Friday, January 30, 2009

Mendelssohn Reviewed in the New York Times

This dapper chap is Felix Mendelssohn. As you can tell from his gentlemanly apparel, he's not someone you would expect to have a recent review of his new work in the New York Times. Well, stranger things have happened.

This past Wednesday, the thirteen of his recently discovered works premiered here at the Museum (we may have mentioned this once or twice). 2009 is a big year for Mendelssohn--it is the 200th anniversary of his birth. The world has taken notice and, if you were unable to attend the MJH performance, the New York Times has conveniently listed some places  you could go to get your Felix fix.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

NYPD Jew

Freeze! You have the right to remain cultured! Starting February 1, 2009, Museum of Jewish Heritage will be part of a reciprocal Membership agreement with the New York City Police Museum: all Police Museum Members will receive free admission to MJH as well as a 10% discount in the shop. MJH Members will be afforded the same privileges at the Police Museum. Two Museum memberships for the price of one? If this is not a great time to become a Member, I don't know when it will be!

The New York City Police Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the world’s largest and most famous police force, the New York City Police Department.  Through its exhibitions, collections and educational programming, the Museum illustrates how the policies and culture of the NYPD have evolved over time to meet the changing needs of the City's communities. By telling the story of the NYPD, the Police Museum chronicles the history of the City of New York.

(Pictured: My favorite fictional New York City cop, Detective Elliot Stabler of Law and Order: SVU.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away


Yesterday, I sat in on the rehearsal for our Mendelssohn concert and was totally blown away by how beautiful, Romantic, and sophisticated the music was. Even though it has been a hectic week, I immediately felt my blood pressure lower.


You, too can experience this feeling without going to yoga or therapy. If you are hearty, as most New Yorkers are, put on your rain boots and come down to the Museum tonight. There are still some tickets left. If you are cynical, again as most New Yorkers are, don't take my word for it. WQXR had a live performance on the air of excerpts of tonight's concert along with an interview with The Mendelssohn Project's artistic director, Stephen Somary. You can listen to it here. Trust me, you will be so glad you did.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Coming of Age During the Holocaust, Coming of Age Now

The power of the Museum of Jewish Heritage lies in the ability to take individual stories and personal accounts and see how they can reflect larger, universal themes. My favorite object in the galleries, for example (a miniature tea set made out of materials found within a concentration camp), conveys the human desire to create even (especially) in a time of darkness and sorrow.

One program offered by the Education department reflects this aspect of our mission beautifully. Coming of Age During the Holocaust, Coming of Age Now is a special tour and curriculum for bar and bat mitzvah students. Student workbooks present 13 true stories of young people who came of age during the Holocaust. These personal stories serve as a means of introducing larger themes, both of the Holocaust and of becoming a part of the Jewish community. Students are guided through reading and writing activities to reflect on the challenges these survivors faced before, during, and after the Holocaust and to ask important questions of themselves: what does it mean to be a part of the Jewish community? What responsibilities are involved?

The Museum's new web page (linked above) contains further details this innovative program as well as links to an example of one of the 13 stories: Moshe's story. Moshe was born in 1927 in Brzeziny, Poland. With the Nazi occupation, Moshe’s father fled to Russia, leaving young Moshe responsible for supporting the family. While living in the ghetto, Moshe had a secret bar mitzvah ceremony before the entire family was deported to Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, Moshe was separated from his mother and sister, and clung to his brother, with whom he managed to survive the war. Tragically, Moshe’s brother was murdered immediately after the war. Moshe came to the United States alone, where he became a successful businessman.

Image by Laura Bolter.

Gung Hei Fat Choi!

This is how my friend (and Google) informs me one says "Happy New Year!"

Today is Chinese New Year and we are now in the Year of the Ox. If you were born in the year of the ox (1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, or 1997) you are probably a natural leader, dependable, patient, and hard-working.

