Monday, January 30, 2012

In the Archives

I have had the pleasure of going through hundreds of old files...I mean archives, over the past few days. I have read through my share of files that contain one piece of paper, usually an ancient photocopy of a newspaper from 1995 with FILE written on it. I have tossed those faster than you can say reuse, renew, recycle. But one folder made me pause and not just because it was entitled World Wide Web.

Inside was a survey distributed by the building management that leased office space to the Museum before the Museum moved downtown. Set the time machine for 1996, and answer these questions to the best of your ability:

How many of your company’s employees use a computer?
Do any of your employees currently use the Internet at work? If no, would you like to make this resource available to them?
Does your company have a web-page? If yes, is it hosted “in-house?”
Do you use e-mail in your office? If no, would you like to?
Which of the following do you use regularly? Please check all that apply: overnight delivery service; fax machine; courier service
Do you use the Internet as a marketing tool? If no, would you like to learn how?
Would you be interested in learning how to use a Web site to publicize your business?
And finally, would you like to attend a free seminar about maximizing the Internet as your company’s communications tool for the 21st century?

Lisa suggested that when the world was being created a similar survey might have been sent out:

Are your employees currently using light? If yes, would your employees benefit from having light in the expansive sky separate from night?
Would your employees benefit from working on an expanse of land or in the midst of water?
Would you be open to sharing your work space with swarms of living creatures and birds that fly above the earth?

I am not equating the invention of the Internet with the creation of the world, but for our colleagues for whom the Internet has always existed, it is hard to imagine one necessity of life without the other.

P.S. I am keeping the file marked World Wide Web. It is now a file called Hilarious.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emily Dickinson at Poets House

This blog entry comes from Byron Bartlett, Library Intern at Poets House. Since they are currently showing an ongoing exhibition about the life and work of Emily Dickinson, we asked them to blog about the Belle of Amherst, who was almost a contemporary of Emma Lazarus. They even shared a friend in common — Emily Dickinson’s mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) of Amherst, Massachusetts, was one of the greatest American poets. She made hand-bound books of her poems; yet, save for an occasional appearance in correspondence with friends and family, these poems remained unknown during her lifetime. After her death, her family discovered 40 of her manuscript books, and thus began her publishing career.

This winter at Poets House marks an unique exhibition: Donald and Patricia Oresman have been kind enough to lend us pages of Dickinson’s manuscripts from their private collection, which are now on display in our Cheney Chappell Exhibition Space. It is an understatement to say that opportunities to see Dickinson’s papers are few and far between. The exhibit includes rare manuscripts, letters, fragments and even a recipe along with books and other archival materials.

In addition, poet and artist Jen Bervin, who curated the Oresmans’ exhibit, is showing her remarkable “composite quilts” inspired by Dickinson’s manuscripts and Dickinson’s attention to punctuation. Each quilt represents the careful overlaying of all of the pages of a particular manuscript book (now sometimes called “fascicles”) onto one surface. The marks are displayed on one folio-like “page,” (i.e. two facing pages) enlarged to 6 feet by 8 feet. The written words are removed. These quilts are an apt accompaniment to Dickinson’s hand; for Bervin has made a landscape of the marks of Dickinson’s intelligence.

Dickinson’s manuscript books were assembled from earlier drafts of the included poems. The creation of the manuscript book, differing from an artisan’s manufacture of an edition for public purchase, nevertheless seems to have been a private way for Dickinson to create an authoritative work of art.

The printed editions of Dickinson’s work have reduced the variation of punctuation present in her manuscripts. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, edited by Ralph Franklin, is an indispensable reference on the subject. Certain of her famous dashes, in manuscript, are actually small and sit at the lower line of the text, aligned with periods and commas. Others are more like the printed “—”, sitting on the median line of text. For those of us who have read her in textbooks and in anthologies, the manuscripts are quite a revelation.

