Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Student Blog: Learning How to Fight Extremism in Education

Every once in a while, we like to hear from our visitors, especially teachers and students, about what they have learned at the Museum. Today's guest blogger is a student at New York University who recently came here with her class.  

My name is Courtney Berghahn and I am a senior in the Music Education program at NYU Steinhardt. Each year, Steinhardt offers unique opportunities to honors students through Dean’s Global Seminars. Through this program, students can apply for a number of seminars that include both travel and traditional course components. The course I am currently taking is “Terrorism, Extremism, and Education,” taught by Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss.

In preparation for our January trip to Berlin, we explore many historical and contemporary examples of terrorism and extremism. While a major part of the course focuses on Nazi Germany, other discussion and reading topics have included the genocide in Rwanda and child soldiering in Sierra Leone. To better understand these horrific occurrences, we have also studied the nature of evil, and the polarization/socialization processes involved in becoming extreme. However, the most important aspects of our studies lie in the implications of extremism on education. We want to know how extremism manipulates the education system, (such as with the Hitler Youth) and what can be done to combat it.

This is what brought us to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. We are not just interested in how traditional school settings can foster acceptance, but also how outside institutions can have a positive influence. Our group was lucky enough to have a private tour with Joe. Joe provided us with some very interesting insight on the mission of the museum. He explained that the exhibits have two main purposes—to celebrate Jewish heritage and to memorialize those who couldn’t carry on the heritage themselves. I found this to be a very powerful idea that stayed with me throughout my visit.

Perhaps the most surprising artifact was the first thing that Joe showed us—an old Torah that was found in a Nazi warehouse. Joe told us that this warehouse was a storage place for what the Nazi’s planned to call “the museum of an extinct race.” That phrase gave me the chills—I was astounded that the Nazis would proudly display evidence of their horrific crimes. Why would they go to such lengths to keep record of that?

I was very impressed by the thoroughness and the clarity of the exhibits. The museum seemed to touch upon many different aspects of heritage and the Holocaust. The information was presented captivatingly and in a variety of ways. Having a knowledgeable and passionate tour guide also enhanced our experience. The successfulness of the trip was summed up in Joe’s closing remarks: “We have to make sure that this will never happen again.” I certainly believe that the Museum of Jewish Heritage is the kind of institution that will help achieve this goal.

So, you may be wondering why this course is relevant to a future music teacher. As a teacher, I will play an integral role in the socialization of my students. I want to provide them with the knowledge and tools they’ll need to become accepting individuals. In Berlin, my research group and I will be exploring how music can help to promote this.

For information about bringing your class to the Museum, click here.
Image of the Museum's gallery on education. Photo by David Paler.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Oh, Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah, Already?

This blog comes from our communications assistant, Emily, who is clearly more organized that I am, considering she has a lot of her shopping done already.

As enjoyable as this time of year can be, it’s no secret that it can be pretty stressful, too. For weeks we must exhaust our creativity and wallets trying to come up with the perfect Hanukkah gifts for all our loved ones. Now, with only a few days left until Hanukkah begins, we’ve definitely entered the final stretch in the present-buying race. If you haven’t gotten all your gifts already, you might be feeling pressed for time, but there’s no need to panic! The  Pickman Museum Shop makes Hanukkah shopping not only painless, but enjoyable as well. 

Both the shop and its website have a special section of suggested items for Hanukkah, making it is easy to find something for people of all ages. If you or someone you know are in the market for a new menorah, the shop has a beautiful and varied collection; you’ll be able to find unique, hand-crafted menorahs that come from countries such as varied as Israel and Haiti. The shop boasts traditional, brass menorahs, small, travel-sized menorahs that are perfect for college dorm rooms, sophisticated modern designs, and even playful ones perfect for young families. My favorite features Noah and his ark-full of animals. 

Dreidels are also important to any Hanukkah celebration, and the shop has many vibrant dreidels. They may not all be made out of clay, but there are some truly beautiful dreidels made from materials ranging from recycled paper to paper maché dreidels to beautifully hand-painted wooden models for display. There are also plenty of less adorned wood and metal dreidels for the more practical use of playing!

For avid readers, the shop has a plethora of books about the holiday, including the humorous “How to Spell Chanukah,” as well as a large quantity of non-Hanukkah related works in every genre from history to fiction. To liven up a party, we can suggest some festive music for Hanukkah. 

The shop has great items for children including toys and games for boys and girls of all ages. Pick up a mini-American Girl “Rebecca” doll, a Hanukkah rubber duck, and or a coloring book. The shop also offers numerous children’s books that explain the history and traditions of Hanukkah so that kids will be able to understand the full meaning of the eight nights.

For the women in your life, the shop also has a stunning collection of jewelry made by artists such as Yair Emmanuel and Michal Negrin.

Not only will you be able to find the perfect last minute gifts, but all proceeds from the Pickman Museum Shop benefit educational programs here at the museum, so you can rest assured that your money is going towards a very good cause. Best of all, we are now offering free shipping through December 15.

