Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What We're Reading Now - Sarah's Key

Like any other book club, the Museum’s staff book club is often intrigued by what other people are reading. Once they know about the book club, board members, gallery educators, and other staff members who like to read but don’t like “organized” reading suggest books and sometimes even insist that we read them. For example, Nancy Fisher, who is both a Trustee and a gallery educator, is one of our go-to book critics. She tends to read books well before the professional reviewers. If she says to read something, we highly recommend that you do.

Sarah’s Key is one of those books that we have heard a lot about, so this month that is our choice. Working at a museum that teaches about the Holocaust, we all read a lot of important and powerful fiction and non-fiction books, but I must say that this one is especially absorbing and impossible to put down. Is it historically accurate, well written, or emotionally overwrought? How does the film stand up to the book? Pick up a copy at the Pickman Museum Shop and read along with us and join the conversation. Or, if you have already read it or seen the movie, let us know what you think, but please, don’t ruin the end for those who haven’t finished it yet. Suggestions for future discussions are also welcome.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Visitors are Welcome!

Since our last visitor did not make as much of a mess as we feared, we are open and welcoming visitors. In fact, our first pair of guests arrived at 10:05 this morning.

The first floor of the Core Exhibition is still closed, but the second and third floor of the Core are open. The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service is open, and yesterday was going to be the official opening of Yahrzeit: September 11 Remembered, so be the first to see it. Installed during an earthquake and a hurricane, it is the little exhibition that could.

And our Garden of Stones made it through the storm and is especially lovely on this cloudless day. Have a cup of tea in the cafe and reflect on how fortunate we all are.

Hope to see you soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Considering the amount of activity that has taken place inside the Museum today, I would have to say that the phrase “the calm before the storm” is an absurd statement. The staff has spent the past four-and-a-half hours de-installing artifacts from the first floor. Today is one of those “other duties as assigned” kinds of days. As Gabe took a torah from its case, the torah that was supposed to be in the Nazi Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race, he found the act of safeguarding the torah to have incredible poignancy. Caroline and I took the wedding dress on its mount from the first floor to the prep room. I noticed that the groom’s kittel was kept in a separate area. Ever the modest pair, our little couple.

Erica B, Melissa, Ilona, Alice, and Indra were our Collections and Exhibitions staff here today, and Suzanne, Jackie, Lisa, and Trevor stepped in to provide assistance. We were also joined by former staff Matt P. and Andy to help open the cases and remove artifacts. Lisa maintained her Communications role by taking pictures.

Mike, John, Frank, Scottie, and Nelson and the rest of the Operations gang sandbagged, covered the library in plastic, moved security equipment, moved crates and cases, and continue to preserve the safety of our building.

Matt S., Sarah, and Kim wrapped up the Fazioli piano and moved the stage’s curtain.

Dara, Chris, Bonnie, Paul, and Tracy packed up the Resource Center; Warren packed up the Shop with the help of Paula, Jessica, William, and Suzanne.
David K and Alex shut down, unplugged, took offline, and removed all of our computers from the first floor that handle everything from the AV system in classrooms to the ticketing system at the front desk.

George kept answering the phones telling people we were closed.

David M. kept us all focused on this important work even while contemplating his own evacuation from Lower Manhattan.

And these are just the activities I saw with my own eyes.

And now that the Mayor has declared a mandatory evacuation of Battery Park City and other coastal communities, we will soon leave the building, say the Tefilat HaDerech (the prayer for safe journey) and join our families and friends to ride out the storm.

Be safe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Now on TV

This blog comes from Abby and Lisa who both "lobbied" for years for this development.
Yesterday the welcome screens generously donated by the Gallery Educator Friends of the Museum Fund made their debut in the Museum’s lobby. The screens engagingly convey information about the Museum’s exhibitions and programs, as well as give the lobby a sophisticated appearance. The added benefit of these attractive screens is that money no longer needs to be spent on printing signs whenever an exhibition changes. It has taken us eight years to complete the signage program for the lobby, and it would not have happened without the support of the Gallery Educator Friends of the Museum. As Abby says, "We are thrilled with these marvelous additions to the lobby.”

This project is also an excellent model of inter-departmental cooperation, involving Operations, Communications, IT, Education, and Development. Cheers to all!