Regardless of your year of birth, you can celebrate today by visiting relatives (especially your oldest relative), wearing new clothes (especially red in color), or visiting the Museum of Chinese in America , a fellow Museums of Lower Manhattan member. The MOCA promotes dialogue and understanding among people of all cultural backgrounds, bringing 160 years of Chinese American history to vivid life through its innovative exhibitions, educational and cultural programs. MOCA is currently located downtown on 70 Mulberry Street, in the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown on the second floor of the historic, century-old school building that was once Public School 23. In spring 2009, MOCA will move into a new, larger space on 211-215 Centre Street.

Friday, January 23, 2009

We're already MARCHing into APRIL

"Is it that time already?"
This is the question I feel I ask myself all too frequently. Just when I've gotten into the groove of one season of public programs in Edmond J. Safra Hall, it's time to start thinking about another. What can we say? With great programming comes great responsibility.
And so, without further ado, it is my pleasure to present
the
  • Spell Your Name - This powerful film follows Ukrainian journalism students who learn about the Holocaust through the personal accounts of local residents. A screening will take place on Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m.
  • Novelists and 9/11 - Contemporary writers Claire Messud and Deborah Eisenberg will discuss the challenges of writing about 9/11 without the benefit of hindsight on Wednesday, March 4 at 7 p.m.
  • A Hidden Life: A Memoir of August 1969 - Newberry Honor award winning author Johanna Reiss will discuss her new book on Sunday, March 8 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Feminism and Faith - Three women of different religions, Blu Greenberg, Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, and Asra Q. Nomani will discuss their struggle to reconcile their feminism and religious beliefs with moderator Rachel Zoll on Wednesday, March 11 at 7 p.m.
  • The Jews of Mumbai -India, a country that values religious and ethnic diversity, has long been home to a Jewish community and has remained largely free of anti-Semitic prejudice. Journey to Jewish Calcutta, Mumbai, and Cochin, and find out how the recent attacks in Mumbai is affecting that small but thriving community on Sunday, March 15 at 2 p.m.
  • Resurrecting Hebrew - Author Ilan Stavans will discuss his book with Nextbook's Gabriel Sanders on Wednesday, March 18 at 7 p.m.
  • Punishing Blow - Seth Duerr stars and directs New York Times columnist Randy Cohen's play about a college professor's punishment following an anti-Semitic tirade on Wednesday, March 25 at 7 p.m.
  • My Neighbor, My Killer - Director Anne Aghion will screen and discuss her important film about Rwanda's efforts to rebuild itself after the genocide on Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m.
  • Manischewitz: The Matzo Family - Cookbook author Joan Nathan will interview Laura Manischewitz Alpern about her book. Audience members will receive a free box of matzo on Wednesday, April 1 at 7 p.m.
  • The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the "New" New York - New York Times veterans Arthur Gelb and Joe Berger will discuss Berger's book about NYC's vibrant neighborhoods on Sunday, April 19 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Blooming Through the Ashes: An International Anthology on Violence and the Human Spirit - This program featuring Clifford Chanin, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Dori Laub, and others, will explore through art and staged readings how societies rebuild and heal through remembrance on Wednesday, April 22 at 7 p.m.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What would you ask "The Ethicist?"

On Wednesday, February 11 at 7 p.m. The New York Times' own Randy Cohen, who is perhaps more often referred to by his column title (The Ethicist), will appear at the Museum to discuss how he got his unusual job and the process of responding to ethical dilemmas. I probably think of a question I would like to submit to him at least once every other day--like when I found $20 while walking with a friend and wondered if I was obligated to share it, or whenever I see rude behavior on the subway and wonder if there is any sort of ethical recourse.
Well in just a few weeks I will have that chance: and so will you! Mr. Cohen will be taking some questions from the audience and address them live. To get a head start on the process, you can submit your questions in the comments of this blog entry, or, if you prefer, email them to me. To purchase tickets to this event, click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Q&A with Clifford Chanin of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum


The Museum of Jewish Heritage is partnering with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum for Regarding the Pain of Others, a really intriguing program on February 4 about how and when images of atrocity should be used. Our director, David Marwell, will moderate a panel comprised of: Clifford Chanin, senior program advisor, National September 11 Memorial and Museum; Leora Kahn, curator/activist; Svetlana Mintcheva, director, Arts Program, National Coalition Against Censorship; and Sydney Schanberg, war correspondent. Clifford Chanin took the time to answer some of my questions about his museum's efforts to memorialize the September 11 attacks and how they will approach some of the more horrific images. The image here is a rendering of what the galleries may look like.


