Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seen and Heard in the Galleries

When you work at the Museum you get the benefit of watching and listening to a wide range of tour guides from Holocaust survivors and former teachers to college and high school interns. They each have their own style and unique perspective that they share with visitors. Regardless of how many times you take a tour, it is possible to look at the artifacts in a new way depending on the interests and knowledge of your tour guide. One of our high school interns, Kaiesha, was happy to tell us about this cute moment she had recently in the Core Exhibition with a group of well behaved and enthusiastic 2nd graders.

I met my fidgety second graders and started the introduction to tour. We compared Jewish heritage to their own heritage and discussed what role heritage plays in their everyday lives. While in the first floor of the Core Exhibition, in the section about weddings, I explained how at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom breaks the glass and the guests say “Mazel Tov!” Since they were 2nd graders, I invited them to act out the scene on their own. I was filled with great joy when I looked up and all my little visitors were wrapping their imaginary glasses in their imaginary cloths and placing them on the ground so that they could stomp on them. When my fellow apprentices and I were practicing our tours and attempting this, we felt silly, but the excited look on the children’s faces as they broke their imaginary glass and shouted “Mazel Tov!” and learned about Jewish heritage was priceless.

Photo from our collection of the Wedding of Nancy Roth and Dr. Wayne Weil in 2003Gift of Lois Weiss in honor of Sylvia and Aaron Rothenberg.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cadets' Life Changing Experience through the Auschwitz Jewish Center

This blog is from Shiri Sandler, our Manager of International Programs.

Today in The Forward, Don Snyder speaks eloquently about traveling with this year’s American Service Academies Program. I have had the distinct pleasure of traveling with cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Air Force, Naval, Military, and Coast Guard Academies as they take this annual journey to Washington, D.C.; New York; and Poland to learn about the Holocaust and military ethics. Calling up memories of these students and their responses to this experience, Don’s piece spoke to me about not only the importance of this program, but the incredible nature of the students with whom we are so lucky to work.

Introducing these brilliant and determined young people to the history of the Holocaust and the beautiful past of the destroyed Jewish culture is an honor. It is knowing that they’ll take these lessons forward to the men and women they’ll command in the U.S. Armed Forces that really matters to me, though. This morning, after the article came out, I heard from a friend who works in Islamic Studies, who, through tears, told me how much these students’ words mattered to her. The words of these future officers have a universal power.

This program offers a unique education, but it is about more than learning dates and seeing sites; it offers lessons in maintaining and safeguarding humanity, learning to look past differences, remembering morals, and linking ourselves, and our future, to our common past.

Please view the article here.

Photo by: Krzysztof Galicia

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emma Lazarus: Birthday Girl

Today marks the birthday of Emma Lazarus (b. 1849), a remarkable individual and the subject of the Museum of Jewish Heritage's upcoming exhibition, Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles. While millions have been moved by her words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..” few know the story of the woman who wrote them. On October 26, we hope that all that will change. The exhibit, which marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, is the first major museum exhibit about Lazarus, and will include rare artifacts that explore her unique story and message. It will be on view through summer 2012.

Visitors will be surprised to learn that Emma was a fourth-generation Jewish American of Sephardic background, not a recent immigrant herself. They most likely do not know about her family’s longstanding dedication to American life and that George Washington even quoted one of Emma’s great uncles when writing a famous letter which would become a founding document of religious liberty in this country. Visitors will learn more about Emma’s prolific career and the leading literary and artistic luminaries that were part of her social circle, like her mentor and harshest critic, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Visitors may not be aware that Emma was so much more than a poet. The exhibit will fully explore her work for Jewish causes and how Emma’s journey inspired her to craft an enduring message that addressed exile, home, and the promise of America. Perhaps the most surprising fact of all is that Emma didn’t live to see her words joined with the Statue and she may not have ever seen the Statue completed. She died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1887 at the age of 38. The poem was installed inside the pedestal in 1903, where it remains today—inspiring millions of visitors.

We’re all pretty passionate about this exhibit, but no one is more enthusiastic than Melissa Martens, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions, who is very busy right now curating the exhibition. She says, “The Museum of Jewish Heritage—which overlooks the Statue of Liberty and explores Jewish experiences of immigration, exile, and home—is the perfect context in which to present the life and works of Emma Lazarus. As New York celebrates the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, we are reminded of Emma Lazarus’s enduring message of welcome. Her words turned the Statue into a beacon of hope for newcomers.”

Stay tuned for more information and a special website devoted to all things Emma. In the meantime, be sure to check early and often.

