Thursday, June 30, 2011

Where Are They Now?

I’d like to introduce a new blog feature called “Where Are They Now?” in which we’ll take the opportunity to catch up with performers and authors who have previously graced the stage of Edmond J. Safra Hall.

I bet that those of you that came to the Museum in February 2010 to hear Adam Mansbach speak about his poignant novel, The End of The Jews, thought he was a wonderful writer with a lot of interesting things to say about race and culture. I bet they didn’t realize that they were listening to a future New York Times bestselling “children’s” book author extraordinaire with a wicked sense of humor that would make pundits cringe and critics rave.

For those of you either without kids or under a rock, Adam’s new book, Go the F*** to Sleep, is a literary sensation and for good reason. It captures those late night feelings of frustration that come with having little ones. You can watch Samuel L. Jackson read it online, or purchase a copy yourself, as I did for my husband for Father’s Day. We laughed so hard we almost cried and woke the baby up, which may have been worth it.

Filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum was last seen here at the first New York’s Best Emerging Jewish Artists showcase when she presented her short film My Nose, which Associated Press calls “funny, sad, candid and insightful.” Since then, she has received an outpouring of support for her original film which was a humorous portrayal of her mother’s quest to pressure her into having a nose job.

Gayle writes, “Audience members all over the world told me how they related to my story and wanted to know how I could even be around my mother much less love her. I knew it was time to answer their questions in a film and the only way to do that was to go deep into our relationship. My mother agreed to allow me in with cameras rolling for nearly the last eight years.” Gayle is now actively trying to finish a full length film entitled My Nose: The Bigger Version. She has even become an accidental therapist who teaches people “The Seven Healing Tools” on how to transform difficult relationships.

We wish Adam and Gayle the best of luck in their new endeavors.

Images: Gayle and her mom; Go the F*** to Sleep cover

Thursday, June 23, 2011

High School Interns Get Ready for A Challenging Summer

This blog comes from Keika, who manages our department’s high school interns with patience and good cheer.

Last night, the Museum of Jewish Heritage welcomed a new class of 14 high school apprentices from public schools throughout the five boroughs. This graduation was the culminating event after four months of bi-weekly seminars, where the apprentices learned about Jewish heritage and the Holocaust. Starting in July, these apprentices will embark on a six-week journey where they will work in a variety of Museum departments, learn about the inner workings of a museum, and gain valuable work experience.

Many proud parents, family members, and staff members were in attendance, and the evening was filled with inspiring remarks, including those of high school apprentices—past and present.

When asked about her heritage, Reyna Schaechter, a 2011 apprentice, recalled that she had difficulty at first figuring out what her heritage was exactly, but she realized that after meeting such a diverse group of peers, that "[o]nly in New York, could a group of 14 bright teens gather twice a month to discuss heritage. Only in New York could this group of teens include Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists, to name a few.”

William Chen, a 2010 apprentice, gave some words of wisdom to the incoming class, “Make sure to take advantage of all the opportunities around you. Be involved in everything and step out of your comfort zone.” He urged that, “What you put into something is what you will get back.” Thank you, William, for these valuable lessons.

As one of the mentors of the high school apprenticeship program, I couldn’t be more proud of this group. Welcome to the Museum family and good luck this summer.

Photo: Reyna Schaechter. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fostering Friendship Between Jewish and Muslim Children

If you’ve read Abby’s lovely blog about Ivy’s going away celebration, you know that it has already been a really emotional week at the Museum. Now it is my turn to make you even more verklempt.

For the past six years, the Museum has worked with Jewish and Muslim elementary school students on a life changing project called the Interfaith Living Museum. Designed and run by the Museum, and spearheaded by the always enthusiastic Dr. Paul Radensky, this year the program brought together students from the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Islamic Leadership School (Bronx), the Kinneret Day School (Bronx), and the Al-Ihsan Academy (Queens) who worked together over a period of four months sharing their culture and developing an appreciation for their differences.

After visits to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the American Museum of Natural History’s Islamic artifacts display, the New York Public Library’s Three Faiths exhibit, a mosque, and each other’s schools, the students brought artifacts from home to show one another, and then organized their objects into galleries based on theme. An enthusiastic audience of family and friends attended the exhibition at the Museum on June 13.

