Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Voices of Liberty – The Irish Version

To extend the reach of our Emma Lazarus exhibition, we are asking our fellow culturally ethnic arts institutions to blog about the immigration experience and how it affected their culture. Our friends at the Irish Arts Center, co-sponsors of tonight’s program with Lucette Lagnado and Malachy McCourt, have blogged about the Irish. But you will see, as with our Voices of Liberty soundscape, that certain experiences are universal.

The first half of the 20th century saw a new wave of immigrants from Ireland, many traveling alone to aunts, uncles, and distant cousins already settled in the U.S. Immigration in Ireland was often seen as an inevitability, a thing that “had to be done,” with few opportunities for employment to sustain the country’s population.

The quotes below, taken from recent interviews with Irish immigrants to the tri-state area for the Irish Arts Center’s photographic exhibition To Love Two Countries, captures a brief glimpse of the hopes, fears, and experiences faced by many. Though these individuals belong to a specific immigrant community, the themes discussed reflect a larger immigration experience: leaving one’s country of birth for the unknown, the desire to seek greater opportunity, and the need to make a new place, though an ocean apart from family and friends, feel like home.

“I came to NY on my own at the age of 20… The person who was originally meant to meet me off the boat never showed up. It was a neighbor's brother who then came and collected me to begin my life in New York. I had no expectations other than working hard and making a decent living.” Jimmy Clarke, b. 1906, arrived in U.S. in 1927 from County Galway

“You can love two countries – Ireland will always be the land of my dreams.” Sr. Geraldine Flannery, b. 1916, arrived in U.S. in 1939 from County Galway

“My mother always talked about the United States – America – the opportunities. I only intended to come for a short a time. But I got involved in Irish céilí music, met a lot of friends and for that I wouldn’t leave them or the music they were playing. I like the country very much.” Joe Cunningham, b. 1912, arrived in U.S. in 1929 from County Clare

“It was all new to me. I came out of a farm and I thought there would be nothing but concrete and houses. When I came here I thought I’d see no trees, no nothing, but it was very different than what I thought. It was beautiful.” Jerry O’Connor, b. 1923, arrived in U.S. in 1948 from County Limerick

Photo of Joe and Rose Cunningham

Friday, November 25, 2011

Working Mothers Work Hard Everywhere

On a recent trip to Thailand, Human Resources Director Tammy Chiu spent a day learning to be a Mahout (elephant caretaker) to Siam, a 45-year-old working mother of 3 expecting her fourth baby elephant. Tammy’s day of instruction included the care and feeding of her elephant, and how to guide Siam during a beautiful ride down to the river where she bathed and washed her. We're sure that Tammy was as helpful with figuring out a life/work balance for Siam as she is in assisting working moms at the Museum.

Photo: Tammy and Siam

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On the Road with Bonnie Gurewitsch

This post is from archivist and curator Bonnie Gurewitsch, who recently returned from a trip to Florida where she spoke to an audience of hundreds about Jewish refugee scholars teaching at black colleges.

I was invited to be part of the Diversity Initiative event that is sponsored by Dan and Litten Boxser at Temple Beth Sholom in Sarasota, Florida. The event was planned in connection with our traveling exhibition, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, which recently opened at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. The diversity event was designed to create interest in the exhibition, and to give those who could not get to the Museum a chance to learn the story and be inspired by it.

In my presentation, I told the outline of the story and illustrated it with images from the exhibition as well as the films created by Pacific Street Films for the exhibition. I told some specific stories that added context to the images, such as why Lore Rasmussen took her students on a field trip to pick cotton, or why John Biggers chose to paint "The Gleaners" in Viktor Lowenfeld's class. The audience, featuring people of all ages and backgrounds, was rapt, totally engrossed in the story. Most people had never heard of the refugee scholars and their roles at the black colleges.

Musical renditions by the synagogue's cantor and the Gulf Coast Community Choir, a diverse group, were pleasant and entertaining, adding to the ambience of diversity and community. The program was very well received, and people stayed long afterwards, enjoying refreshments together.

Photo of Joyce Ladner and Bonnie Gurewitsch

Monday, November 21, 2011

Answering the Question “What do you do?”

This post is from our colleague Thorin Tritter, who is the Managing Director of FASPE, a graduate-level program that teaches contemporary ethics through the examination of the role of specific professions during the Holocaust. He also has a great sense of humor, but that is not on display, for obvious reasons, in the post below.