Before and after photos by Lisa.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Waiting to Exhale

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a review of Rebirth, a film about grief and recovery after Sept. 11. We were fortunate to have a screening of this documentary at the Museum in December, before the Project Rebirth team took it to Sundance. While viewing this film with 373 complete strangers I noticed we had one thing in common. Not a single one of us exhaled during the movie.

From early 2002 through 2009, the Rebirth film crew chronicled the lives of five people directly affected by 9/11. The participants include a survivor from an impact floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC); a firefighter who survived the collapse of the WTC but lost his best friend; a high school student who lost his mother; a young woman who lost her fiancé; and a construction worker who lost his brother, assisted with recovery efforts, and is presently helping to rebuild the site.

The themes of grief, healing, and recovery which, in this context, are associated most closely with September 11, are universal. How do you get past the anger when a loved one has died? How do you live with survivor guilt? How do you keep a family together or feel safe enough to start a new one? These are questions that plague survivors in general, and especially survivors of a shared trauma. We know many Holocaust survivors who lost spouses and children during the war and then created new families in the aftermath. These particular moments in the film teach us how to hold on to our humanity in the face of such sadness.

Interspersed between the interviews there is time-lapse footage of the rebuilding at the World Trade Center site. It is tangible evidence that during period progress took place, even if it was not visible to casual observer. As I walk to the Museum from the R train at Whitehall each morning, I look down Greenwich and smile at the new One World Trade Center rising in the sky. It reminds me there is hope for the future.

Photo of MJH and the new One World Trade Center by Andreas Eymannsberger.

Friday, August 19, 2011

You Can Help Honor Jewish Partisans

One of the questions our curators, historians, and educators are asked often is why Jews didn’t fight back during the Holocaust. To answer that question and honor the brave men and women who took up arms or fought back with other actions, we opened an exhibit in 2007 called Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust. Now it is your turn to help recognize these individuals.

Our colleagues at the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF) are currently working diligently to expand their database of partisans and partisan families, and to this end are reaching out to the community to help locate individuals.
Scott Polach, the Partisan Family Liaison, writes:

Speaking with living partisans, whose numbers are unfortunately dwindling, is an important part of our work in keeping the legacy of these individuals alive, and we could use your assistance. We're having the sons and daughter of partisans contact those still with us, and the stories we're hearing from these elderly survivors are incredible. It's helping us connect families and piece together a more complete history of the partisans, a history which has largely been untold.

In case you're not familiar with our organization, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF) is the only organization worldwide that preserves the legacy of the partisans by providing free materials for schools and synagogues about the partisan history and legacy. Our educational materials are used in over 5,000 schools and synagogues.

JPEF is having a celebration this November in New York City to honor all the partisans. We’re bringing together as many partisans and their families as we are able to find to celebrate their legacy. This promises to be the largest gathering of partisans in memory, with our list of attending partisans growing daily.

We've released a PSA featuring Larry King, Liev Schreiber, Edward Zwick to aid with our search, and the results have been great with over 40 new partisan names coming this week alone! You could help us spread the word on Facebook by sharing the link to our video on our wall.

Any help you could offer in spreading the PSA or locating partisan families would be immensely appreciated.

For more information, visit www.jewishpartisans.org or email scott@jewishpartisans.org.

image: A group of Jewish partisans in the Rudniki forest, near Vilna, between 1942 and 1944. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Year and New Programs

I’d like to introduce you to a new staff member, Gabriel Sanders, our Director of Public Programs. We have asked him to let us know which September and October programs he is looking forward to the most.

Today’s high may be a balmy 85, but don’t be fooled: summer’s inching toward its close. Sure, there may be a few more weeks of fun and sun, but once those straw hats and white shoes get put in storage, it’s going to be time to get serious.

Fall’s arrival has always been a somber time for Jews—a period of stock-taking and introspection. For New Yorkers — and Americans generally — this will be doubly true this September, as we mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Our programs for September and October look in both these directions—at the Jewish calendar and at our post 9/11 world.

We begin the season on September 7 with a discussion of Trauma’s Afterlife. Psychologists Elizabeth Goren and Rachel Yehuda, authorities of post-traumatic stress disorder, will assess the myriad ways in which the events of September 11, 2001, continue to inform our psychic lives, even as attack itself starts to fade into the past.