What words cannot express is how moving it is to see the kids become friends and to see the parents and family members come out to meet each other and support their sons and daughters. This year was particularly special as it was the biggest group in the program’s history. Close to 80 students took part in the program. It was also especially moving for another reason. As many of you know, the Museum is just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. As the tenth anniversary of September 11 approaches, it was poignant to witness the healing power of dialogue and the power of personal artifacts to help foster understanding.

Pictured here are (left from right): Shuayb Siddique of the Al-Ihsan Academy and Tal Lavi of the Kinneret Day School with a souvenir that Shuayb’s aunt gave him before he left Guyana for the United States.

Credit: Melanie Einzig

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Norbert and Ivy 4-Ever

Monday we hosted a very special program in Edmond J. Safra Hall. The staff and Gallery Educators gathered to wish our beloved and dear deputy director Ivy Barsky farewell as she moves to Philadelphia with her family and becomes the director of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

There were a lot of moving parts to the day but the most important moving part was ensuring the secrecy of our surprise keynote speaker, Survivor, Gallery Educator, and the original godfather of soul, Norbert Friedman. Ivy had no idea he was coming and keeping it from the rest of the staff was tricky. Norbert last appeared at the Museum on April 26, 2006 when he discussed his memoir, “Sun Rays at Midnight.” Ivy and Norbert share a bond that is beyond collegial, beyond familial. I think their meeting was written in the stars, so I would have to call their relationship celestial.

Norbert came to the stage to the surprise and delight of all who know him or have heard of him and delivered a soliloquy that could only come from him. Weaving together the concerns of Holocaust survivors, he said that the narrative designed to draw “from our most horrific experiences, positive lessons for mankind – which is the dream of all of us—may not reach those that it aims to reach, and will not fulfill the purpose of our cause. Ivy, who has thoughtfully and creatively used the palette of our heritage, of our persona, as we see ourselves, to impress others how they should see us, has always shared those concerns.”

Norbert went on to describe two interactions he had, firmly rooted in the programs that Ivy has nurtured. As one of our colleagues told us, “I don’t even know Norbert and I’m crying.” He concluded his remarks with the following:
“And although my heart breaks because Ivy is leaving this museum, this vehicle, by which we have travelled together for so long and identified our life’s dreams and purpose with, I am comforted by the knowledge that she is leaving to build, to lay a new foundation, to create a new treasury of Jewish heritage, to educate a new generation of narrators, who long after our generation leaves the scene, will continue the sacred task.

“We are proud and fortunate to have had the privilege of working with Ivy all those years. We will benefit from this association in years to come, as will those who will have the privilege of working with her in the future.”

Following hot on the heels of Norbert’s praise was no easy task, but trustee and Gallery Educator Nancy Fisher did a splendid job and presented Ivy with a gift from the Gal Eds. Director of Education Liz Edelstein presented a heart-felt Educator Evaluation of Ivy via PowerPoint, and Director David Marwell spoke emotionally about his partner in crime and dedicated a chair in the hall to Ivy.

It was time for the guest of honor to speak who told us she sought out advice from her family on how to approach her remarks. Her son Harry suggested she say, “You’re all awesome… blah, blah, blahbety blah.” While she started out that way, she ended up in another vein.

“With you, I’ve helped build two extraordinary buildings.
“With you from here, I watched, horrified, as two others fell.
“With you, I helped plant and nurture the Garden of Stones, which reminds us every day that we’re not here for us, as much as this means to us. But that our task is to very gently and very respectfully hold in our hands (like we did those saplings and their roots)—to hold these fragile memories, these precious stories, names, accents, recipes, and loves, and carefully nurture them for the time we won’t be here. It’s for future generations. L’dor v’dor. Thank for you letting me be part of that for this small time. I leave here confident that I’ve entrusted the Garden to the very best hands. May the Museum and each of you go from strength to strength.”

And then we sang the unofficial anthem of the Museum: Petula Clark’s Downtown and consumed comfort food in the form of chocolate cookies and wine.

Photos of Norbert and Ivy by Caroline Earp

Monday, June 6, 2011

Say Cheese

This week marks Shavuot, one of my favorite holidays. Not only does it commemorate the anniversary of when the Israelites received the Torah, it also gives us an excuse to celebrate with delicious dairy dishes.

Sure you could make blintzes (yum!) or cheese cake (divine!), but may I suggest one of my favorites? Martha Stewart (an honorary balabusta if ever there was one) makes the ultimate macaroni and cheese—gooey, crisp, and rich—an even better a couple of days later.

Trust me, you will never be able to eat the stuff in the box ever again.
As the old ads say, “Ah, the power of cheese!”