Betsy A: The 9/11 attacks were televised around the world, so most of your visitors will have already seen images of the attacks many times. How does this inform your choices about how you will use the images in the museum?


Clifford C: We start with the premise that the 9/11 attacks may well have been seen by more people than any other event in history. The spread of technology makes this not only possible but likely. Thus, the notion of collective witness and collective response – even among people who may have had different vantages on the events – is a key element in thinking about how to present images of the day. Of course, for an increasing number of visitors to the museum, the images will be new. Overall, however, we have the sense that many visitors will have the images of the day as part of their personal histories and that connecting this personal engagement with the broader sweep of the event will be important.


BA: How can images of atrocity be used in a responsible way? What is the best possible outcome? How do you prevent the viewer from becoming numb or not engaging with the subject matter?


CC: Responsibility in the handling of such images seems to me to depend on the purposefulness which determines their use. We know the story itself contains horrific moments and these may be best clarified for viewers through an encounter with a disturbing images. Overall, I recoil at the idea that images of mass murder should be used to create a sense of spectacle. Rather, it seems appropriate when a specific narrative purpose is determined for a specific image. In the case of 9/11, the images provide a critical testimony about the details of the attack, and how our responses changed over the course of the day.


BA: How do you go about memorializing something as recent as the September 11 attacks, when our knowledge about the events is still growing?


CC: No doubt, the ramifications of the 9/11 attacks are ongoing and the museum will not have all the answers about the meaning and significance of the day. However, we do start with the idea that 9/11 marks a turning point in contemporary history – both as an attack and as an act that was witnessed as widely as it was. Using this as a point of departure for programming and temporary exhibitions will allow for continuing explorations of what it all means. But the museum has the core mission of memorializing the victims of the attacks, and recounting the events of the day, including the extraordinary response to the catastrophe – and this part of the mission can be met based on what we know today. As for the continuing impact of 9/11 on the global community, we are working on some ideas within the exhibition that would allow for an evolving, interactive tracking of some of its effects. Stay tuned!


BA: How do you foresee the museum evolving in the future, once we all have more hindsight?


CC: Over the course of time, what I hope the museum is able to do is incorporate new and more detailed elements of the story through its exhibitions and programming. As our research and documentation proceed, we are learning new things about the ways in which people responded, particularly in the first moments of the attacks, and will be increasingly able to provide details about the depth of thinking and improvisation that the crisis produced. As an example, staff oral historians recently met with a number of the people who were on duty in various airport control towers on 9/11 and heard in fascinating detail how they began to think about grounding planes already up in the air and even managing the tens of thousands of people who would be stranded at the local airports. The profile of an established system facing a crisis and improvising its response so successfully is really fascinating. There will be a lot of back story available that will add real depth to the central narrative of what happened on that day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the (New) Chief

So after what feels like years of campaigning, elections, and transitions, America welcomes its 44th president: Barack Obama. Like the rest of the country, Museum staff would have loved a front row seat to the historic inauguration but, unfortunately, none of us were so lucky.

What we were able to swing, however, was the ceremony streamed onto the big screen in Edmond J. Safra Hall. It was great to be able to share this moment with the Museum community rather than furtively watch or listen from our desks. I also think it is interesting to point out that, just days before, in that very theater, the Museum's Breach of Peace program in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. featured an interview with several Freedom Riders. In August, 1961, when these brave men and women were in jail our president was being born. I find this juxtaposition simultaneously tragic and uplifting. It brings to mind a wonderful quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Friday, January 16, 2009

More about Mendelssohn


As we get closer to Mendelssohn: Lost Treasures and the Wagner Supression, a fascinating and beautiful concert of world premieres that's taking place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on January 28, The Mendelssohn Project's Artistic Director and Founder, Stephen Somary, took the time to answer some questions about one of history's greatest and most overlooked composers. (N.B. The Mendelssohn Project and the Museum are co-presenting the concert which will feature the Shanghai Quartet, pianists Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky and other guest artists)


Betsy A: Why Mendelssohn?

