Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Portrait of Wally" On View for a Limited Time

You may be wondering why the blog has been quiet for the past few days. We’ve been gearing up for a very exciting guest who is arriving this Thursday. Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally will be on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage from July 29-August 18. Abby will post some behind-the-scenes stories soon, but trust us, you should go ahead and plan your trip to the Museum to see the portrait before it goes back to Austria in a few weeks.

caption and credit:
Egon Schiele
(Tulln 1890 - 1918 Wien)
Bildnis Wally Neuzil, 1912
Portrait of Wally Neuzil, 1912
Öl auf Holz
Oil on wood
32,7 x 39,8 cm
Leopold Museum, Vienna

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stepping Back into History

This blog is from William, our intern this week.

One of the perks of working as an HSAP is that we go on a trip every week. Whether it’s The Jewish Museum or a ferry ride to Liberty Island, each of these trips has some connection to Jewish heritage and more importantly, to our own thoughts and impressions. This past week, we went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. I was especially excited about this trip because not only do I live on the Lower East Side, I live very close to this museum and as a neighborhood resident, I felt a special connection to the trip. I came to America at a very young age and the Lower East Side is all that I’ve ever known. Growing up in an apartment, I was very fortunate because most of my mom’s friends did, in fact, live in tenements. When we visited them, we would all squish together into a small room of a two-room apartment occupied by 10. To say that I felt uncomfortable would be an understatement. So as you can imagine, going on a tour of the Tenement Museum was a big deal for me. I’ve been on the tour a couple of times but each time I visit, I always learn something different, discover something new, and see something I’ve never seen before.

During the tour, we got to see what it was like to actually live in a tenement back in the day. Through buildings preserved for educational purposes from decades ago, we were able to go into three different tenements. When I was standing in one of the tenements, I actually felt as if I went back several decades years and experienced what these people had to go through. Russians, Germans, and all different groups of people were forced to live together, to work and respect each other all for one common goal-- the hope for a better life. This reminded me of the Museum’s mission of tikkun olam, (repair of the world). Repairing the world doesn’t have to mean huge group efforts ; it can be the little things like helping an elderly person carry the groceries or even saying “good morning” to a neighbor. These small random acts of kindness are what make this world a beautiful place and a hopeful one. That’s basically what the people living in tenements did for each other. When the tour was over, I wasn’t inspired or especially moved, but I felt blessed. Seeing what people had to deal with in the past made complaining about how bad my room is seem so selfish and ignorant. I guess ignorance really isn’t bliss.

Overall, the trip was a great experience because I was able to see what a tenement really was , and why it’s considered a historical landmark today. What I find especially amazing is that though the Lower East Side as well other areas in NYC are going through gentrification, there are landmarks such as the Tenement Museum that never let us forget our history. Lastly, realizing all the hardships people were able to overcome, if we take the chance to change circumstances, imagine all we could do.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Honor of De Sousa Mendes

In a small ceremony held late yesterday to honor what would have been the 125th birthday of Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, diplomats from Portugal and Brazil and other special guests gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage to pay tribute to the Consul General of Portugal who was responsible for writing out visas for some 30,000 refugees, including 10,000 Jews, from his consulate in Bordeaux, allowing thousands of families to seek shelter from the war.

His ledger, a leather-bound book with delicate handwriting, filled with names of visa recipients, is “evidence of his everyday work, and evidence of those who he saved,” said David G. Marwell, MJH director, at the intimate event. The ledger is now on display in our “Rescuers Gallery” alongside the stories of Chiune Sugihara, Raoul Wallenberg, and Luiz Martin Souza Dantes, other courageous diplomats who risked their careers and lives to save Jews.

The UN Ambassador to Portugal, Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, spoke briefly to say that as a Portuguese and as a diplomat he was “happy and proud to be here” and told the group that the members of the Portuguese and diplomatic communities were proud to include people like de Sousa Mendes in their ranks. As a side note, whenever Ambassador Cabral referred to the man of the hour, with his delightful pronunciation, it sounded as if he was saying “a super mensch,” which is not far off.

The event was organized by the charming João Crisóstomo, who has made a career of enlightening the world about the acts of men like de Sousa Mendes.

Although he selflessly saved thousands, Sousa Mendes was brought before a disciplinary panel in Lisbon and dismissed from his position in the Foreign Ministry. This left him destitute and unable to support his family of 13 children. He died penniless in 1954. On October 18, 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Aristides de Sousa Mendes as Righteous Among the Nations. Only in 1988, thanks to external pressure and his children’s efforts, did his government grant him total rehabilitation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

See it Before it Closes

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal features a review of our photography exhibit, Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland. The writer, William Meyers praised photographer Chris Schwarz for his photos that are “informed with a passion—not just to document, but to commemorate.” We invite you to come see the exhibit before it closes on August 15.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Oy Luck Club

This blog posted by Melissa Martens, our Senior Curator for Exhibitions.

