Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Very Own Sarajevo Haggadah

Because last week was not exciting enough, what with the opening of the exhibition Filming the Camps, and the reception hosted by French Consul General Philippe Lalliot, David Marwell welcomed an important guest on Friday morning: Reis-Ul-Ullama Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community of Bosnia. What made this day different from all other days? Because the Grand Mufti brought with him a reproduction of the Sarajevo Haggadah to present to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, just in time for Passover.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that dates back to Spain 1492. Over centuries it traveled from Spain to Sarajevo (via Venice and Vienna) finally arriving in 1894 and was acquired by the National Museum of Sarajevo, which was established in 1888. In 1942, Nazi Commander General Johann Fortner came to the museum to claim the Haggadah, knowing its value to the Jewish people. The museum’s chief librarian Dervis Korkut, a Muslim, tricked Fortner into believing that the Haggadah had already been taken by the Nazis. When Fortner asked for the name of the person who took it, Korkut responded, “I did not think it was my place to ask.” Korkut then took the Haggadah to a mosque in a remote village and hid it among the Korans and other Islamic texts. It was returned to the museum following the war. The Haggadah was rescued by a Muslim once again during the Bosnian War, when, in 1992, the National Library was burned to the ground, and a librarian named Enver Imamovic retrieved the book and hid it in a bank vault. The President of Bosnia presented the sacred Haggadah to the Jewish community of Bosnia at a Passover seder in 1995.

If you read the amazing history of the Haggadah in the New Yorker by Geraldine Brooks or her wonderful novel, People of the Book, that imagines the Haggadah’s storied travels, you understand how momentous this event was. The staff attended the modest ceremony, which was brief, but I will always remember his reverence saying: “Please take care of the Koran in the U.S. as we took care of your Haggadah.” As we prepare for Passover, let us all reflect on the freedom that we share, and the freedom yet to be won for our brothers and sisters.

Photos of staff and presentation by Caroline Earp.

Friday, March 23, 2012

From Paris to New York By Way of Hollywood

You may have wondered why we haven’t blogged this week. It’s not that we haven’t had anything to say, it’s just been a very busy week, as we have been preparing for our exhibit, Filming the Camps: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and George Stevens: From Hollywood to Nuremberg, to open.

From adjusting lights and installing artifacts, to working with reporters, placing advertisements, hanging new signs, and welcoming visiting dignitaries, there is a lot that happens leading up to opening a new exhibit. In fact it is almost hard to find time to be nervous.

Filming the Camps is on loan to us from the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, which created and designed the exhibit, curated by historian/professor/filmmaker Christian Delage. It’s actually our third collaboration with the Mémorial. In his remarks at the opening, our director, Dr. David G. Marwell, commented on the fact that we are presenting their exhibit on American filmmakers, while they presented ours on a French writer, Irène Némirovsky. As our colleagues in France would say: C’est la vie!

We’re happy to report that the early buzz from reporters and visitors has been incredibly positive. Visitors have said that they are glad to learn about this relatively unknown story and have talked about the power of the footage shown in the exhibit. You can read the press reaction in the Wall Street Journal and Time Out New York, but, of course, we recommend that you come see it for yourself.

Image: Celebrating the opening of Filming the Camps (L to R): Jacques Fredj, Director of the Mémorial de la Shoah, Museum of Jewish Heritage Director, Dr. David G. Marwell, Eric de Rothschild, president of the Mémorial de la Shoah, curator Christian Delage, Sophie Nagiscarde, Director of Cultural Affairs at the Mémorial de la Shoah.
Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why We Think Brooklyn's Streets Are Safer

Director of Education Elizabeth Edelstein mentioned to me that she ran into former High School Apprentice Michael Boykin (2003) on the Dekalb subway platform this morning. He was on his way to work as an Assistant District Attorney in the Brooklyn courthouse.