Another example of the uniqueness of the manuscripts, left out of her printed poems, is the “+” mark. In her manuscript books, she often includes alternate word choices, listed below the final line of each poem in the sequence in which they would appear, and marked in the text by a plus sign next to the word replaced.

One can feel Dickinson’s mind searching for alternate matrices of thought that might articulate the ideal state of a poem. While the syntactical structure of each poem may remain the same, she is not content with one word-choice within that syntax. Her additions may be an unconscious acknowledgement that the poem can never be the idea of the poem: she suggests it by allowing there to be no one finished version.

We hope that the manuscripts, Jen Bervin's works, as well as the related public programs will evoke the radical nature of Dickinson's life and work, opening new doors for Dickinson lovers and inspiring Dickinson neophytes.

Come visit us at 10 River Terrace, quite literally minutes away from the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The exhibitions will be open through February 18.

Images: "A blossom" - Letter 803 from Emily Dickinson to Forrest F. Emerson, who briefly served as the pastor of the First Church at Amherst from June 12, 1879 until he was dismissed on February 21, 1883. (c) President and Fellows of Harvard College

Quilt: Courtesy of Poets House

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From Museum to Mesopotamia and Back Again

This blog comes from Monica, one of our Museum Educators, who has just completed her student teaching across the street at Battery Park City’s new public school as part of her Masters program at the Bank Street College. We were delighted when the school opened and very curious to know how our new neighbors were faring. We’re glad to hear they are in such good hands.

This past fall I was able to complete my student teaching requirement in the Museum’s backyard at PS/IS276. I was placed in a 6th and 7th grade social studies classroom. I had about 150 students in total with whom I worked three days a week. I was given the opportunity to write the 6th grade unit on the Ancient Civilization of Mesopotamia and also the beginning of the Ancient Egypt unit. Using my museum background, I included hands on work and incorporated artifacts throughout my lessons. I brought in photographs of works of art for the students to use as resources for their study of each unit. Over the holiday break I assigned an extra credit assignment for students to visit a museum in NYC. I asked them to pick an artifact they could connect to something related to their Social Studies class. I am happy to say that a few of my students took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage and even stopped by my office to say hello. It was a great learning experience and I hope to bring my experiences back into the Museum’s galleries.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Interfaith Living Museum Begins

Deputy Director Anita Kassof describes her first encounter with our Interfaith Living Museum.

Education Director Liz Edelstein stuck her head into my office this morning to remind me that today is the day that the students participating in our Interfaith Living Museum program are here for their first session. She suggested I head downstairs to see things in action.

I knew that the program, which brings together Jewish and Muslim children to study and present family artifacts from their respective traditions, is one of our most successful. I also knew that today’s session was the first in a semester-long series that includes visits to several other museums and cultural sites and culminates in a student-curated exhibition. What I didn’t anticipate is that after only an hour or so together, these Jewish and Muslim children would be interacting comfortably, enthusiastically trading information, sharing materials, and smoothly cooperating to complete worksheets.

I had the privilege of touring the first floor of the Museum’s Core Exhibition with a group of boys led by veteran Gallery Educator Ann Barandes, who has a wonderful way with the students. Under her guidance, the boys eagerly learned what an artifact is, became familiar with terms like “gallery” and “text panel,” and talked about how an object can tell a story.

Seeing these earnest, friendly, and polite kids in action—together—reminded me, once again, why we do what we do here at the Museum.

Photo: ILM 2010 alums Tanima Rahman of the Al-Ihsan Academy and Alex Shinder of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan with the prayer books that have been treasured by their families for years. Photo by Elena Olivo.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ring in the Year of the Dragon with Us at the 2nd Annual Mah Jongg Marathon

Last Super Bowl Sunday, about 80 women from three generations gathered over the mah jongg tiles for serious (and not so serious) games, chatter, and fundraising for a great cause.