Stephen S: The music of Felix Mendelssohn has held a deep personal meaning for me since I was a young child. I find there is a depth of beauty which is unparalleled in his era. This, combined with the horrifying facts surrounding the suppression of his music, and actually around the entire perception of who this master was, has compelled me over the past decade-plus to devote the majority of my time to the work of presenting to the world, for the first time ever, the true story surrounding Felix Mendelssohn, as well as his entire family.

BA: What do you wish more people knew about his life and his work?


Stephen: Most everything. From an enlightened new look at the works we already know, to first-time experiencing of the unknown works, to the true facts surrounding this complicated, fascinating, and truly tortured man.


BA: Did Wagner really try to destroy Mendelssohn's reputation? Why?


Stephen: As any young, up-and-coming composer will do, Wagner tried to win the 'famous' Mendelssohn's approval. He was never able to do so. Then Mendelssohn suddenly died, the Revolution in Germany went into full-swing shortly thereafter, leaving the country in the hands of German Nationalists (some would say "pre-fascists"). It was in this environment that Wagner started to thrive and be recognized as a great composer. His philosophy was that of believing in a "pure German race" . . .that, coupled with his deep resentment at the treatment afforded him by the Jewish-born Mendelssohn, although now deceased, somehow compelled Wagner to spend the rest of his more than 30 years in this life 'teaching' the world why Mendelssohn, along with other artists with similar 'backgrounds', were not "fit to grace the Godly world of German art."

BA: What most surprised you in your search for more unpublished works by the composer?

Stephen: That so many institutions held original manuscripts, and didn't even know what they had.

BA: To those of us familiar with some of Mendelssohn's work, what should we pay special attention to in the world premiere pieces (on January 28)?


Stephen: It is my wish that everyone in attendance on January 28 will go in with a fresh mind, and listen to these works as if they had actually been published by Mendelssohn. If one does that, I believe the listener familiar with his works will hear the same depth of emotion and breadth of expression they are accustomed to with Mendelssohn. And even those unfamiliar with his work will certainly leave the concert humming a few tunes from it. Being one of the few truly great melody-writers in music history was yet another of Mendelssohn's great gifts.

BA: Can you recommend any books, films, or CDs for those who are interested in learning more about Mendelssohn?


Stephen: There are no really fine films on Mendelssohn's life yet, but I believe there will be. The amount of Mendelssohn CDs are so numerous that I think those interested should just go to Amazon and start listening to clips and decide for themselves what they would like to explore further.

There are quite a few books available, although unfortunately almost no author has truly tackled the Wagner issue. All seem to dance around it somehow. They also do not capture the truly 3-dimensional picture of Felix Mendelssohn. In addition to all of his money, adulation, and dedicated work-ethic, there was also a very dark side to Felix Mendelssohn -- one which perhaps led, in part, to his early death. If one can find it, I would recommend looking for Felix Mendelssohn and His Times by Heinrich Eduard Jacob. It was published in both German and English in 1963. As far as I know, it is currently out of print. But Jacob is the only author I know of who started to delve into these ignored, but vital, elements of Mendelssohn's life. However, there was quite a lot less known 46 years ago -- so the book, to no fault of the author, does contain some factual errata. There is still a book to be written!

BA: What's next for The Mendelssohn Project?

Stephen: We are continuing our mission to expose the world, for the first time ever, to the complete works and life of Felix Mendelssohn, and his equally gifted sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Please follow our website at http://www.themendelssohnproject.org/ as we continue along this extraordinary journey.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

National Jewish Book Award Winners: Hey! We Know Them!

Every year, the Jewish Book Council's National Jewish Book Award honors the best and most exciting authors in the field of Jewish literature in a number of categories.


