Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing for an Unwelcome Guest

Writing this blog, I look out my office window and it looks no different than any other cool fall day, overcast with water the color of slate. The calm of the sea is unsettling.

The Collections and Exhibitions staff: Melissa, Erica B, Jen, Alice, Bryn, Rachel G, Ilona, Danielle, along with Erica M, Caroline, Matt P, and Thorin, have done an amazing job de-installing the first floor...again. On the bright side, Irene gave us a good dress rehearsal.

Liz, Amanda, and Beth and Gal Eds like Annie B and Mae handled groups and teacher training with aplomb today, even without much time on the first floor.

George, Jessica, Dganit, and Karen welcomed visitors and kindly told our guests that their experiences here would be limited.

Melissa, Rebecca, Gabe, and Abby L gave our intrepid guests a great afternoon of Hava-inspired activity. We are waiting for them to go so that we can prepare the Hava exhibition for the storm.

A large media event that was to take place here tomorrow and Tuesday was cancelled, and Mike, Rachel, John, Frank, Matt and all of Operations have helped them with their logistics.

Warren, Peter, Moriah, Kathy, and Sherry have prepared the shop well. The more people buy, the less has to be moved we say.

The Fazioli piano is dressed for a storm, thanks to my husband John.

A nice young man from Miami who usually covers hurricanes in Florida for a local TV station came by to talk to me and take some video of the empty cases.

Most of us will leave between 4 and 5, and some of the staff will stay to make sure the building and all that it holds remains safe. When I leave later this evening, I will recite the words that greet us when we enter the Museum: There is hope for your future.

Be safe one and all. Check the blog, Twitter, and Facebook for updates. We are closed tomorrow. We'll see what Tuesday brings.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Giving Thanks for all Good Things in November (and December)

Director of Public Programs Gabriel Sanders shares with us what’s coming up this November and December in Edmond J. Safra Hall.

Recent years have seen enormous advances in the field of genetics with potentially far-reaching consequences for the treatment of disease and our understanding of the human race as a whole. These advances also have unique – and often dizzying – ramifications in understanding Jewishness. To help shed light on this fascinating field we kick off our November-December season with a symposium — this year’s Rosenblatt Forum — on Jewish Genes. A panel of leading genetics experts, including Harry Ostrer, author of the recently published Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People, will discuss how advances in genetics can change and challenge our understanding of Jewish peoplehood and continuity.

The double helix that is our programming calendar includes both the weighty and the silly. On November 11, we nod to the latter, when we continue our celebration of the song Hava Nagila with “Lettuce Rejoice” – a play on “Let Us Rejoice,” for those keeping score at home – with the singer-puppeteers Yellow Sneaker.

The guitar strumming will continue the following Wednesday, November 14, when Israeli-born jazz phenom Gilad Hekselman takes the stage. We’re hoping the guitarist will be true to his nickname — Hex — and bewitch us with his artistry.

On November 16, we’ll be opening the exhibition Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust. On the 18th, in connection with the new show, we’ll be screening the 1964 film Goodbye, Boys by the Soviet-Jewish filmmaker Mikhail Kalik. UMass Amherst film historian Olga Gershenson will be on hand to offer some context.

On November 28, just as we start thinking of frying up our latkes, we’ll have as our guests Noah and Rae Bernamoff, the duo behind the wildly popular Montreal-style Jewish deli Mile End. The two will be here to talk about their new Mile End Cookbook with Gabriella Gershenson of Saveur.

On December 4, Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna will come to talk about his latest book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews. The book centers on the notorious Civil War edict expelling the Jews from the territory under Grant’s command. Though quickly overturned by President Abraham Lincoln, the order, issued 150 years ago this December, became a key moment in American Jewish history.

On December 12, we’ll be right in the middle of Hanukkah and will probably have family on the mind – a good time then for a conversation between novelists Joshua Henkin (The World Without You) and Jami Attenberg (The Middlesteins), whose latest books are both about big, sprawling, quarrelsome Jewish families.