On October 2, the Sunday before Yom Kippur, we play host to Kol Nidre: Finding Meaning Through Music, an exploration of the holiday’s central prayer.

But our fall lineup is not only about somberness and introspection. The High Holidays are also about food, family, and fun.

On September 18, cookbook author Jayne Cohen will lead a discussion on the state of contemporary Jewish cuisine with a panel of top New York restaurateurs. The program, Beyond Borscht and Bourekas, will be followed by a light—and presumably cholent-free—reception.

The following Sunday, September 25, will feature a different sort of holiday feast: The storytelling duo Play Me a Story, will perform a Rosh Hashanah-flavored version of the children’s classic Stone Soup.

The season’s concluding offering, in connection with the Museum’s exhibition Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles, will be an October 30 walking tour of the poet’s New York haunts. Seems strange to think it in mid-August, but you’ll probably need a coat.

(image: Play Me a Story by Julie Platner)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gifts Galore

If somebody told me that I could go to the New York International Gift Fair and pick out jewelry to my heart’s content, I’d ask, “Is that before the personal masseuse shows up or after I consume my weight in chocolate with no perceptible difference in my waistline?”

Well, no masseuse is to be found, but yesterday I braved the elements and armed with instructions from Warren Shalewitz, our Pickman Museum Shop manager, I went to the show to buy new jewelry for our shop.

The fair takes place at the Javits Center and offers 2,800 exhibitors the chance to sell their wares to shops and stores of all kinds. Here’s a preview of what’s “in store” (or will be soon).

  • If you appreciate shiny objects the way I do, you will love some of the youthful necklaces created by AlefBet – perfect for the Bat Mitzvah in your life.

  • Ayala Bar, whose work we have carried for years, had some very exciting rings, earrings, and bracelets that remind me of fabulous wallpaper or gift wrap or amazing textiles.

  • If you’ve admired vintage long chains in magazines that look as if themed charms and amulets hang delicately from them, you’ll want to see the very spiffy necklaces from Amaro. They will look perfect with a black turtleneck sweater.

Alas, today I have traded in my shopping bag for an editor’s pen, but when these items come in, we’ll put them on the website for all to enjoy. All proceeds from items sold in the Pickman Museum Shop help fund the Museum’s educational programs.

Amaro amulet pictured above.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Preserving the Culture of Tibet

This blog comes from our high school apprentice, Tenzin, whose internship here has given her new insights into her own Tibetan heritage.

One of the most encouraging and fascinating aspects of the Museum is its portrayal of the survival of Jewish life before and after the Holocaust. Despite the centuries of struggles Jews faced, they have still managed to preserve and maintain their heritage and culture, and most importantly, their identity. Seeing how Jews have held on to their traditions despite all the opposition they faced has made me see a connection between the Jewish Diaspora and that of Tibetans today.

In 1959, many Tibetans fled to northern India and Nepal, including my dad’s family. My dad’s family moved to Nepal, and they had to start completely new lives. This was the Tibetan Diaspora, and it meant that Tibetans had to establish new lives in new communities, just like Jews have repeatedly done for centuries. Today, the struggle Tibetans face relates to not only the loss of a homeland, but also the preservation of our heritage. It is sad to hear that Tibetans are becoming minorities in their own land; they don’t have the freedom to practice their own religion and culture, just like the Jews didn’t during certain periods of history.

I have now lived in America for 9 years, and it has become increasingly difficult to preserve my heritage. I go to a school where there are few Tibetans and live in a neighborhood where there are few Tibetan families. Growing up in these circumstances, it becomes easy to abandon one’s customs. But, being part of the apprenticeship program at the Museum has inspired me to maintain my traditions and culture. I hope that Tibetans, especially the next generation and generations to come, can find the courage, strength, and determination to preserve the Tibetan heritage as Jews have done throughout their history.

Images: photos from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Behind the Scenes

Today’s blog comes from Assistant Curator Nadine Shatzkes who has taken time out of her busy day to describe her work and how artifacts make their way to the galleries.