This year's winner in the category of Holocaust studies is none other than The Holocaust by Bullets (Palgrave Macmillan) by Father Patrick Desbois. This book, which is the basis for the Museum's special exhibition The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust by Bullets, is the heartbreaking and powerful account of Father Desbois' search for mass gravesites of Jews killed by Nazi mobile killing units. We extend our wholehearted congratulations to Father Desbois for his success as well as our thanks for his continued work in bringing closure to this tragic, often untold story. (Click here for a podcast of Father Desbois speaking with Museum director David Marwell.)


In addition to Father Desbois' win, we also received the truly excellent news that Museum of Jewish Heritage publication, Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosúa, 1940-1945 by Marion Kaplan, was a finalist in the Holocaust studies category. Dominican Haven was the companion book for last year's popular bilingual exhibition Sosúa: A Refuge for Jews in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Kaplan explores the community established by German and Austrian Jewish refugees in a small town in the Dominican Republic: one of the only countries in the world to openly offer safe-haven to Jews during WWII. We are so proud to have published this fascinating work and wish to congratulate Dr. Kaplan on a job well done.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Q&A with Stephen Daldry, director of “The Reader”


This is from our guest blogger, Abby, who was here last night for a special screening.


Last night, Museum Chairman Robert Morgenthau and his wife, Lucinda Franks Morgenthau, hosted a private screening of The Reader at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Mr. and Mrs. Morgenthau had seen the movie a month ago, and found the topic so compelling they have been discussing it since then, acknowledging that they have very different views about the meaning of the film. The Morgenthaus are friends with Harvey Weinstein, producer of the The Reader, and before you know it, plans were underway to have a screening here in early January. The result was an evening attended by 350 people, among the guests in attendance, and the one person who made me completely star-struck, was novelist, National Book Award winner, and short story writer Joyce Carol Oates.


For me, the most interesting part of the evening was the Q&A with the director following the film. I took some notes in the dark, and here is what I have reconstructed from the conversation.

Q: How did you approach this heart-wrenching love story?



Mr. Daldry began visiting Germany each year from the age of 12 on. He loved it. And as a person from the U.K. he, himself, had an extraordinary and complicated relationship with Germany. He loved going there as a kid and had early love affairs there. The book’s author, Bernhard Schlink, experienced first-hand the complex nature of growing up in Germany after the war. In a brochure handed out at the screening, he writes: “In Germany, when the post-war generation came of age, they learned about their country’s hateful past. Then they had to face how entangled their beloved parents, teachers and mentors were in that past.” Summarized Mr. Daldry, “What do you do when you find out your love is a criminal?”

Later, an audience member reported that Kate Winslet, the Golden Globe-winning star of the movie, was on “Oprah” earlier in the day and asked Mr. Daldry if he had seen it. (He had not, as he was flying in for this engagement.) She asserted that Kate had said, “This is not a Holocaust movie.” Mr. Daldry did not disagree. “This is not a movie about the experience of the Jews in the Holocaust. This is a German story of the German experience of living through that time. There is an entire generation of Germans who live with that legacy. It is a movie about guilt.”
Given the audience, it is no surprise that guilt continued to be a theme in the line of questioning.


A statement was made that I could tell was on the tip of everyone’s tongue regarding the depiction of a grown child survivor of the Holocaust.
Q: I was struck and offended by the survivor, the ways she was living – wealthy, rich. She was unsympathetic.


Daldry responded thoughtfully by saying that he spent a lot of time thinking about the survivor and he talked with Annette Insdorf, (a friend of the Museum who is the Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University and the author of the seminal work, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust). “I wanted to show someone who flourished, who had the moral and political authority. I didn’t want her to be a victim.”


Blogger’s Note: Not having read the book, I can’t tell you how the character is depicted there. The four people I asked who did read the book did not remember. Therefore I don’t know if this is an issue exclusive to the film. Can anyone tell me?