Now, back by popular demand, get ready to join us for the 2nd Annual Mah Jongg Marathon to benefit the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

The festivities will take place on Sunday, March 11 from noon to 5 p.m. You may play for as long or as short a time as you wish. The day will include terrific raffle prizes and great fun.

The registration fee is $36 per person. We can match you with the right players or you can bring your own group. All players are encouraged to get sponsors to support them in their efforts.

Click here for the nitty gritty details about how it works.Have additional questions? Please e-mail

May the tiles be in your favor!

photos: our director, Dr. David G. Marwell attempts to keep the tiles straight with staff members Caroline Earp, Jennifer Roberts, and Melissa Martens. The special events hall was packed with mah jongg players. Photos by Melanie Einzig.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Will to Create/Will to Live: The Culture of Terezin

This blog comes from Lisa, but we are all in awe of how the many composers, artists, writers, and children who were sent to Terezin created a thriving culture in the "transition camp."

In honor of the enduring human spirit displayed at Terezin, the 92nd Street Y has curated 92 Y- Terezin Will To Create / Will To Live: The Culture of Terezin. From now through February 16, this multi-disciplinary series will explore Terezin’s cultural significance through concerts, readings, dance performances, lectures, films, and classes. You can see the extensive schedule here and learn more about this extraordinary chapter of history.

Museum of Jewish Heritage Facebook fans can get free tickets to select programs in the series that are listed below by using the code Heritage when reserving tickets online at or calling 212-415-5500.

January 18 Panel Discussion: The Story of Terezin, featuring two Terezin survivors, documentary film footage, and stories of family, art, work and daily life in Terezin.

January 19 Concert: The Nash Ensemble will be joined by celebrated Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair for a selection of Czech works by likes of Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas.

January 21 Concert: The Nash Ensemble celebrates the pre-war music of Prague with works composed Pavel Haas and others.

January 23 Concert, Wolfgang Holzmair and pianist Shai Wosner (recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant), perform works by set to music featuring the writing of Rainer Maria and Christopher Rilke.

We thank our colleagues at the 92St Y for welcoming our community to commemorate with them.

Image from online Terezin gallery. Courtesy of the 92 St Y

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Evolution of Holocaust Remembrance

Deputy Director Anita Kassof is attending the Association of Holocaust Organizations winter conference in Washington, D.C. Since she is conferring about important Holocaust matters this week, this seemed like the right time to post her blog about her return to the world of Holocaust remembrance. Perhaps we can even get a follow-up post after she comes back.

I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle.

As the first assistant curator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I worked from 1988 to 2000, I helped build the collections by gathering materials and stories from Holocaust survivors, some of whom were coming to terms with the past for the first time. In the years since I left the USHMM, I curated an exhibition about refugees from Nazi Germany and co-authored two Holocaust-related books. But they were discrete projects, undertaken within the context of a more general museum career. Since I began working at the MJH in October, I’ve immersed myself in interpretation of the Holocaust, full-time and as my main focus, for the first time since 2000.

And just like Rip waking up from his long nap, I find that the landscape has changed.

Whereas Holocaust commissions and committees and the boards of Holocaust museums used to be dominated by survivors whose vision and drive helped shape those organizations, today the survivors’ presence is often less prominent than that of their children, grandchildren, or others who have no familial connection to the Holocaust. At the Museum’s Generation to Generation Dinner in November, David Marwell asked all of the survivors in the room of 350 people to stand. Only a scattering were there to do so. Two decades ago, most of the people in the room would have stood.

I am glad to be back. The tenor of Holocaust remembrance is changing so rapidly that I think that now, more than ever, we need to renew our energies, to work closely with those survivors who are with us, and to rethink how we remember and interpret the Shoah. That means not only training survivors’ children and grandchildren (“2G” and “3G ” in new lingo I’ve recently learned) to tell their family’s stories, but also innovating ways to find meaning in the Holocaust without resorting to simplistic morality lessons, and using the Shoah to help us understand contemporary tragedies.