The Museum’s Core Exhibition opened to the public September 15, 1997. Repeat visitors are often surprised to see artifacts on display that they had not seen previously. While the main themes of the exhibit remain the same, the artifacts on display throughout the Core “rotate” on and off exhibit, allowing us to showcase new acquisitions and to present as many personal experiences as possible with stories from across the Jewish world. It also preserves fragile paper and textile artifacts, limiting their exposure to light and to the pull of gravity when exhibited upright.

As assistant curator, I work closely with other members of the Collections and Exhibitions Department to plan and orchestrate the rotations. The Senior Curator and I carefully select and research the material that fit the case’s theme, and we write the accompanying labels. The Museum registrars check the physical condition of the chosen artifacts and give their permission and instructions for their display. The preparator mounts the artifacts and installs them during the rotation.

On Tuesday, August 2, we rotated the Opportunity and Opposition gallery at the end of the first floor of the Core. This section features several examples of anti-Semitic and philo-Semitic material from around the world from the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

Returning to display is the 1899 poster called “The Rat Catcher,” which depicts Jews as vermin and an economic threat to the German people. It is a particularly interesting teaching tool and a favorite of Gallery Educators. This was one of the more difficult rotations to plan and install, due to the structure of the cases. Special thanks to building engineers Frank Camporeale and John Gallagher, and to our fearless Austrian intern Andreas Eymannsberger, who helped with the (very) heavy lifting.

Photo of the Rat Catcher from our online collection, which is also managed by Nadine.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Last Chance

Are you the kind of person who starts preparing your taxes on April 14 and who pulled many all-nighters in college in order to turn papers in on time or sort of on time? I thought so. We know you’ve been meaning to stop by and see our temporary exhibits before they close in the next few days to make way for the upcoming fall exhibitions.

Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh will close on August 7 while Last Folio: A Photographic Journey with Yuri Dojc will close on August 9. You may have read wonderful things about Fire in My Heart in Jewish Week or seen stunning photos from Last Folio on Time Magazine’s blog. You could believe the hype—which is true— or come see for yourself. Our lines are shorter than the Alexander McQueen ones at the Met and we’re open tonight until 8 p.m.

A synagogue in Kosice, Eastern Slovakia
By Yuri Dojc

Monday, August 1, 2011

Staten Island: The Under Dog Across the Harbor

This blog comes from one of our high school apprentices, Travis. I’d like to add that Staten Island has a beautiful minor league baseball park and that taking the ferry at least once is a must-do for every tourist, and native, too.

It’s 6 a.m. I wake up, brush my teeth, and get dressed. I go down to the kitchen and open the blinds, only to be greeted by a mass of foliage, birds, and the smell of trees just starting to awaken for the day. It’s funny to think that, within the time span of one hour—via express bus 15—I’ll replace walking on suburban tree-lined streets with the hard pavement of a fast-paced, concrete jungle. So by now you are probably thinking I’m some strange nature lover who lives in the woods with animals. Not to worry, it’s just Staten Island.

Contrary to what other New Yorkers might believe, Staten Island is not just a place one drives through to get to New Jersey. In true New York City fashion, the Island plays host to some unique cultural institutions. These include everything from Tibetan gardens, hidden in the hills behind a restored pre-revolutionary village, to a children’s museum with a mission to encourage curiosity by utilizing all five senses. Ghost stories also come alive in this borough, which has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in New York State.

However, having lived in the “borough of parks” for the past decade, I can say it’s a far cry from “the city.” The neighborhood I live in is one you would be more apt to find in New Jersey or upstate, and the span of water between Lower Manhattan and the St. George Ferry Terminal might as well be the distance between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. So on my first day of work as a High School Apprentice at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I was definitely experiencing some regret about exchanging my pool time for office time. What if I get lost? What if I miss the bus? I had way too many “ifs” and not enough definite answers. Yet, my biggest fear was being an outsider, since living on an island reachable only by ferry, or a tunnel and bridge combo, doesn’t exactly provide one with optimal social interactions. However, the High School Apprenticeship program is run and cared for by people who make the Museum a place where you can belong, no matter where you are from. My fellow HSAPs are truly a group of diverse kids who also live up to this philosophy of acceptance. After two weeks, the stigma of going from houses to skyscrapers has faded, and I know this experience is something that I will remember for a long time, and is a program that has given me the opportunity to meet exciting new people, and be introduced to an interesting new world beyond the “forgotten borough.”