Seeing his smiling face she said she couldn’t help but kvell at the accomplishments of “our Mike.” Liz went on: I could say who would have imagined … but the truth is that if you were to exchange his dapper suit for a tee shirt, you’d have the same poised and gracious Mike.

Liz is not unfamiliar with Mike's grace under fire. They walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn together during the August 2003 blackout. During that walk, Liz says, Mike showed the same spirit and excellent judgment that "I’m sure serves us all well in his position as an ADA." When she expressed appreciation for his work making our city a safer place, Mike said with a modest grin, “I’m trying!”

Our newest class of High School Apprentices will graduate in June. I wonder what their career aspirations are?

Photo: Mike is the tall redhead on the right.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mensch in the Making

Zach Levin will become a bar mitzvah this December. Zach, who hails from Upper Saddle River, NJ, has made the Museum of Jewish Heritage Gallery Educator Program his mitzvah project. The funds Zach raises will help support costs associated with Gallery Education, and will go toward in-service training and materials needed for a rigorous course of study at the Museum before leading tours of the exhibitions for tens of thousands of students and other groups. The Gallery Educators attend 16 weeks of course work (including hearing from survivors and scholars), complete reading assignments, and practice in the galleries for eight weeks after completing the course.

Zach's bar mitzvah project will help ensure that our volunteers are current on exhibition content, research, and teaching methods working within the context of modern Jewish history and Holocaust remembrance. These volunteers are dedicated to educating about Jewish life and history and helping our visitors consider issues of social justice, civic responsibility, and fighting intolerance. Zachary’s gift will help our Gallery Educators fulfill this important mission, and we are most grateful.

On Sunday, March 12 Zach came to tour the Museum with Gallery Educator Sol Rosenkranz. I learned from his father Chaim that Zach’s grandfather was a partisan from Vilna. Pictured here are Zach, his mom Randi, sister Amanda, dad Chaim and Sol.

Photo by Caroline Earp

Artifact of the Week

This blog comes from Lisa who is constantly coming up with really good reasons for us to join Twitter.

We’re thrilled to launch a new feature on the Museum’s Twitter feed which we are calling Artifact of the Week.

Every Monday morning, a staff member will choose one of our favorite artifacts from the Museum’s online collection . Much like a staff pick at a book or record store, it’s a nice way for us to share artifacts that are personally meaningful and for you to get to know the staff better.

Our director, Dr. David G. Marwell started us off with Frania Bratt’s new dress for a new life.

On April 29, 1945 Frania Bratt was liberated at the Dachau Concentration Camp by the US Armed Forces. In early May of 1945, Bratt had the opportunity to make a new dress from fabric donated by her U.S. liberators. For the previous sixteen months she had worn only the standard prison uniform. Bratt also made dresses for her sister Helen and she sewed clothes for those who were too weak to sew for themselves.

In the Landsberg Displaced Persons camp, after the war, she met and married fellow survivor Boris Blum. Blum was now an officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Not long after, their daughter Towa (later Toby) was born in the DP camp. In 1950, the family immigrated to the U.S. Bratt continued to wear her liberation dress on the anniversary of her liberation and on other special occasions as a symbol of her freedom and return to humanity.

For more featured artifacts, follow the Museum on Twitter @MJHnews or visit http://twitter.com/MJHnews.

We hope you enjoy discovering some of the more than 25,000 artifacts related to Jewish culture and history in the Museum’s collection.

Liberation dress is a gift of Frania Bratt Blum.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mah Jongg Marathon Crosses the Finish Line

We'd like to thank the 92 women who participated in yesterday's Mah Jongg Marathon. We had a great time noshing, chatting with new and old friends, and playing our favorite game while raising money for the Museum.

If you attended the marathon and have any suggestions for next year, or if you would like to sign up to be alerted about next year's event, please contact mahjongg@mjhnyc.org.

Until then, may the tiles be in your favor.