So stop by and do some shopping, or check out our online shop. The first candle is Saturday night.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes Interview with Through Soviet Jewish Eyes Curator David Shneer

Now that our new exhibition, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, is up and receiving rave reviews, we had time to catch up with the curator, David Shneer, for some more insights  into his research and into the stunning photographs in the exhibit.
MJH: What first attracted you to the subject of Soviet Jewish photography during World War II?

David Shneer: I was first drawn to the topic when I visited a photography gallery in Moscow in 2002.  As I describe in my book, the exhibition, Women At War, seemed to have a large number of Jewish photographers represented in the exhibition.  When I asked the curator about this, she looked at me as if I was missing the obvious —most of the Soviet photographers taking pictures of World War II were Jewish.  This statement and that day launched a nearly 10 year process that resulted in both the book and the exhibition now on view at the museum.

MJH: Why do you think so many photographers during this era were Jewish?

DS: In 1917 when the tsar abdicated, all of the tsarist era laws that had restricted Russian Jews' access to many professions and to many places in the empire were lifted.  It's hard to underestimate the impact this had on Russia's Jews embrace of some form of revolution.  Although most weren't Bolsheviks, when the conservative White forces turned to anti-Semitism to support their cause, most Jews either left the country or supported the new Soviet regime.  For many young Jews, mostly men, they saw the Revolution and the ability to move as an opportunity to remake themselves and society.  

Photography, as a new democratic technology and easy-to-learn art form, attracted Jews, and not just in Russia.  In fact, the phenomenon of Jews as photographers took place anywhere with a large Jewish population ranging from New York, where Jews set up institutions like the Photo League in the 1930s, to London, when refugees from fascist Europe set up Picture Post, and included famous war photographers like Robert Capa, also known as Andre Friedmann.  So the fact that so many Soviet-era photographers were Jewish reflected both the specific opening up of Russian society, the universal promises of the Soviet revolution, and the social history of 20th century Jewry.

MJH: Can we see  “Jewishness” in their work?

DS: I would say rarely, because that was not their job.  They were Soviet photographers documenting the building of Soviet society in the 1920s and 30s, and then its near destruction in the 1940s.  That said, when one looks at Moisei (born Moyshe) Nappelbaum's hauntingly beautiful portraits of the Soviet intelligentsia, especially figures like Isaac Babel and Eduard Bagritsky, it is hard not to imagine that the fact of their mutual Jewishness and native Yiddish language did not somehow influence their experience of taking those pictures.  More specifically, Soviet photographers were tasked with the documentation of the Soviet Union's experiment with secular Jewish nationalism in a place called Birobidzhan.  In this case, photographers like Georgy Zelma, exhibited in the show, documented the making of the new Soviet Jew.  During the war, they all encountered the fact that the Nazis and their allies targeted Jews differently from other ethnic groups, both in their photographs of liberation of places that had been under German or Axis control, when they saw corpses with Jewish stars on their jackets, or when a figure like Evgenii Khaldei made a side trip to the Budapest ghetto in January 1945 during the city's liberation, to photograph both the dead and the living.

MJH: Why are so many of these images not familiar to American audiences?

DS: Two reasons have made these images iconic to Soviet audiences and absent from American ones.  During the war, the American press was reluctant to publish images taken by Soviet photographers fearing that they were propaganda, by which these American editors meant not truthful and unreliable.  After the war, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were no longer allies, and were the bitterest of enemies, the very fact of the U.S.-Soviet wartime alliance was buried, as the U.S., and to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union hastened to rebuild a relationship with their respective rehabilitated Germanies.  Soviet photographs rarely circulated in the postwar period, and if they did, their "Sovietness" was stripped from the image.  For example, the iconic photograph of the Auschwitz gate with the euphemism "Work Will Set You Free," an image which many American viewers would recognize, was in fact a Soviet liberation photograph, a point we make in the show.  

MJH: What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research?

DS: I was most surprised at the number of Jews photographing the war, a fact that was not surprising to most Russians I spoke to or met.  After I got past that issue, most surprising was the stunning quality of the images these photographers took in the most dire of wartime conditions.  Frequently with poor quality material, and under fire, these photographers, many of whom were trained in the best of modernist aesthetics, took arresting photographs of the heat of battle and war's terrible aftermath.  And even more surprising was the fact that the Soviet press had no problem picturing the horrors of war during the war, something the American press absolutely shunned.

MJH: Which image captivates you the most, and why?

DS: I am captivated by the woman in the city of Murmansk walking amidst the absolute ruin over her city.  A lone figure, back turned to the audience, hauls a heavy suitcase through a disturbing image, one made up of hundreds of chimneys, all that remains of the mostly wooden city after the Luftwaffe firebombed the important port in June 1942.  It is haunting, because it reminds us that chimneys, which became iconic in Holocaust photography because of the crematoria at extermination camps, were iconic in Soviet wartime photography for radically different reasons.  Here, they stand as silent witnesses, bearers of life, as the former hearths of all of those wooden homes, to the mass murder of civilians in fire bombings, a war crime that all allies committed during the war.  And that lone woman, whom Khaldei suggests was the sole survivor, wanders directionless and homeless.  It is an utterly devastating image of war that has yet to make it to the ranks of an icon.

