious Basterds news your way in the past week or so, but this should be the last one: the movie comes out today and then you can decide for yourselves what you think!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What We’re Reading Now

Next month’s book club choice is A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev. While Dr. Ruth was one of the first people we heard rave about the book, she is certainly not the last. One review even said that reading Shalev is like looking at a Chagall painting. That's high praise.

Here’s the publisher’s description:
“From the internationally acclaimed Israeli writer Meir Shalev comes a mesmerizing novel of two love stories, separated by half a century but connected by one enchanting act of devotion.

During the 1948 War of Independence–a time when pigeons are still used to deliver battlefield messages–a gifted young pigeon handler is mortally wounded. In the moments before his death, he dispatches one last pigeon. The bird is carrying his extraordinary gift to the girl he has loved since adolescence. Intertwined with this story is the contemporary tale of Yair Mendelsohn, who has his own legacy from the 1948 war. Yair is a tour guide specializing in bird-watching trips who, in middle age, falls in love again with a childhood girlfriend. His growing passion for her, along with a gift from his mother on her deathbed, becomes the key to a life he thought no longer possible.

Unforgettable in both its particulars and its sweep, A Pigeon and A Boy is a tale of lovers then and now–of how deeply we love, of what home is, and why we, like pigeons trained to fly in one direction only, must eventually return to it. In a voice that is at once playful, wise, and altogether beguiling, Meir Shalev tells a story as universal as war and as intimate as a winged declaration of love.”

Please feel free to read along with us or to recommend more books. Our Museum staff book club is always looking for new books to read.

And if you are as omnivorous as we are, don’t forget to check out our public programs. In fact, the authors of two of our recent favorite books will be featured in September (Zoe Heller, author of The Believers and Dara Horn, author of All Other Nights).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Inglourious Basterds Review

While Jamie filled you in on last Thursday's special screening and Q&A with Quentin Tarantino and friends, we thought you would be interested in our director's take on the film. As an historian and someone who just appreciates a good film, David Marwell had some interesting things to say.

Let us know what you think of the film next week. It opens on Friday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Interview with Author Sam Magavern

Here’s a sneak preview of tomorrow night's really compelling book talk. Jonathan Rosen recently interviewed Sam Magavern about Primo Levi’s Universe: A Writer’s Journey for The Tablet.

Magavern will be speaking with Adam Kirsch tomorrow at 7 p.m. about his fascinating quest to understand Levi's life and work. The event is free with suggested donation. Please join us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August is Ticklish

If August were to have a subtitle, I think it would be “the month that keeps on giving.” We’ve added a free film screening of Tickling Leo (winner of the Stony Brook Film Festival 2009 Jury Award for Best Feature) to this month’s line-up on Sunday, August 30. The film will be followed with a Q&A with writer/director Jeremy Davidson, producer Mary Stuart Masterson, and cast members Annie Parisse, Lawrence Pressman, and Ronald Guttman

This contemporary drama follows three generations of a Jewish family whose secrets threaten to destroy its future. After losing touch with his father, Zak Pikler, and his girlfriend Delphina, travel to visit him in the Catskills where he lives in solitude and declining health. As Zak copes with his father's dementia, Delphina uncovers a secret the Piklers have kept hidden since WWII: a sacrifice they made to join Rudolph Kasztner's controversial train out of Hungary.

Though tickets are free, you should still reserve your spot, which can be done by following the link here or by calling the Museum box office at 646.437.4202.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Museum and the Movies: Inglourious Basterds Preview Held at MJH

I would like, if I may, to begin this blog with a quote from my mother.

I sent her an email this morning, wherein I told her that, last night, I was able to attend a special screening of the new movie Inglourious Basterds here at the Museum. She said:

Wow! That's great! But Inglourious Basterds? Really Jamie? I didn’t raise you to spell like that.”

But, as David Marwell said in his opening remarks, “the spelling of the title will set off your spell check and anger your English teacher.”

Inglourious Basterds follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by brutally killing Nazis. The film is not at all historically accurate, nor does it claim to be. Rather, it is a fantastical story that asks “What if…?”

The audience, made up of members of the Museum family and the Weinstein Company, gathered in (a full) Edmond J. Safra Hall to get a sneak peek at Basterds before it comes to theaters on August 21. Cast member Eli Roth, who played Capt. Donny Donowitz, introduced the film, sharing stories of the camaraderie forged between the Jewish-American and German actors during filming. After the screening, Mélanie Laurent, who played Shosanna Dreyfus, and director Quentin Tarantino came to the stage for a riveting Q&A. Both expressed how honored they were to be able to show the movie at the Museum. (Mélanie even got a little varklempt.) Mr. Tarantino seemed more than pleased to address audience observations, accolades, and even criticisms. I won’t give away any of the movie just yet (sorry—you’ll have to wait until it comes out) but I will say that I believe our audience appreciated the rare opportunity to engage in such a cinematic evening.