When we first decided to create an exhibition on the topic of mah jongg, we realized we would need to actually learn the game that has so long been a part in Jewish-American life. How hard could it be, right?

A couple of months into the project’s development, about twenty Museum staff members started convening regularly over lunch to decipher the “game of a thousand wonders.” For us, the game posed at least a thousand wonders—the naming of the tiles (is that tile called “red” or “dragon” or “red dragon”?) , the Charleston exchange (“are we on the second left yet?”), and the reading of the score card (“how does one possibly acquire five of the same tile?”).

Despite our intimidation and frustration, we persevered. Under the tutelage of Deputy Director, Ivy Barsky, we learned to make our way through a full round of a mah jongg in under an hour (and sometimes we didn’t even play the consecutive hand). Along the way we asked a lot of questions, we called the National Mah Jongg League hotline when we were stumped, we made fun of each other, and we laughed. A lot. New sides of our personalities came out for the first time: shyness, cleverness, shrewdness, down-right competitiveness! Some of our less “lucky” players threatened to abandon the game altogether; to their credit—they stuck with it.

By the fourth month something strange began to take hold: the game that had been so elusive was now starting to occupy our minds at frequent intervals. We whispered to each other in the hallways about the timing of the next game, we dreamt of getting our own mah jongg sets of various vintages, we talked about our favorite hands at the water cooler. Some of us even painted our nails. This was getting serious.
It was at this point we knew we were ready for the next level: playing on evenings, on Sundays, in our own neighborhoods! We couldn’t get enough. Where did everybody live? How many boroughs did we need to cover? Babysitters were obtained, husbands and boyfriends placated, and favorite cafes (with square tables) identified. The Museum’s next generation of mah jongg enthusiasts was going public.

So around Brooklyn, we convene every few weeks to play maajh. And all of the old traditions get recreated through the social alchemy of the game: the gossip, the clacking, the victories, the defeats, and the snacks (our own favorites like sparkling rose’, tartines, and low-cal soft serve). Our circle keeps expanding to include friends, neighbors, colleagues, and those who are just excited to learn. Maybe someday we’ll have a seaside venue for our game, as in http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/nyregion/11ritual.html?_r=2&src=me&ref=homepage

Personally, I imagine that I’ll be playing mah jongg for many years to come—ok, forever. When I see a staff member walk into our “Project Mah Jongg” exhibition gallery to spontaneously play a game with visitors, I know that we are living a tradition we once only read about as “Jewish history.”

Photo: members of the staff play mah jongg.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My House to Your House

This blog comes from Emily, our department intern.

Recently, I’ve started giving tours of the Museum to camp groups, and it’s been a very exciting and rewarding experience. I’ve been training to give a tour called “My House to Your House,” and Monday I had a really great group of 5th-6th grader campers. I was extremely impressed by their interest in the Museum and their maturity. As a new tour guide, I sometimes worry about the behavior of the camp groups, but these kids were absolutely fantastic. They were genuinely interested in the artifacts and Jewish heritage. The last artifact we discussed on the first floor is an Anti-Semitic postcard, and after discussing the artifact, one of the boys gave a very moving and eloquent answer when I asked the group why discrimination happens. He said that discrimination is a result of ignorance about other people’s traditions and that it’s wrong and can be solved by listening to and learning from others.

Normally, we don’t include the second floor on a tour for young children because it focuses on the Holocaust. However, one of the counselors asked if they could see it. At this point, I could tell that these kids were mature and informed enough to really experience these galleries in a meaningful way, so we went upstairs. Again, the kids and their counselors were excellent. As we discussed the Holocaust, World War II, propaganda, and genocide, the kids gave really great answers to the questions I asked them, and they asked me some really thoughtful questions themselves. For instance, one girl asked me about the bag that Thea Gottesman sewed to go along with the dress she made after liberation. She wanted to know if the bag was to help Thea remember, the way a glass is broken at Jewish weddings to remember the sadness even as joy is celebrated. I thought the connection she made was quite interesting.

The same boy who answered my question about discrimination told me he wanted to come back to the Museum with his family, which made me very happy. I was really delighted to work with such a good group of young people.

Photo: Thea Gottesman with her dress.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Excuse to Write About the Tour de France

It’s Bastille Day, and since I spend every evening of the first three weeks in July watching the Tour de France with my husband, I have been trying to find a natural connection between it and the blog. The world’s greatest bicycle race began July 3 and continues until July 25, bringing together bicyclists from all over the world to ride more than 2,200 miles over cobble stones, mountains, and of course, the Champs E’lysees.

