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

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