The Reader is, indeed, a controversial film, and raises issues that are discomfiting. It was not easy for me to view the film here at work; perhaps it would have been less troubling for me to see it in my local cinema. Still, I am fascinated about perceptions of generations of Germans and prejudices we hold toward them. Our education department in particular has worked closely with young Germans and Austrians, through a variety of programs, to help foster understanding between these communities and young Jews. Sixty-four years after the end of the war, and our work continues.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Looted Art


I watched a really interesting film the other day about looted art during World War II. I know our blog readers probably think that Jamie and I read and watch way too many books and films about the Holocaust. Call it an occupational hazzard. I also have seen Twilight three times already to counter-balance the seriousness, but I doubt you want to hear my thoughts on the subject. (Go team Edward...)


I digress. The Rape of Europa, which was on PBS, is now available on Netflix. It is a really fascinating documentary about how the Nazis looted and destroyed art and historical objects all over 7 countries during the war. Of course, they systematically stole from Jewish owners. What was particularly interesting was that hundreds of "Monuments Men," were assigned to work with the Allies to protect and rescue artworks in danger and to find hidden goods. They were mostly art historians and museum personnel who risked their lives to do so. It seemed to be a very successful endeavor, which made me think back on all the looting in Iraq and elsewhere and wonder why a similar inititive hasn't been established.


If you are as interested in the subject as I am, after watching the film, I recommend two fictional books about art that was stolen from Jewish families. The World to Come by Dara Horn follows a lost Chagall, and Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling is about a son's quest to recover his family's lost masterpieces. Houghteling will be having the New York book launch for her work on February 24 here at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. She will be joined by Marilyn Henry, a journalist who is an expert on looted art, so come join us and bring your questions.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Celebrities Behaving... Pretty Well, Actually

Admit it: we love to see celebrities behaving... well... like typical celebrities. Half-coherent blog rants, exorbitant shopping trips to designer boutiques, ill-fated music, restaurant, and fragrance projects: these are the "issues" of countless magazine covers. But every now and then, a celebrity really steps up and performs mitzvahs--such is the case of hip-hop artist/rock star and Haitian native Wyclef Jean. Jean was recently profiled on 60 Minutes for his continued efforts to secure a better future for the country of his birth, which also happens to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2005, he founded the non-profit Yele Haiti, whose programs are aimed at improving the bleak outlook of young Haitians. Their work is cut out for them: 60% of the population is under 25 and most are unemployed. But Yele Haiti, which Jean began with a quarter of a million of his own money, now has an annual budget of $3 million and provides food and educational programs to thousands of young people across the island.

Wyclef doesn't just donate money and time spent lobbying congress to his cause; the artist personally travels to Cite Soleil, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in the world, to do his part to bring hope to a corner of the world which needs it the most. "To most Haitians," claims the report, "he's the living incarnation of their dream: someone who got out, struck it rich, but didn't forget where he came from."

Jean's humanitarian efforts are remarkable. This Wednesday, January 14, we will be honoring another great humanitarian, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breach of Peace will feature author Eric Etheridge, along with Freedom Riders of the 1960s, and a musical tribute by Neshama Carlebach and the Green Pastures Baptist Choir.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Weekend at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

We've all made it through our first week of the New Year sans break with the exception, I'll guess, of some well-intentioned resolutions (yours truly included). A full week back into the real world after several surreal weeks can always be a bit daunting so treat yourself to some entertainment at the Museum this weekend. Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Bente Kahan will present Echoes this Sunday at 2:30 pm. Echoes is based in part, on Carolyn Dorfman's earlier piece Cat's Cradle, which you can check out below. The two artists have collaborated on piece that honors their Eastern European Jewish heritage as well as their parents, who were Holocaust survivors.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top Five in 08

We are now one week and one day into 2009, which of course makes us all wistful for 2008. Now that we can look back at the past year as a complete whole, we can reflect more clearly on the goings on at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, particularly on our amazing calendar of public programs (with another one coming your way for 09). In this spirit of reflection, we present to you the top five staff picks of 2008.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 16, we honored Dr. King’s legacy, by presenting an interfaith discussion that focused on the relationship between spiritual practice and social change. Leaders from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim communities discussed the lessons of justice and equality that inspire their own activism. (This year, we will pay homage to this champion of civil rights with Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1962 Freedom Riders on January 14.)