MJH: What would you like audiences to take away from the exhibition?

DS: I want visitors first and foremost to appreciate the haunting beauty of Soviet war photography and to see that these photographers had deep training in ways that most American war photographers did not have.  They put their artistic training to use in the trenches of the Battle of Kursk and at the liberation of Majdanek and Auschwitz.

Through Soviet Jewish Eyes is on view through April 7.

Georgii Zelma (1906-1984)
Tank in Stalingrad, c. 1943
gelatin silver print
23 ½ x 34 inches
Loan from Teresa and Paul Harbaugh
Photo: CU Art Museum
© Georgii Zelma Estate

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We Are Giving Thanks

As we approach Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be grateful for this year. We hope you do, too. In this spirit, we would like to share some things that we feel especially blessed having in our lives this season. On the top of this list is, of course, that our Museum family, our building, and our artifacts escaped Superstorm Sandy virtually unscathed thanks to incredible efforts by so many. We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that we are extremely grateful for our readers, volunteers, supporters, and members today and every day.
From our staff:

In the aftermath of the storm, despite all the chaos, I was grateful that the New York Times continued to deliver my paper to the door step even though everything else was closed. It was the first sign that things would be going back to normal.  Betsy
I’m grateful for—and to—my colleagues, whose dedication to the Museum was particularly evident in the face of natural disaster.  Anita

I am grateful that while my neighbor did a mitzvah by letting her crabby, boring coworker, who was without power after the storm, stay at her apartment, I was hosting a displaced friend who was “fun.” Sharon

I am grateful for my Communications department colleagues who manage to squeeze so much  creativity and productiveness into every single day, fueled only by copious amounts of caffeine, sugar, and dedication. Betsy

I am thankful for: being out of harm’s way during Hurricane Sandy, family, working subway lines, old friends in far off places calling to see if we are okay, and chocolate.  Lisa

I am thankful for all the freedoms we take for granted as Americans. Sharon
I’m thankful for Thanksgiving traditions – such as my parents not having to decide between turkey and sushi because they can have both.  Keika

I am thankful for the extraordinary sunsets that I witness here, reminding me to reflect on the people in my life who bring me joy, and to remember those I have lost.  Abby S
I am grateful to have a warm place to go home to each night. Regina

I am thankful for: being out of harm’s way during Hurricane Sandy, family, working subway lines, old friends in far off places calling to see if we are okay, and chocolate.  Lisa

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob’s twelve sons and one daughter are born. One son who will play a prominent role later on is Judah. This name is derived from the Hebrew word “to thank.” His mother, Leah, explains that she named him Judah, because “This time I will thank God.” Gratitude is fundamental aspect of Judaism and for Jews Thanksgiving is another great opportunity to give thanks for health, family and friends. Paul
Feel free to offer your own thoughts in the comments section, and have a wonderful and meaningful holiday.

 Photo by Sota Dzine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Giving Thanks to our Veterans

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust we are never too far from thinking about veterans, in particular veterans of World War II. When Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War was on view, there were veterans present at all times and it wasn’t difficult to thank them for their service because they were hanging out in the Irving Schneider and Family Gallery.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 22,658,000 living veterans, and approximately 950,000 live in the state of New York. Readers of the blog know that I am a fan of our military men and women, especially around Fleet Week and Memorial Day. But I have to say that Veterans Day gives me the opportunity to say thank you to those who have served and fought, those no longer in harm’s way. I have to admit that there is less worry and anxiety inherent in this exchange.
Yesterday I participated in NYC’s Veterans Day parade with the USO. My assignment, along with 30 others, was to walk along the parade route, shake hands with the veterans we saw, and say thank you. Some wore part of their old uniforms; others wore tell-tale signs like hats that said “Vietnam Vet” or “Veteran, Korean War.” Young and old, representing every culture and ethnicity, each one had the handshake of a proud leader. The crowd had thinned out by the time we reached the thirtieth block, but the parade had already been underway for two plus hours. Despite the dwindling crowds, it was an emotional walk up 5th Avenue I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the strength and determination of the millions who have served our country in war and in peacetime.  Thank you for your service.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In a Pickle

If you are like me and had to toss out virtually every item of food in your refrigerator because of the hurricane, it may be time to restock and even stay home and do a little cooking. I thought I would share this quick and easy recipe for homemade pickles from the Mile End Cookbook by Rae and Noah Bernamoff. The Bernamoffs will be speaking here on November 28 about their popular Brooklyn deli and their favorite dishes. I can’t wait to see what they recommend for Hanukkah. …

Quick Cucumber Pickles
Makes 8 ounces or 4

1 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1 garlic clove, grated
½ English cucumber (about 8 ounces), skin on, sliced very thin, ideally on a mandoline.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Toss the cucumber with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture (save the rest; it will keep for months at room temperature). Let sit 10 minutes before serving.