And it means figuring out how to make that singular event resonate for future learners who will never have the privilege of hearing first-hand testimony from living survivors.

Monday, January 9, 2012

From Uzbekistan to Battery Park

A touching story in the New Jersey Jewish News tells of two Holocaust survivors and their Muslim niece that have finally reunited after decades. We’re humbled that they spent part of their reunion here, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where Gulnora Jurajeva of Uzbekistan learned more about her family’s history.

Jurajeva’s cousin, Rob Stevens, had begun a search two years ago in order to try to find his mother’s long-lost sister, Frima who was separated from the family at a forced labor camp. While Frima passed away in 1984, he managed to get in touch with her daughter, Gulnora. After dealing with months of red tape, the family secured a visa for Gulnora’s visit. She told the family, through a translator that “She is so sad that her mother never had a chance to experience this, but she is very happy to be with her family.”

We wish them many happy times together.

Photo of Rob Stevens and Gulnora Jurajeva. Courtesy of Rob Stevens.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hidden Jewish Roots on PBS

This blog comes from Lisa, who loves a good period drama, and anything else featuring actors from across the pond who brood quietly over their afternoon tea.

I, along with approximately 4.9 million other viewers, am anxiously awaiting the second season of Downton Abbey, which begins this Sunday, January 8 on PBS.

Fancy, shmancy soap opera? Hurrah for excellent storytelling, compelling social history, superb acting, a spectrum of British accents, beautiful costumes, and magnificent settings, along with a good dollop of Maggie Smith.

In preparation, last week I watched the re-broadcast of the first season and took PBS up on its excellent suggestion to visit their website for exclusive videos and background information about the show. In reading the characters’ back stories, I made an intriguing discovery about Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern), an American born heiress who is the wife of the owner of Downton Abbey: Cora is the daughter of Isidore Levinson, “a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati”.

Well, that came as quite a surprise! In this homogenous, aristocratic Edwardian world that revolves around fixed class structures and where there are occasional jibes at Lady Cora’s American background, there has been no mention of any Jewish roots.

I did a little searching on the Internet to see if I could learn more. Fan sites had various theories: Cora’s father was a non-practicing Jew married to a Gentile, ergo Cora is not technically Jewish. Or perhaps, the family was secular especially since in 1888 they married Cora off outside the faith, and she likely had to convert to Anglican to marry the Earl. Or, perhaps her family isn’t Jewish at all, but then why would creator Julian Fellowes choose to give her father such a distinctly Jewish name?

Maybe one day there’ll be a flashback scene or a prequel series…In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a smashing Downton Abbey: Season 2. Cheerio!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We Remember Manfred Anson

Shari Segel, our Manager of Special Events, worked in Collections and Exhibitions for many years before joining the Development Department. It is in this capacity that she had the privilege of getting to know artist and Judaica collector Manfred Anson, who passed away January 4. We asked her to share some of her memories with us.

Manfred was a “larger than life” personality. He was sent from Germany to Australia with other young men to escape the Holocaust, and his passion for Jewish history was conveyed in his marvelous Australian accent, a result of his many years spent there. His sister was in Terezin during the war.

After my initial visit to his home in 1989 with Peter (my husband), who was persuaded to drive me to Bergenfield, NJ, Manfred would be in touch by phone or with long typewritten letters with offers of material. In Australia he became involved in the jewelry and opal business, which he continued once he came to the U.S. in 1963. We bonded over opals, as my father was an artist who designed one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, using unusually cut opals in his work.

Manfred was renowned as a major Judaica collector and the day-long visit I made to his home was amazing; fascinating things everywhere you looked. Aside from a huge Statue of Liberty collection, which was the inspiration for his Statue of Liberty Menorah (pictured), he assembled the largest private collection in the world of Theodor Herzl memorabilia (which was later acquired by the Jewish Agency in a special ceremony in Israel in 2007).