Third Annual New York's Best Emerging Jewish Artists
After two years of “funny and subversive” sold-out shows, this event, hosted by comedienne Catie Lazarus, showcased a new line-up of the best local Jewish talent on July 9. Up-and-coming artists took the stage for a dynamic evening of downtown’s best comedy and music and wrapped up with the Museum's first ever fashion show by Brooklyn designer Levi Okunov.

Irène Némirovsky: A Daughter’s Discovery
On September 24, Denise Epstein, daughter of Irène Némirovsky was interviewed by Suite Française translator Sandra Smith. Fifty years after her mother’s death, Denise discovered and transcribed the first two parts of the remarkable, unfinished five-part novel. She spoke openly, and emotionally, about her mother’s life and work. A podcast of this incredible program can be found here.

Soulfarm and Moshav Band
On October 29, these two popular bands came to Edmond J. Safra Hall as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days. They brought with them unique blends of rock, reggae, folk, funk, and soul... and quite possibly the most spirited audience the staff here has ever seen. From conga lines to impromptu stage dives (heartily discouraged... ambulance sirens is one thing that doesn't blend well with rock and reggae), everyone had a great time.

Rosenblatt Forum Jews Living in Islamic Lands
On November 16, a sold-out audience sat enraptured as panel discussed two dynamic cultures who call the same region home. Dr. Robert Satloff, Director of the Washington Institute, presented an informative and fascinating lecture on the history of Jews in the Middle East; Authors André Aciman and Lucette Lagnado spoke of their families' exile from their beloved Egypt; and religions scholar Reza Aslan shed light on the shared history of Judaism and Islam.

Honorable Mentions (we just couldn't let you forget about these)

Foreskin's Lament
Shalom Auslander discussed his incredible memoir about his struggle with his strict religious upbringing. He was both insightful and hilarious--and he signed my book!

Different Trains
This performance of Steve Reich's masterwork was performed after the Annual Gathering of Remembrance by the Israeli Contemporary String Quartet. Visually and musically compelling, the piece introduced a new language to express the horrors of the Holocaust.

Inheritance
This documentary is about Monika Hertwig, who struggles with the crimes of her father, Nazi leader Amon Goeth. Feeling a need to come to terms with this legacy of evil, Ms. Hertwig reaches out to Holocaust survivor Helen Jonas, who lived enslaved under Goeth's roof for nearly two years. The film itself is incredibly moving, but seeing the two women on stage together, speaking so openly about such an emotional experience and journey was a truly unique experience.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Quality of Mercy


Apparently several top lawyers got together in New York last month to retry Shylock from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Did he get justice in the original trial or not? How would they temper judgement now? Read the BBC article to find out more.


While I have always been obsessed with Shakespeare, the character of Shylock is of particular interest to me these days. Like Maurice Samuels, a professor of French at Yale, I wonder if Irène Némirovsky had him in mind at all when she wrote the character of David Golder. While both characters have been scrutinized, clearly they are given the best speaches (in the case of Shylock) and the only chance of redemption (in the case of Golder). You can hear Prof. Samuels' thoughts on the subject, as well as those of Prof. Susan Suleiman of Harvard, and New Rebublic editor Ruth Franklin as moderated by Nextbook's Gabriel Sanders on a podcast of a recent public program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.


Also, on January 18, as part of a French film series inspired by our Irène Némirovsky exhibit, the Museum will be screening the film of David Golder, which hasn't been seen since its premiere in 1930. Maurice Samuels will be on hand for opening remarks and a Q&A after the film.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Inspiring Story From A Reader

A blog reader, Vanessa, recently commented on a recent post about the Rosenblats, whose touching Holocaust love-story turned out to be fabrication. She described the hoax as a tragedy, and went on to share an inspiring story about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt "the beautiful young art student who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children's barracks at Auschwitz."

I had never heard of Dina, so I decided to do a little research of my own and discovered that this story was not only true and fascinating, but the subject of a six-page comic book by industry legends Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, and Stan Lee.