Photo: Emma Lazarus, 1874
Courtesy of Antoinette Geyelin Hoar

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Senior Class

On Tuesday, I attended the Senior Discount Culture Fair organized by Councilmembers Jessica Lappin and Gale Brewer. I asked my friend and MJH volunteer Sol Rosenkranz to be my date since he lives just a few block from the fair’s location at the American Museum of Natural History and is himself an active senior. I also had a small ulterior motive for asking Sol to attend. I figured if I encountered any senior Upper West Siders who said we were too hard to get to, I would just point to Sol and say: “Have you met Sol? He is a Museum volunteer and takes the 1 train.” I only had to do that a couple of times. Sol told me I was stirring the pot.

Most of the people we encountered were familiar with the Museum of Jewish Heritage and eager to hear about our upcoming season of programs. The program calendar will be available in August, and until then I was happy to peddle news of our current exhibitions and the remaining Woody Allen films. I can’t tell you how many times I said to people: “This week’s film is Radio Days…and next week we’re showing Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex.” You can only imagine the range of responses I got from a group of people whose average age was about 79.

Late in the afternoon, a woman came up to me share a marvelous memory. Her father was interviewed for the Ours To Fight For exhibition a couple of months before he died. She had suggested to him that he talk about memories of comradeship during the war. Her father died before the exhibition opened in November 2003, but her family would say, “Let’s go visit Dad.” And they would come to the Museum to see him talking about Carmen Miranda, and see him in the exhibition as a happy and healthy older gentleman. I made sure to tell her that Ours To Fight For is traveling, and in fact just opened at the Holocaust Museum Houston.

It was a really meaningful afternoon, made all the more special by spending time in the presence of such special folks. More than 600 seniors were in attendance, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she hoped next year it would be held in her district, at the Javits Center. If you don’t want to wait until next summer, a new guide to cultural events for seniors was just published by New York City and the Alliance for the Arts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vive La France

As we look out at our Lady in the Harbor surrounded by sun-dappled waters, we are reminded that she is a very generous gift from our friends the French, who celebrate Bastille Day today. Now, to be fair, if we are not looking at “Liberty Enlightening the World,” we are meeting about her or talking about her. A lot. Our upcoming exhibition about Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem that appears on Liberty’s pedestal, will incorporate the statue in some pretty spiffy ways. The exhibition happens to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the gift of the statue, which is Oct. 28.

Known for more than a century as the author of the lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . ,” the poet Emma Lazarus gave voice to the Statue of Liberty and generations of newcomers to America. However, few people know her fascinating story, her Sephardic background, her American roots, and her work for Jewish causes and a Jewish homeland. Visitors will discover how Emma Lazarus was inspired to craft an enduring message of exile, refuge, and the promise of America.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rest in Peace, Leibby Kletzky

I know you only from your missing poster as seen at my local subway station. I know you only from the tragic news announcing your death this morning on my clock radio at 6:04 a.m., telling me that your remains were found in a trash receptacle 6 blocks from my apartment. I know more about your incomprehensible death than I know about your life.

May your memory be a blessing for your family and friends, and for New York, and especially for Brooklyn, which felt like a very small town this morning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seeking an Artifact for the Collection

Visitors are often inspired by what they see in our galleries to go through their attics and donate what they find to the collection. Today we have a very special request for you from our senior curator of collections, Esther Brumberg. The Museum is seeking the donation of a prewar wedding canopy (chuppah), or a prayer shawl (tallit) that was used as a wedding canopy.

As you may know, the first floor of the Museum’s Core Exhibition explores vibrant and multifaceted Jewish life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Personal artifacts and family photographs accompanied by documentary films provide a rich emotional component to the exhibition.

The beginning of the Core Exhibition highlights several life cycle events that are important to Jewish life. One of them is the wedding. The wedding display features clothing worn by a bride and groom under a canopy. The Museum’s current canopy, on loan from a private collection, will be taken off exhibit temporarily to be used at the wedding of a grandchild of the lender. This happy event reinvigorates the Museum’s search for a canopy of its own, and reinforces its message as a living memorial and museum.

If you have such an item to donate or know of a congregation or individual who might, please contact Esther Brumberg at 646-437-4248, For more information regarding donating artifacts, visit our website.

image: chuppah on loan to the Museum. Collection of the Mogilner-Glatzer family.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Harry Potter and Holocaust Education

Harry Potter fans around the world are marking a bittersweet week as the beloved film series comes to an end. I must admit that I am more than a muggle (or casual fan). In addition to reading the series several times and waiting for the new releases at midnight, I have been to the café in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling wrote the first book, I took a tour of the Highlands of Scotland where I saw several locations used as backdrops, and I have been to King’s Cross station in London in search of platform 9 ¾. However, the most thrilling experience I have had was a few years ago when I got to go to Carnegie Hall to hear J.K. Rowling read from the Deathly Hallows and answer questions from the audience.