I am new to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and have been struggling with how to introduce myself to new acquaintances without coming across as too depressing. I direct a program, called FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics), that takes graduate students in professional schools to Europe where they learn about the role of their chosen professions in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and then use that historic framework to explore contemporary ethics.

I am proud of the program, but the fact is I work on an ugly aspect of world history and spend my time studying and teaching about a very dark time. At a recent cocktail party in my town, I felt my answer to the common question “What do you do?” appeared to cast a black shadow over me. The more common responses of “lawyer,” “banker,” or “sales” might not yield exciting conversation, but they rarely seemed to cast a pall over the party like “Holocaust.” I tried out some other answers, like the vague “I’m a historian” or “I work at a museum,” but there was inevitably a follow-up question that led to my using the word “Holocaust.”

In my nervousness, I made vague attempts at humor, and they were just that: awkward attempts that left my companions even more perplexed. Now despite the topic of my work, I see myself as a relatively upbeat and happy person. The darkness of the Holocaust does not fit my personality – (does it fit anyone’s personality)? What to do? Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

Please post your suggestions and help Thorin out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holocaust and Genocide Education Conference Takes Place This Weekend

On Sunday, Nov. 19 and Monday, Nov. 20, leading international scholars, including Dalia Rabin and Special Envoy to the US State Department, Hannah Rosenthal, will come together to look at the past 60 years of Holocaust education in Europe and the US. This conference, "Messaging to Remember: The Past and Future of Holocaust and Genocide Education," aims to recognize that Holocaust education in the past often relied on survivors. As time goes on and survivors pass away, educators now need to ask the question of how to engage youth in caring about the tragedy of the Holocaust. The conference will develop new methods, media, and tools for helping future generations appreciate the magnitude of this and other genocides.

Panels will focus on the different dimensions of transmission of the history of the Holocaust and will consider the incorporation of print, radio, photography, film, YouTube, and the Internet into education about the Shoah. Other more recent genocides will also be examined and considered for their impact on the future of Holocaust remembrance and education.

The conference concludes with a screening of the award-winning film: Auf Wiedersehen, Til We Meet Again with an introduction by Martin Lipton at 5:45 p.m. A post-screening discussion will feature filmmakers Linda G. Mills and Peter Goodrich, as well as Dalia Rabin and Hannah Rosenthal. The conference takes place right here at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan and is free, but registration is required. For more information, please contact Danielle Emery at

Co-sponsors of the two-day event are The Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University; Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust; Law and Humanities Institute; NYU Center on Violence and Recovery; NYU Silver School of Social Work; and The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU.

All details can be found at If you cannot attend in person, there will be a live stream on the conference website.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Emma Lazarus, Behind-the-Scenes with the Curator

Now that Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles is up and running, we took the time to catch up with the exhibit's curator, the intrepid Melissa Martens, who answered some of our Emma-related questions.

Q: What first interested you in Emma Lazarus?

A: Emma Lazarus is one of the most famous women in American-Jewish history, yet most people only know her for her few lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . .” Her complex body of work and her life story encompass so much more.

Q: How long did you work on the exhibition?

A: The exhibition took about fourteen months to bring to life. Much of that work was in assembling the greatest constellation of artifacts ever brought together on Emma Lazarus and her influences.

Q: What do you wish most people knew about Emma?

A: That she was a deep and thoughtful writer, and that her vision was inspired by Sephardic-American Jewry, German-Jewish immigrants, Eastern-European immigrants, and other newcomers to America.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned through researching Emma’s life?

A: That she was mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and was influenced by artists such as William Morris.

Q: What is your favorite artifact in the exhibition?

A: A manuscript of the Sonnet, penned by Emma Lazarus before her untimely death.

Q: What do you hope visitors will take away from Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles?

A: That freedom and liberty are not just gifts we have inherited, but contemporary challenges for us to live up to.

Photo: Melissa at the exhibition opening. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Honoring Holocaust Survivors and Their Families

This year's Generation to Generation dinner honored Holocaust survivor Sol Rosenkranz, who brings an extraordinary warmth and dignity to everything he does. Mazel Tov to Sol and his family.

Sol (left) with his friend and cousin Harry Prus.

Daughter Rita Rosenkranz, son Joel Rosenkranz, Joel’s wife Janis, Sol Rosenkranz, cousin Harry Prus, and Sol’s son Mel Rosenkranz.