On the 19th, Hanukkah will have ended and the next big holiday on the horizon will be the one that Jews ignore or appreciate from afar: Christmas. Joshua Eli Plaut will be with us to discuss his new book, A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season To Be Jewish, which chronicles American Jewry’s longstanding love/hate relationship with Yuletide.
And on the 25th, there’ll be much here to love: a concert with Metropolitan Klezmer, crafts inspired by the checkerboard design of our Hava Nagila show, and, to top things off, a screening of the 2006 chair-hoisting bar mitzvah comedy Keeping Up With the Steins.

Let us rejoice!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dance of (Love)joy

This blog comes from our new communications assistant, Emily.  We’re grateful to have her helping us and look forward to hearing more from her soon.

While contacting Israeli dance classes in the city about our exhibit Hava Nagila: A Song for the People, I came across an interesting article in the New York Times about the world champion of Irish dancing. Drew Lovejoy, the seventeen year old title-holder from rural Ohio, is probably not of the background you’d expect. He’s the son of a Jewish mother and African-American, Baptist father. Lovejoy can’t claim any Irish ancestors of his own. However, he’s developed a deep connection to a cherished aspect of Irish culture after devoting a great deal of his time to studying and mastering the iconic, lightning-paced dancing style of Ireland.
 Lovejoy explained in the article that he became hooked on Irish dancing after watching one of his friends’ competitions. His mother was skeptical about her son’s new passion, explaining to him that she thought you had to be Irish-Catholic to really go far in the intimate world of competitive Irish dancing. Evidently, that wasn’t the case, as Lovejoy has now claimed the highest honor possible in this particular style of dance.
I loved reading this story, because I like hearing about people taking an active interest in other cultures. Here at the Museum, we strive to help visitors of all faiths and backgrounds foster an understanding and appreciation of Jewish heritage and it’s reaffirming to hear about this type of work being done for a different heritage.  As a Catholic myself, often the first question I’m asked when I tell people where I work is, “But don’t you have to be Jewish to work there?” Of course, that is not the case. You don’t have to be Jewish to be interested in Jewish heritage, nor do you need to be Irish to be interested in Irish heritage. Part of what makes this country unique is that individuals from so many different cultures meet, interact, and learn from each other.

Photo courtesy Andee Goldberg

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dickens by Way of the Warsaw Ghetto

I love the fall. I always enjoyed the new year and the start of school and looked at it as a chance to start fresh and learn new things. Okay, maybe I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the summer ending in middle school as I am now. However, one of my favorite classroom memories is from that time period. I used to adore listening to my 6th grade teacher read a chapter a day of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I was riveted by the characters, the language, and the attention to smallest details. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Hosman to finish the book, so I got my own copy from the library and finished it myself, and then went on to read A Tale of Two Cities, on my own. Thus began my lifelong love affair with British literature. 

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out that the New York Public Library is celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday with an exhibition, Charles Dickens: The Key to Character, which I was lucky to see recently. 

Set in a cozy recreation of Dickens’ library filled with beautiful illustrations and personal belongings such as the author’s scribbles regarding character names and his own pen and ink well, the exhibit brings the man and his characters to life. The exhibit also features scores of letters, quotes, and some multimedia elements, not to mention props from the time period and contemporary artworks inspired by Dickens. (N.B. It is a truly beautiful exhibit, but they didn't allow photos.)

As you may know, many Jewish scholars and readers have been troubled by the depiction of the despicable Fagin in Oliver Twist. What I didn’t know is that Dickens had a Jewish friend, Eliza Davis, who was so distraught at the characterization of “Fagin the Jew” that after many discussions, Dickens eliminated the moniker in subsequent editions, referring to him only by Fagin. To atone, he went on to write an honorable character in Our Mutual Friend that is described as a gentle Jew. 

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage, we very much believe in the power of an artifact to tell a story. Coming full circle, the exhibit includes a translation of Oliver Twist into Yiddish (Oliver Tvist: Dos Tragishe Leben Fun A Yosem) translated by the self-taught poet Shelomoh Shaynberg who died in 1942 in exile after escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. 

I spent many minutes just looking at the book, and wondering about its journey. I like to imagine Shaynberg finding solace in Dickens’ work. I hope that Shaynberg in turn inspired his readers who would not otherwise be able to read the dark, yet touching tale about how despite everything Oliver maintains his humanity and purity of heart while living through unbearable conditions.