Artist Dina Gottliebova was sent to Auschwitz when she was about 20 years old. While there, she was asked by the unofficial head of the children's barracks if she would be willing to paint a mural for the children to help liven their spirits: risking death, she painted a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with smuggled paints. Her talents were brought to the attention of Mengele, who wanted her to paint portraits of Romany inmates - he did not feel that black and white photographs properly captured the darker tones of their "genetically inferior" skin. Dina agreed to paint, but demanded her mother be spared from the gas chambers. Mengele agreed.

The comic features five of the nine portraits, and ends with her 1945 liberation, and her life as an animator in California. Her work on Loony Toons characters like Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales, among others, continued to bring children joy for years.

So thank you, Vanessa, for bringing this incredible (true) story to our attention!

Monday, January 5, 2009

High-Brow AND Hip

Something can in fact, be both high-brow and hip--and we've done it! The New Yorker ran this piece on the upcoming performance by Barbez called Force of Light, which will be held here at the Museum. Dan Kaufman has composed an incredible album inspired by the poetry of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, that was distributed by jazz great John Zorn. Below, I've embedded a new video from John Jesurun (who also produced video to go along with Force of Light) for the band's piece "The Black Forrest." If you like what you see, be sure to check them out on Wednesday.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Q&A with Author Eric Etheridge


In gearing up for our fascinating Martin Luther King, Jr. program on January 14, I caught up with author Eric Etheridge, who wrote and did the photographs for Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders. It's a fantastic book and it will be an even better program because Eric will be joined by three Freedom Riders and a musical celebration featuring Neshama Carlebach and the Green Pastures Baptist Gospel Choir.

Betsy A: What inspired you to write this book?

Eric E: I was looking for photographic project involving historical images. As a native Mississippian I was aware of the Sovereignty Commission, the state spy/investigative agency that had been created in the late 1950s to preserve segregation, and I knew that, after a long court fight, its files had been released to the public in the late 1998. One day I happened to think of looking in those files for photographs I could work with. There I found the complete set of mug shots of every Freedom Rider arrested in Jackson in 1961.As portraits, the mug shots are always compelling and frequently stellar. The police camera caught something special, even if no one quite intended it that way. I was captivated by these images and wanted to bring them to a wider audience. I wanted to find the Riders today, to look into their faces, to make new portraits to set against the earlier portraits.

BA: Tell us about one of the most memorable interviews you did for your book, Breach of Peace?

I hate cop-out answers like the one I am about to give, but really, all the 100-plus interviews I've done so far are memorable to me. Gathering the stories of how each Rider ended up in Jackson in the spring and summer of 1961 ended up being a mosaic portrait of the country at mid-century. I was fascinated by their family histories, of their first encounters with politics, of their motivations to join the Rides, sometimes because of what they had been taught at home, other times in spite of.

BA: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

EE: The power of ordinary individuals, acting alone and in concert, to help bring about profound change.

BA: Have you talked to any of the Freedom Riders about the presidential election? Do the ones that you have spoken to feel that their work is done?

EE: The Freedom Riders I've spoken with since the election are all overwhelmed by Obama's victory, stunned almost that a black man has finally been elected president. But at the same time they are also remembering what it has cost to get this far, the violence that has been endured, the blood shed, the people killed.But don't take my word for it. On the Breach of Peace web site I've been publishing a series of posts by Riders in response the election. Read their remarks here: http://breachofpeace.com/blog/?cat=36

BA: For people interested in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement, can you recommend any other things to read or watch?

EE: About the Freedom Riders directly, Ray Arsenault's narrative history, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, is a through and compelling study. David Halberstam's The Children focuses especially on the Nashville Student Movement, which played a crucial role in the Freedom Rides as well as in the formation of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). So many leaders came out of Nashville, including John Lewis, Diane Nash, C. T. Vivian, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette. It's a remarkable story. For overall history: Taylor Branch's trilogy (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, At Canaan's Edge). You can also read history by those who made it: John Lewis: Walking with the Wind, Stokley Carmichael, who was, among other things, a Freedom Rider: Ready for the Revolution James Farmer, who as the head of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) created the Freedom Rides: Lay Bare the Heart.