Photos by Melanie Einzig.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sure, It Gets Dark Earlier, But Now We See Sunsets Like These

Sunset over New York Harbor from the Museum offices on Monday, Nov. 14. We like to call this view one of the non-economic benefits of working at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Special Announcement for Kristallnacht

While we commemorate the Holocaust every day at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, there are certain days on the calendar that have particular resonance. One of those days is Kristallnacht, a wave of organized violent attacks in Germany and Austria against Jews, Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses that started on November 9 in 1938.

To mark the anniversary, this year we are announcing the addition of a very important resource to the Museum’s holdings.

Starting today, the Museum will be the only public institution in New York where visitors can access video testimonies from Holocaust survivors and other witnesses collected by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute which was established in 1994 by Steven Spielberg to collect and preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.

The Museum’s resource center will have 2,500 testimonies available from several countries in multiple languages. The interviewees include Holocaust survivors, rescuers, and liberators. Survivors of many religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are represented including Jews, Roma and Sinti survivors, political prisoners, and homosexuals.

For more information regarding this free resource, please call 646.437.4290. In the meantime,please visit the USC Shoah Foundation Institute's website to watch testimony from survivors of Kristallnacht.

Image from our collection:

Image of the destruction done to the family home of Henry Bauer in Mannheim, Germany on Kristallnacht. On Kristallnacht, Bauer’s father was arrested and many of his family’s belongings were destroyed. Bauer took these photographs to record the damage done to his home.

Bauer immigrated to London in 1939 and then to the US in 1940, where he settled in New York.

Gift of Henry Bauer in memory of Irma, Ludwig and Werner Bauer

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Couple Ties Knot at MJH

When we announced that weddings were welcome at the Museum, we had a feeling that people who choose to be married here would find special meaning in our mission and our location. We just received a lovely photo and a wonderful e-mail from “our” bride from this past Sunday, who wrote:

We chose the Museum of Jewish Heritage simply because it represents everything we wanted our wedding to be: a celebration of the past, present, and future. The elegance of the building, the generosity of its staff, and the importance of its mission wove itself seamlessly into our day. For all of these reasons and more, we immediately thought of the museum as the perfect spot for our wedding. And it was.

We say Mazel Tov! to EY and Ira, and look forward to the day when they bring their children and grandchildren to visit the site of their nuptials.

Photo by Meg Baker

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

125 Years of Liberty

Friday, as I waited to get on the Liberty Island boat with Melissa, Betsy, Lisa, David, and Dr. Ruth, I was thinking of my maternal grandmother, Pearl Makiesky Leavitt, who passed through Ellis Island at the age of 12. She spent six months in New York City and it became a point of pride that she hated every minute she spent here. She never spoke of her experience in the city, but the fact that three of her grandchildren and five of her great-grandchildren make the city home makes me smile.

Prior to our arrival on the island, 125 new American citizens were sworn in. Having hosted “swearing ins” in the past, we all agreed how nice it was to be a guest at these festivities. Alice, who rode over on the VIP boat with Sigourney Weaver and her guests, saved us seats. Ms. Weaver read Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” and we unanimously agreed that it was a stellar interpretation, making us think of the poem in a brand new way.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar quoted from President Grover Cleveland’s speech given on the occasion of Liberty’s arrival in the harbor, and he shared with us that at that celebration, suffragists watched the event from a boat, because unescorted women were not allowed to attend. “We have come a long way,” said Sec. Salazar, “but we recognize we have a long way to go.”

There were various musical offerings throughout the morning, including the French National Anthem, performances by Michael Feinstein, a gorgeous rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Carpathia Jenkins, and the West Point Glee Club performing “America the Beautiful,” including that line from the little-known but powerful fourth verse: O beautiful for patriot dream/That sees beyond the years/Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears! The National Park Service has launched Torch Cams while the statue is under renovation. Check them out.

Following the ceremony, we had just enough time to visit the gift shop where Melissa purchased nifty light up torches and I took her picture in the diorama of Frederic Bartholdi’s studio.

We felt fortunate for so many reasons that day. We were unescorted women able to enjoy the freedoms denied our ancestors; our boat ride lasted 30 minutes, not months; and we work in a museum where we are reminded that liberty is a work in progress.

Photo of the Statue of Liberty from the water.