One of the questions had to do with Holocaust imagery in the later books. The audience member asked about the idea of the evil characters being obsessed with pure blood lines and the interrogations performed on half-blood wizards. Ms. Rowling said that it was very much intentional and that she took what she knew about the Nazis and incorporated it into the books to teach about tolerance, resistance, and moral imperatives. My question to educators and to parents is whether Harry Potter could or should be used as an introduction to or as a springboard for a discussion of the Holocaust. What do you think?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting Married? What Are You Waiting For?

Weddings are hot topics in New York right now, but rather than just put in a good word about our gorgeous special events hall and our top-notch professional staff, I thought I would share some new, beautiful photos that show off the panoramic views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. While, of course, we host a lot of Jewish events, we are open to all types of couples of any faith. Whether you feel a connection to the Statue of Liberty, downtown, or just love museums, it is a unique and inspiring space that will be the perfect backdrop for your special day.

Click here for more information.

Photo with couches by Vision Fine Photography; big photo of white tables by SOTA; other photos by Melanie Einzig.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not Just for Tourists

This post comes from Lisa. Since she got to go on a beautiful cruise while I was stuck in the office, I told her she had to write about it.

I know that we New Yorkers never go to certain places unless we are accompanying certified out of town visitors…But, if you’ve done the free Staten Island ferry thing and would actually like to get up close to the magnificent Statue of Liberty, here’s something really special and memorable to do on a summer evening, no visiting relatives required:

My colleague, Keika, and I went on a Statue Cruises evening ferry to Liberty Island, and it was a glorious experience. The vistas of the New York skyline from out on the Harbor were stunning. And while we couldn’t go into the Statue of Liberty, we had Liberty Island practically to ourselves! We took in breathtaking views of Lady Liberty without crowds against beautiful twilight and sunset skies. We were also especially thrilled to discover a sculpture of Emma Lazarus near the Statue since there will be an exhibition about her here at the Museum that will open on October 26.

The evening package included a tour and meal. The ranger-led tour was full of fun and interesting facts (Did you know that the Statue is made of 350 copper pieces and the copper came from Norway?). We enjoyed a hearty meal at the Island’s café, where we sat outside and enjoyed the harbor view, summer breezes, and the rustling of trees.

When we returned to Battery Park, we were greeted by the glitter of fireflies, which only added to the magic of the experience. New York can be magical, even for jaded New Yorkers.

Photo of the Statue at night. Also by Lisa.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Participate in Public Art in July

We love to support our downtown colleagues, and we heard about a project yesterday that is right up our alley. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, downtown cultural institutions are discussing ways to remember the day in a meaningful way. The Tribute WTC Visitor Center, The Battery Park Conservancy, and Feel the Music! have joined together to create a public art project for residents and workers in Lower Manhattan with just that thought in mind.

During the month of July, curators, artists and Tribute volunteers will collect the handwritten and hand-drawn thoughts and feelings of people who live and work in Lower Manhattan; these contemplations will reflect on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on their lives.

Tables will be set up in key locations downtown on four Wednesdays, from 11 am-2 pm, and on Thursday, July 7, from 4 pm-7 pm. All residents and people who work in Lower Manhattan are invited to participate. Here is where to do it:

Wed. July 6 11 am-2 pm
Peter Minuit Plaza (in front of the Staten Island Ferry)

Thurs. July 7 4 pm-7 pm
Hudson River Park’s Pier 25

Wed. July 13 11 am-2 pm
Coenties Slip Park, 36 Water Street

Wed. July 20 11 am-2 pm
World Financial Center Courtyard, adjacent to Starbucks

Wed. July 27 11 am-2 pm
59 Maiden Lane Plaza

International painter and muralist Tova Snyder will assemble the collected reflections into a unified visual expression of the sentiments of the community. The final work of art, “9/11 Tenth Anniversary Reflections,” will be installed August 4 in historic Battery Park, near its Gardens of Remembrance. So if you come to see us, you will be able to see it, and vice versa.

Says the Tribute Center, “Participants and the general public will be able to read, see and be moved by one another’s thoughts and contributions in this touching and inspirational work of public art.”

Funding for this project has been made possible with support from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Feel the Music!, Tribute WTC Visitor Center, with additional support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Brookfield, 59 Maiden Lane Associates LLC, Hudson River Park Trust, and Manhattan Youth.