It’s the 97th Tour, which made me wonder what happened with the Tour during World War II. According to the official Tour de France website, there was no official Tour between 1939 and 1947. Additional sources say it was suspended, but other low-key races were put together that included the most popular riders. I guess this would be akin to a strike by the National Hockey League and having well-known players decide to play at Wollman Rink. Henri Desgrange, the original race organizer, and Jacques Goddet, his deputy and replacement, had planned a race for 1940 but dropped the idea after the German invasion in June.

Irène Némirovsky vividly describes the evacuation of Paris in her remarkable novel Suite Française. If the evacuation had taken place even a month later and if the race had still been held, imagine what a bicycle race would have been like: Parisians evacuating to the South and in and among all those traffic jams more than 100 bicyclists darting between the cars, the straight-aways taken at usually breakneck speed clogged with Peugeots, and the absence of faithful fans lining the streets to cheer for their beloved Frenchmen to bring home the maillot jaune (yellow jersey).

And speaking of Irène, this fall the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris will display an adaptation of our exhibition Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française. We are so pleased that the exhibition will be seen at this beautiful museum in Irene’s adopted home. When it first opened here, the French media made it clear that the exhibition belonged in Paris, and now it will have its rightful place. Our partners at IMEC, the caretakers of Irene’s work, are co-producing the exhibition.

Vive la France!

Photo is of a young Walter Faerber riding in a bike in Berlin, 1934. Gift of Walter and Phyllis Ferber

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spoken Here

This blog comes from Lisa, who unfortunately does not know Norwegian or Swedish.

The Museum is delighted to welcome visitors from around the globe as well as locally. While many of you know that we have an award winning audio tour available in English, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, you may not know that our very knowledgeable and friendly Gallery Educators collectively speak 16 languages * and can provide tours of the core and special exhibitions in the language of your choice. Please just call ahead so that we can meet your group’s needs. Tours can be scheduled for groups of 10 more people with advance reservation. For more information, contact groupvisits@mjhnyc.org.

*Afrikaans, ASL, English, Farsi, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish
Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Yiddish

Come visit us soon!

*shown here: Gallery Educator Sally Frishberg. Photo by Melanie Einzig

Friday, July 9, 2010

And now a word from High School Apprentice Rebecca

The HSAPS started full-time work this week. The Communications Department's first special guest was Rebecca, whose final assignment was this blog.

Being the first 2010 High School Apprentice (HSAP) to blog, I thought it might help if everyone knew a little more about what the job entails. As Abby mentioned in her blog about our graduation, we took bi-weekly classes from February until June, where we became better acquainted with the Museum, Jewish heritage, and our own heritage.

Now we are working full time at the Museum, however this is not any normal internship. This internship gives us the opportunity to go far beyond that. This summer we will be working in six of the Museum’s ten departments. This first week I worked in the communications department. Just to give you an idea of what HSAPs could do in one week: I converted a Word file into an easy to read Excel chart, wrote press releases about four of my fellow HSAPs, researched outreach for an upcoming project, filed media kits, and now I am blogging.

Hannah Senesh, a strong woman who fought for her people, will be the subject of an exhibition in October. The Museum will honor Hannah by showing what she did to help other people. She was my inspiration for the week. The fourth floor of the Museum, where the staff offices are, has become my community for this summer. I will work with most people here and my main goal is to help them to achieve their goals. In communications I spent a lot of time researching places to advertise this exhibit and other public programs at the Museum. The goal of the Hannah Senesh exhibition is to get as many people as we can to see the exhibit and to really be inspired by Hannah and her acts of bravery. The inspiration can come in unexpected ways, such as it has with me this week, where I am using my ideas and research skills to help the others around me.

Photo of Rebecca and her proud parents at graduation 6/23/10. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Us

We just wanted to thank our readers and contributors on this, the second anniversary of Blog from Battery Place. In case you were wondering, the traditional second anniversary gift is cotton, but we’d be just as happy if you bought something from the Pickman Museum Shop and kept it for yourself. While we do carry some cotton items like the fantastic bib shown here, we’re not picky. Jewelry always makes a great anniversary gift.

Friday, July 2, 2010

You don’t look a day over 225

As this country prepares to celebrate the 234th birthday of the United States of America with barbecues, trips to the shore, a baseball game or two, and if you’re lucky enough — a view of a local fireworks display, it is worth noting that the Museum of Jewish Heritage next week begins its summer institute for educators called Holocaust and Genocide. The education department brings together scholars, eye witnesses, and survivors to present a survey of genocide beginning with the Armenians and ending with the Darfuri.

This program is a stimulating opportunity for middle and high school teachers to learn the history of genocide in the 20th century, hear from experts in the field about legacy and memory, and understand the importance of taking action as individuals to prevent atrocities like these.

The staff is privileged to take advantage of these seminars ourselves. The week that we celebrate freedom and independence seems like a good week to reflect on the fact that not all citizens of the world can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Wishing you a meaningful 4th.

Photo: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Ungar.