These lovely photos are by Caroline Earp.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What We're Reading Now: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

Anglophiles across the country are having a hard time adjusting, now that Downton Abbey is on hiatus. If you, too, miss quirky accents and whimsical turns of phrase, stuffy lords and ladies, and the lush countryside, I highly recommend the staff’s book club choice of the month, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons.

As you may know, we try to pick books that deal with themes in our exhibition including exile, memory, and renewal. This book has all of the above.

At the outset of World War II, Jack Rosenblum and his family escape Berlin for London. Jack embraces the welcome pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like "the English." He starts a successful business, and buys fancy suits, and a beautiful car. He sends his daughter to the best schools and he never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. But one key item — membership in a golf club —remains elusive. So Jack hatches a wild idea: he'll build his own.

Jack's wife, Sadie, does not share this obsession. She wants to hold onto the pain of losing her parents and her brother. She remembers them by the bittersweet act of cooking her mother's recipes.

At once poignant and comic, the book brings up a lot of interesting questions about assimilation, acceptance, community, and family.

Stay tuned for next month’s pick, or write us with your suggestion.

Monday, March 5, 2012

More to Motown than Meets the Eye

Deputy Director Anita Kassof returned from the annual meeting of Jewish Museum colleagues, and she was kind enough to bring back this blog.

“Detroit? In February?!” That was the common response from colleagues and friends when I told them I was headed to Michigan for the annual meeting of the Council of American Jewish Museums this past week. Four MJH staffers attended the conference, where we were joined by MJH “alums” Ivy Barsky and Lou Levine.

Detroit was, indeed, chilly, but the warm reception we received from everyone from local museum directors to bus drivers more than made up for the temperature. We did a lot of motoring around the Motor City, where we toured sites as diverse as the Henry Ford Museum , the Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center, the Arab American National Museum ,and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Insofar as culture is an engine of urban renewal, Detroit appears to be poised for change.

In between whirlwind museum tours, attendees participated in some fascinating roundtables and panel discussions. We also had the opportunity to toast Melissa Martens, MJH Director of Collections & Exhibitions, who delivered thoughtful remarks when she was installed as CAJM’s new Chair. Mazel tov to Melissa, who will no doubt lead the organization with her signature enthusiasm, insight, dedication, and good old fashioned smarts.

I conducted a review of the Henry Ford Museum’s exhibition, With Liberty and Justice for All as well as chaired and moderated a session about the way that museums’ locations lend shape to their programs and exhibitions. As I pointed out in my talk, the MJH is at the nexus of important cultural and historic sites that lend meaning and depth to what we do. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the 9/11 Memorial are natural inspirations as we develop programs and exhibitions that encourage our visitors to consider what it means to be American in a multi-cultural society and to think about the meaning of liberty in that society. The theme of location has woven through a number of MJH exhibitions, from Yahrzeit, which we installed on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and reprised on the tenth anniversary; to our 2004 exhibition, City of Refuge, in which windows overlooking New York Harbor gave us the statue and Ellis Island as living artifacts; to Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles, which concludes with a view of the statue to which Lazarus gave voice.

It’s natural, then, that the significance of location was much on my mind as we toured Detroit. In a city that’s well known for its challenges and struggles, it’s inspiring to see so many dedicated to its renewal, and so eager to welcome visitors to the hometown they love.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Skokie Celebrates the Greatest Generation

When you mention the Museum of Jewish Heritage, many, many visitors comment on one of our past exhibitions. No matter how many times they have been to the Museum, viewing Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War remains a memorable, heartwarming experience for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Like proud parents, we’re thrilled that our “baby” is now out on its own in the world making us proud. After four years on the road with stops in Maryland, Louisiana, and Texas, the exhibition is now at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, its final stop, where it will be on view through June 17.

To celebrate the occasion, and the excellent story in the Chicago Tribune, we’d like to share a few photos of Chicago area veterans and other distinguished guests from the opening of the exhibition.

Photos courtesy of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Photos by: Robin Subar.