As a collector of many eclectic things, he made it possible for us to acquire more than 200 Jewish New Year’s cards and 500 historic political buttons featuring Jewish candidates or aimed at the Jewish vote. His diverse interests are reflected in the wide range of materials from him in our collection: Hebrew language study books, a Nazi banner, Confederate $2 Bill, a ribbon from the 1st Wachnovker Aid Association, pre-war and Holocaust documents from several German-Jewish families, and my personal favorite, a book for new immigrants to America, “English for Coming Citizens” published in 1918 that is a primer to help adults learning English with text, exercises, and photographs on how to become a productive and good citizen in their new home.

We remained in touch over the years, having just spoken to him recently about items for the Emma Lazarus exhibition. I was just about to write to tell him about his silver Liberty Menorah being in the NYT review of Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles when I heard of his death. He will be missed.

The Liberty Menorah in bronze is in our Core Exhibition, and was a gift of Dr. Aaron J. Feingold in honor of Esther and Saul Feingold. Photo by Peter Goldberg (Shari's husband). Explore it in 3D!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome to 2012

This blog is from Gabriel, our director of public programs who would like to welcome you to 2012 and to new season of programming from us here at the Museum. The best part of these programs is that none of them involve joining a gym or going on a diet. Why don't you resolve to spend some time with us instead?

Yes, it’s cold outside, and so some cold, scientific programming seemed in order, except – as our exhibition Deadly Medicine shows – science isn’t always so cold and scientific. The exhibition will be leaving us this month but not before getting a grand sendoff.

On January 11, just before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we’ll look at how racially based theories were applied not just in Europe but right here at home. Scholars Alondra Nelson and Susan Reverby will examine medical discrimination and the African American community.

Later in the month, on the 29th, in collaboration with the Primo Levi Center, we’ll look at how the Nazis were not alone among the Axis powers in using medical and racial language in propping up their regimes. Francesco Cassata of the University of Genoa will show how Italy’s scientific community helped bolster a fascist conception of “fitness.”

The winter months seem a particularly apt time to look at the Refusenik experience, as highlighted in our exhibition Let My People Go! Whether fairly or not, it’s tough to envision Soviet émigrés without their fur hats.

On January 22, journalist Gal Beckerman and historian Henry Feingold will evaluate the history and legacy of the movement to liberate the Jews of the U.S.S.R.

On February 12, we examine the Soviet-Jewish émigré experience as depicted in film. We begin the day with the 2007 documentary Refusenik and then continue with the little-known 1991 feature film And the Wind Returneth by the Soviet-born director Mikhail Kalik. To give context to the day, we’ll be joined by UMass Amherst film historian Olga Gershenson.

On January 8, we continue our yearlong celebration of Emma Lazarus. Historians Hasia Diner and Aviva Ben-Ur will help map out the different – and fast changing – Jewish world that enlivened the New York of Lazarus’ day.

Later in the month, on the 25th, we again look at New York’s intersecting Jewish streams but through a very different lens. In a New York premiere, we’ll offer a staged reading adapted from Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel The Chosen.

February will begin and end with some of today’s most prominent literary critics.
On the first of the month, New Republic senior editor Ruth Franklin will join Dartmouth College’s Barbara Will for a discussion of a little-known detail of Gertrude Stein’s biography: that she translated speeches by Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the collaborationist Vichy regime.

To close out the month, we’ll be joined by literary critics Adam Kirsch and Judith Shulevitz for a discussion of Lionel Trilling and the evolving place of the critic in today’s intellectual world.

To round things out, we’ll have two musical offerings in February. For kids, we’ll have a pre-Purim bash with the Mama Doni Band on the 26th, and on the 15th we’ll feature the neo-cantorial stylings of Jeremiah Lockwood and his band Sway Machinery.

Click here to purchase tickets for the above programs and for more information.

Image: Lady Gaga and Mayor Bloomberg ring in the new year.